The importance of perfume is not to be sniffed at
Scent is always associated with a time and a place, so get some stamps in your olfactory passport
The fluidity of a memory flows like the juice of the fragrance that birthed it. Scent radiates an endless connection to that memory every time it is dispensed: it holds an olfactory record of the places we have been and, sometimes, even the places we wish to be. I have always had an affinity for citrus notes in fragrances, especially bergamot, ever since I smelt and felt inspired by Dolce & Gabbana’s Velvet Bergamot four years ago.
Through its aromatic citrus combination of bergamot, orange blossom and clary sage, it’s as if I have travelled to the ancient cobbled streets of Italy numerous times and brushed against the narrow stone alleyways of the city as the gourmet-scented air filled my senses.
Years later, the launch of Dolce & Gabbana’s limited-edition scent Light Blue Italian Zest continues my love affair with citrus. As I take a deep sniff of the overt lemon scent, I can feel myself being transported to the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast, with the cerulean waters of the Mediterranean Sea at my feet and the faint mixture of sea breeze and zest permeating the air from the surrounding lemon orchards.
Our sense of smell has always been attached to the recollection of emotive memory and has the ability to instantly transport a person to a specific place, state of mind, or space of healing. No one knows this better than Olivier Polge, Chanel’s master perfumer, who used scent’s transformative power in the creation of the Les Eaux de Chanel collection. The collection consists of three citrus-based scents that take you on a journey to three of Gabrielle Chanel’s favourite places and pivotal phases in her life: Deauville, Biarritz and Venice. New beginnings deserve scents that are just as invigorating as plunging into a new opportunity.
A single spritz of Paris-Deauville and the fresh floral notes of orange rind, basil leaf and jasmine transport you to the French seaside town of Deauville in 1913, where Chanel opened her first store to launch her first collection. Then let’s travel to the coastal town of Biarritz with the Paris-Biarritz scent, where Chanel opened her second fashion space in 1915. The white musk, lily of the valley, and vetiver opened up by a fresh citrus note brings the refreshing sea breeze in, awakening the senses like a toe into the cold Atlantic Ocean lapping at the shore.
As much as scents can teleport us to places in time that we long to be at again, some can take us back to a place in which heartache resides. Paris-Venise is just such a fragrance: through its harmonious contrast of airy freshness and heady oriental notes, it tells of Chanel’s heartbreak over the death of her lover, Boy Capel, in 1919, and the solace in creativity that she found in Venice. Although it still has a citrus component, Paris-Venise is the most differentiated of the three fragrances, as the neroli is muted and enveloped in red berry, grasse geranium, cedar, amber and vanilla.
The overall powdery quality of the scent gives you that feeling of nestling your head in a nurturing embrace or hugging a piece of clothing still engraved with the signature scent of a lost loved one: there’s a reassurance, familiarity, and the sense of comfort that scent brings. The sweetness of the vanilla and red berry as the scent settles brings aromatic spices such as cinnamon to mind, and can transport you to India where you image yourself drinking a steaming cup of comforting masala tea.
“I wanted people to smell that gateway to the Orient, which, at Chanel, is also an evocation of the baroque,” says Oliver Polge. It’s the only scent out of the three that leaves its story up for interpretation, as it brings you into the emotion of Chanel during that time, rather than having the feeling of the city of Venice as your first instinctive takeaway.
The brand Memo has always had the transporting nature of scent in mind, with every fragrance created to embody its motto: “The journey is the destination.” Memo Italian Leather – part of its Cuirs Nomades collection, which explores the signature ingredient of leather from six places spanning Africa to Italy – captures the intimacy of sourcing a leather bag or shoe, or the scent of sinking into a leather couch in the middle of a vintage library.
The fresh, earthy notes of green-tomato leaf, combined with spicy oil of pink pepper, myrrh resin, leather accord, and vanilla absolute, give the scent a distinctive, leathery quality that feels balanced and nuanced. It may make you feel as if you’re in the middle of Tuscany witnessing a cobbler hand-craft a pair of leather shoes as he runs his fingertips over the material to feel all the facets of its texture, scans it closely with his eyes to take in the smallest details, and, lastly, smells it to form the everlasting connection and seal of approval.
In a world consumed by social media, sometimes the place we wish to be transported to is a state of reconnection with our surroundings, or even ourselves. As the skyscrapers of our cities get ever higher and concrete jungles become our daily view, there is a longing to disconnect from our intricately wired lives and escape into a lush, natural setting. “We are all on the same quest. We want the dynamic vitality of the city, but also the life force of nature,” says Alberto Morillas, master perfumer of the new masculine scent, Bulgari Man Wood Essence.
Meander through Singapore’s Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay, under 50m-tall super-tree structures draped with thousands of plants, or travel to London’s Sky Garden to be immersed in an urban landscaped garden situated atop the city that perfectly blends the modern, clean lines of steel structures with wild nature. This aromatic, woody scent brings the great outdoors in: its olfactory makeup is reminiscent of the damp, earthy scent of moss-covered soil crumbling under your feet as you walk through a forest, with its combination of cypress wood, cedar wood, and vibrant Italian citrus zest notes that settles into peppery, slightly metallic Haitian vetiver essence and Benzoin Siam.
Whether it is lingering bergamot inviting in the sea breeze of the Amalfi coast, fragrant cedar wood creating a feeling of calm, or a cocooning vanilla base, each note in a fragrance is designed to attach itself to the memory centres of our brain and trigger an emotion every time we come into contact with it.