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Monday, January 31, 2011

A Perfumed Past

By Ashleigh

My perfume friends and I have been talking a lot lately about the scents that have shaped our past; evoking memories good or bad, the fragrances of our early years not only established a syntax of sorts for our preferences today, but influence the way we smell, purchase and talk about perfume currently. Our memories of these fragrances conjure up not only the actual odor but, our experiences and emotions associated with it. Time and time again, studies show that our olfactory preferences are based largely on our visceral attachments to a particular smell.

So what is it about your first bottle of Beautiful, or your mother’s heavy-handed use of Emeraude that resonates with you so many years later? From a scientific approach it’s important to know that our smell receptors are in direct line to the limbic system, which is not only the most primitive part of the brain, it is widely accepted to be the emotional epicenter of it. What this means is, by the time you have recognized the scent of ‘rose’ or for our purposes one of our favorite perfumes from childhood, our limbic system has already been alerted; triggering an intimate and deep-seated response. Further, our emotional associations with scent are so powerful, that the mere mention of a fragrance we haven’t smelled in years can elevate our mood. This explains the excitement and school girl giggles we all experienced this week conversing about such perfumes as Cristalle, Love’s Baby Soft, old school Chloe, Samsara and Paris.

Our inclinations toward particular scents are a highly personal matter spanning the course of our entire lives. This olfactory journey that we take is based on our experiences surrounding a certain smell and the memories it can draw out; sometimes from the recesses of our minds. In an instant, a specific smell can transport us back to a different time and no other sense that we have can accomplish this intimate, beautiful time travel. Can I say I loved the smell of Emeraude? To be honest, when my mother wore it, I found it gag-worthy. But now, I look back and remember it, and that particular time in my life with fondness. And that is entirely the point.



Anonymous Marian said...

Giggles? Thinking back to summer camp and how we 12 years olds bathed in Jean Nate! I was tickled that, even though collecting dust, bottles were still for sale on the lowest shelf of my local drugstore. As much as I'm curious to know if it still smells the same I'm not going to unscrew a cap to find out. That bubble is too precious to take a chance of busting!
Thanks for stirring up those special memories, Ashleigh!

1:11 AM EST  
Blogger Undina said...

Something's probably in the air: I was just thinking about it couple of hours ago.

It would be interesting if anybody could conduct a study how different famous perfumes (Jicky, Mitsouko, N°5, Miss Dior, you name it) used by [grand]mothers/aunts/etc. influenced perfume tastes development of the next generation.

3:07 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for that lovely post, Ashleigh! I love to go on olfactory journeys into the past, the memories are not always just good, but that doesn't matter, I still marvel at the completeness of the pictures in my head evoked by a smell.

3:27 AM EST  
Anonymous Kristen Dating said...

Elvis Presley sings "welcome to my world, won't you come on in?" Who would deny such an invitation? Our eyes, heart and senses melt quickly at the very mention of perfumes and mesmerizing smells. Thanks for sharing with us.

8:43 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So true... my mom's use of YSL Rive Gauche and later First by VC&A is never apart from the memories I have of that time. Even reformulated, the first whiff of Rive Gauche brings me smack back to our apartment in the 70's. Interestingly, my daughter (now 22) doesn't associate one scent with me, but rather a *type* of scent family which she refers to as "momy-ish".

8:51 AM EST  
Anonymous Barney A. Bishop said...

I totally get this post. Whenever I smell Grey Flannel I think about not wanting to get out of bed during the winter as a child to go to Sunday school. It was my father's fragrance that made its way to our room because he never wore it and I wanted to be like dad and wear "grown up" cologne. Instant time travel.

8:58 AM EST  
Anonymous Ashleigh said...

Andy Warhol says, "I'm afraid if you look at something long enough, it loses all of its meaning". It's quite the opposite with smell, which never stops amazing me. Thank you for your comments- I appreciate that this resonates with everyone! Very cool.


9:20 AM EST  
Blogger JoAnne Bassett said...

Thank you for your post...Just reading the names of some of these long ago fragrances jolted memories...people's names and places popped into my head..just like it was yesterday..the powerful olfactory connection to our brain..

I teach a class "Aromatic Journeys" and it is always amazing what an essential oil will invoke. Childhood memories..a is fascinating..

Thank you for the walk down memory lane.

9:59 AM EST  
Anonymous classflirt said...

jean nate'...i remember dousing myself in it for a highschool date and the boy telling me i smelled like his mom! verrrrrry romantic. by senior year i'd moved onto Maroc and LouLou. recently came across an old bottle of LouLou and was afraid to open it, i decided to leave THAT particular genie in the bottle...

10:13 AM EST  
Blogger Daly Beauty said...

Such a lovely post...I feel like my olafactory memories, especially the perfume related ones, are always my favourites. I agree with Undina's post, would love to know how our memories shape our choices.And like you, what I perhaps may not have loved way back when, I love and crave now....

11:43 AM EST  
Blogger Carrie Meredith said...

Thanks so much for such a great entry, Ashleigh! #perfumewithshoulderpads.. they're coming for you!

12:03 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Turns out I still like Anais Anais, although I now don't wear it too often...

3:23 PM EST  
Blogger Cerise said...

I loved Ambush! - and I remember it's male companion Canoe, also by Dana. My mother wore only Emeraude but just on special occasions. When she died the bottle was still quite full, she was that prudent about not wasting it. There was also a scent by Crabtree and Evelyn I loved, perhaps it had Opera in the name? How I'd love to take a whiff of these all again.

3:35 PM EST  
Anonymous Flora said...

I remember my mother's perfume, called April Violets - I would go into her room and smell it because she very rarely wore it. In my family, perfume was a special occasion only luxury, a rather Puritan attitude to which I apparently reacted by becoming an ardent perfumista! :-)

3:44 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I smelt some Samsara this weekend-it was my signature scent when I had my first apartment. It brought me back to that time immediately-trying so hard at my first job, and trying to make my first apartment nice, even though it was woefully underheated. Thanks for the memories!


10:43 PM EST  

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