Aromatic Time Machine

Scents are quite literally the closest method we have to time travel. The power of scent is that our emotions are instantly activated before we have the chance to edit them.

One of my greatest challenges across the many moons that I have been a perfumer has been an attempt to put into language a practice whose currency and vocabulary are obscure, at best. The players are invisible, shadowy and almost impossible to describe and yet, they have the unparalleled ability to transport us back to a moment in time like no other mechanism in the world. Scent memories are immersive. Suddenly, you are back in that moment. In your 2nd grade classroom, you sit at your desk summoned back by the smell of freshly sharpened pencil shavings and paste. The memory is sharp and gentle at the same time. It’s as if you’re experiencing it through windows that have a little steam on them, softly filtering the memory.

I have all my clients fill out a “Fragrance Blueprint” before our appointment, so I can have a fundamental understanding of how to begin building their scent. One of the questions I ask is “Please write down any aromatic inspirations that you might have (walking in the forest after the rain, sunset at the beach with a fire burning, Lilac tree in bloom). Be as abstract or as specific as you wish.” This is where I find the good stuff. The unexpected aromatic cues. It is my favorite part of the fragrance profile to explore with my clients.

I had the opportunity to be interviewed for the #onethirtysomething Podcast about Fume recently and I asked the host, Kerrilynn Bass, to fill out the Fragrance Blueprint. Her answers to the aromatic inspiration question included “the smell of fall in Pennsylvania”. I pulled a bunch of oils to introduce to her, including a Myrrh that smells almost like a sweet burning wood. I knew that in order to make her connect with the robustness of the olfactory experience, I would need for her to smell the scents I had selected to match her blueprint, so before we began the interview, I asked her to smell. I saved the Myrrh for last, knowing she would have a strong reaction to it.

As she held the cap under her nose and inhaled, she looked up at me, her eyes misty with a rush of fresh tears. “Where are you right now?”, I asked her. “Tell me what’s going on”. “I’m standing on my old field hockey field. It’s mid-September in Westchester Pennsylvania. It smells like new beginnings. Everything is possible. My father is still alive.”

Among the Waterlily and Night Queen of Kerrilynn’s fragrance, tucked in between the Pacific Musk and Blood Orange, is a smell that reminds her of one of her deepest and most touching memories. It’s like hanging a cherished aromatic portrait on the invisible walls of the soul.

That is the transportive and evocative nature of scent.