Friday, October 1, 2010

Week is long, month is short

It's the first again already, which means my monthly scent column is up. This time, it's all about the memories:
Smells from childhood are especially prone to triggering deep memories: the almond-and-raw-flour smell of Play-Doh, mentholic Vick’s Vap-o-Rub, Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo. Early memories feel monumental because we had less experience to compare them to; things seem novel and amazing when you’re a kid, and somehow get coded as amazing, though later you can recognize that they’re not. But this can happen with anything emotionally charged—I had a long-distance boyfriend in college who reportedly would smell Pantene, the shampoo I used exclusively from the ages of 16 to 20 or so, in drugstores and instantly get an erection.
I reviewed some scents that were "Big in the '90s" ('80s too), so chances are high I covered something you or someone close to you actually wore. Chances are also high, unforch, that I hated it, so apologies in advance if I shat on your sentimental favorite.


  1. Elisa,
    I found your article really fascinating because I have a few very powerful scent memories and the sense of smell really seems to work quite differently to the other senses at least for me. My visual or aural memory exists without a comparator but I can't remember scents without actually smelling the scent itself or something similar. Equally I cannot remember having dreams of smells that were not there while my dreams have always included visual, oral, aural and tactile elements.
    Your post inspired me to look up Roma by Laura Biagiotti. It seems as though it is still on the market but with a different formula so I may well never experience that scent memory again.

  2. Aidan, I am the same way -- I can't imagine a smell very accurately in my mind the way I can with music or a picture. However, when I smell something, I can recognize it immediately or know if it has changed. Smell is odd that way.

    If you can get Roma cheaply, it may have changed but not to disastrous degrees. Hard to say. Smelling perfumes from your past can be intense!

  3. Loved the Rush review in particular- "a fog machine, butter, hairspray"- fantastic! :)

  4. Interesting -- I find, on the other hand, that I can remember smells vividly and accurately -- there are some that are just indelible. (For instance, juniper bushes in the summer during high school years; chlorine swimming pool; the gingerbread-mixed-with-miscellaneous-other-baking-smells from my grandparents' house in a small town in Iowa; fresh snow; the slightly pungent smell of warm pavement after brief light rain; the pervasive smells of popcorn and onion soup in the cafeteria where I worked part-time one year during college. Etc.)

    The only specific perfume smell that has stayed with me potently over the years, or that can transport me, is patchouli. After all these years, if I get a whiff of patchouli from anyone in the room, or passing on the street, it immediately takes me back to the presence of... um... another person at another time.

  5. The smell of Arpege by Lanvin reminds me of my mother. After she died I bought a small bottle of the perfume and would open it and dab it on my wrist and lay down and cry. Time has past and I no longer cry but feel like she is with me when I dab it on my wrist to have a day devoted to remembering her. Roger Gallet soap in the sent of Carnation reminds me of my Swedish Grandmother. She always bought it for me and after her death I would buy it for myself. My bathroom always smelled of that wonderful soap. Loreal bought them out and have discontinued the carnation scented soap that I have used since I was a baby. I wrote them a scathing letter but they don't care. Corporations are heartless. I could go on and on but scents are as important to me as music is as they have both been part of the roadmap to my life.

  6. @Lyle: I know all those smells well but just never feel that I can imagine them in crystalline detail. Every now and then I can "picture" a smell for a second or two but I can't sustain it the way I can with a song. It's strange. (Songs, in fact, usually refuse to go away.)

    @Kathleen: I love stories like this; thanks so much for sharing. I assume you've looked for the soap on eBay? I think there are actually whole sites that are dedicated to discontinued beauty products. When I fall in love with a perfume I always feel anxious that I won't be able to find another bottle or they'll change it by the time I finish mine. But I can't really afford to go around buying backups of everything...