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  1. #1

    Default Autobiographies: Early Defining Scent Memories

    Many Basenoters have mentioned in the course of posts on other topics early memories of an experience - good or bad - with a particular fragrance that affected them for years to come. Those accounts are always fascinating, both in how they have shaped individual tastes, and as an indication of how strongly the brain encodes the experience.

    The earliest memory I have of the power of a fragrance came on a long Chicago bus ride. My mother had decided to take my brothers and me to visit a relative on the far south side, and because the car was in the shop our only choice was the bus - a trip that took hours. It was the kind of day that seems to take place only in Chicago, suffocatingly hot and humid, and these were the days before most buses had air conditioning. I was about eight at the time, and wound up sitting next to a very well-upholstered woman already dewy and vigorously fanning herself. She was wearing - "wearing" is an understatement; she was drenched in - a lily-of-the-valley scent, sweet, cloying, and unmediated. In the airless interior of the bus the floral inundation was unbearable, and grew more so as the temperature and humidity rose. I was so nauseated and green by the time we finally reached our destination that I was almost dizzy. To this day the merest whiff of muguet - the flower itself, or any frag with that note - turns my stomach.

    What's your defining experience?
    "Oh, my Lolita, I have only words to play with!"
    - Vladimir Nabokov,
    Lolita

  2. #2
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    fredricktoo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Autobiographies: Early Defining Scent Memories

    Earliest memories for me go back to pre-school and getting haircuts on a little wooden pony named Gus (I'm amazed I still remember the name and my always asking what horses have to do with haircuts) in the window of the barbershop. Whatever the barber was using at that time I didn't like. I didn't like being there. It was a knock down drag out fight every time my Mom took me.

    I also used to like to watch my father shave, and I'm sure he couldn't resist splashing some after shave on me too. The aftershave smelt a lot like Gucci Envy does now. Talk about consistency, I never saw him use anything else. Now that's brand loyalty.

  3. #3
    Dependent pluran's Avatar
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    Default Re: Autobiographies: Early Defining Scent Memories

    Great story Morgan Creek. I had a few of those experiences but I did my best to put my mind somewhere else. Doesn't sound like you had a lot of choice.

    My mom wore a lot of No.5, Joy, Ombre Rose and others in pure perfume strength. I now love all of the ones she wore but at the time they could be irritating as hell. She'd come back to my room in the morning attempting to wake me up (it was a challenge). Once she had gone over the fact that it was a certain time and I had so many minutes to get up, it was the aldehydes which usually had my full attention.

    She had closets full of clothes which were imbued with the smell of those great frags. When she died I kept a lot of her clothes in order to keep that smell around.

    My dad's Halston Z-14 was always a pleasant smell association as well. That stuff smelled incredible on him.

    My grandmother wore L'Heure Bleue but I don't remember it as strongly. I just remembered she always smelled extremely good.
    Last edited by pluran; 23rd January 2007 at 07:08 PM.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Autobiographies: Early Defining Scent Memories

    My mom always wore Chanel No.5 and later Fred Hayman 273. Since her death in 2002, I cannot bring myself to smell this scent; the memories are just too strong.

    My dad always wore Old Spice or Aqua Velva.

    My first girlfriend in the seventh grade wore Charlie. Ugh!!

    Smells that are the strongest time machine for me from childhood are
    chlorine (from my neighborhood pool), my grandfather's wonderful pipe tobacco, the smell of my grandmother's kitchen as she made Fig Preserves,
    The smell of my mom as she hugged me before bed each night, the smell of ripe tomatoes being picked from our garden, and the smell of fresh watermelon when we would cut one open weekly during the summer months.
    Of course there are many more, but these few immediately sprang forward.

    British Sterling was my first cologne I wore...and I am wearing Black Aoud today. Life is all about exposure I guess.

    barry

  5. #5

    CologneJunkie's Avatar
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    Default Re: Autobiographies: Early Defining Scent Memories

    Nothing, absolutely nothing, smells as wonderful as my grandma's kitchen as she made breakfast. *Drool*. I loved visiting her as a kid. She was a rather mean woman, but damn she could cook.

    The first "artificial" smell I remember came from a Christmas present from my parents when I was like, 4 or 5. It was a pink & purple plastic digital watch. You could flip the face up, and there was a little tub of lip gloss underneath. I still remember the cinnamony, bubble gummy smell of that gloss. It wasn't necessarily a great smell, but it's evidentally something that made an impression.

    I also really liked the smells of Biolage and Nexxus shampoos when I was little.
    "Wait...is David Bowie really God?" - Penelope Garcia

  6. #6

    Default Re: Autobiographies: Early Defining Scent Memories

    I started out with pencil erasers. From a very young age I carried in my school bag a tupper-ware (SP?) box with loads of different smelling erasers in it. These were never used, just sort of carried around and sniffed, at random intervals. The collection was added to as I received treats from my family "a new eraser?, smelling of blueberry? joy!!) I remember one that was like a lip-balm/lipstick design, smelt of apple, my favourite. I must have carried around this box for a few school years. I still have it in the loft. I never realised how much I liked my box of smellies until I saw it in the loft, not long ago. Happy days.

    My fist fragrance memory was being bought a gift of Aramis 900 cologne and the Aramis 24hr deo-spray, my an aunt on a trip to the "big city" (Manchester). I adored it, I still have the bottle, with about 2ml remaining. I thought this was the best thing in the world, ever. I can't remember if I chose it or she did, she was (still is) a very keen fashionista, always with an eye on good taste and quality. I have a feeling that she chose it for me, I wil ask her.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Autobiographies: Early Defining Scent Memories

    My early life was inundated by smells: I grew up in west Africa. One smelled everything first before even seeing it, especially the massive open air markets! The fishmongers naturally held sway smellwise, followed by the "jujumen" who sold oils and essences said to ward off the evil eye. Coupled with a veritable cloud of flies that seemed to block out the beating sun, market day was always an adventure.

    My blessed mom had a small retinue of perfume. She loved them dearly and having obtained a precious bottle here and there from friends visiting France, she was miserly in their use. But on those special occasions when she wanted to smell great, boy, did she ever! A few spritzes here, or a dab there and the result was breathtaking, literally.

    I learned to stay away for the first few minutes after application when things calmed down a bit, then I'd slink up: "Hi, Ma. You smell good!" That always set her off smiling, something I always loved to see. I'm sure, being a single mother with two terrifying boys, a sincere compliment from a 10-year-old son was always welcome, a salve to the soul.

    I miss my mom.
    De gustibus non est disputandum

  8. #8

    Default Re: Autobiographies: Early Defining Scent Memories

    I was raised by my French father and Dutch mother in the South of Spain in the late sixties.

    My father was a real fragrance addict and used loads of Vetyver by Lanvin, Pour un Homme de Caron and Eau Sauvage.

    My parents separated when I was three so the only memories I have of my dad, (never seen him since) are these particular scents.This is probably the root of my lifetime fascination with frags....

    On a different note; my father used to add a Gaulois cigarette to the Caron to give it that bit more body, so I've been told......

  9. #9

    Default Re: Autobiographies: Early Defining Scent Memories

    Mom used some kind of german egg-and-cognac shampoo for my young childhood baths. The hot bathwater made the cognac smell fill the whole room.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Autobiographies: Early Defining Scent Memories

    My first memories of fragrance were of my grandmother's perfume, Tweed by Lentheric - a sweet mixture of wood, spice and floral. My mother only wore perfume for special occasions and her favourites were: Lanvin's Arpege, Lancome's Magie and Coty's L'Aimant. All of these are sweet floral-aldehyde mixtures. My other grandmother favoured Coty's L'Origan which perfectly suited her regal nature. She also had a large bottle of 4711 on her dresser. My aunts preferred Oriental fragrance: one wore Coty's Emeraude while the other Dana's Tabu. All of these scents were first class and I think my love of good perfume is connected with these memories. My Dad always wore Mennen's Skin Bracer and an uncle used Old Spice. My first fragrance was Yardley's Black Label but I really started my love of scent when I bought Lanvin's Vetyver when I was about sixteen. What a terrific scent - sharp, peppery and long-lasting.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Autobiographies: Early Defining Scent Memories

    Like Fredrick, one of my first scent experiences was at the local barbershop as a kid. I didn't always go fighting all the way, though. My affinity for barbershop style scents started there.

    My dad has never been much of a fragrance user but his deodorant has a very distinct, nice smell that I will always remember.

  12. #12

    Default Re: Autobiographies: Early Defining Scent Memories

    I must admit, my first memory of "masculine" colognes was when my grandfather was still alive and he uses to have a bottle of "Old Spice" on top of his chest all of the time. I am admitting that as a young child, I would want to imitate him by putting some on but I hated the smell as it did not appeal to my unrefined nose which is the reason why I never became a big fan of "Spicey" type of colognes.

    My first positive impression of designer cologne came when I was in the eighth grade and some kid in the previous class spilled a whole bottle of cologne on the floor. The whole class was filled with this fragrance and it was a rather pleasant smell. That smell, of course, was "Cool Water" and it had my and the next class saying, "Mmmmm" every time someone enter the classroom.
    Last edited by silk4ever; 24th January 2007 at 02:38 AM.

  13. #13

    Default Re: Autobiographies: Early Defining Scent Memories

    Wow, these are great reads. My barbershop smells are the barber talcs they always dusted me with after the haircut (we are talking many years ago). Always associated that smell with clean and neat.

    As a child I remember my mother having a number of different fragrances and lots of fascinating perfume bottle desgns, some of which I still have. Some of the fragrances she had were my first smells of amber. Slightly heavy and what I would think was a somewhat sweet smell. When I put on Ambre Sultan I remember those smells I had as a child. She also sold Avon at one point and the scent from them that sticks out is Topaz. For some reason I liked the plastic Topaz gem that was attached to the various bottles and jars.

    My father used an aftershave. Something like Skin Bracer, clean and refreshing. I do not ever remember seeing any cologne.

  14. #14
    Dependent pluran's Avatar
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    Default Re: Autobiographies: Early Defining Scent Memories

    I hunted Bobwhite quail all over West Texas when I was a kid. I started hunting when I was ten. Walking over thousands of acres of land there was all sorts of terrain and all kinds of intriguing smells. When you walk that much, especially in that environment, you really come alive. Endorphins are released in massive quantities. You're vigilant and your senses are primed. The adrenalin rush experienced from a covey of Bobwhites flushing wild is one of the best things there is. Watching the bird dogs do their thing intensified it that much more. A strong English Pointer can cover tens of miles of vast territory in very little time. To see a couple of high quality Pointers get down on point, hyper-tonic, quivering in anticipation, honoring each other to keep from flushing the covey prematurely. It's one of the most beautiful things there is. Carrying a shotgun, pushing my boots through heavy brush out in the open, down by a creek, next to a field, a fenceline, edge of foothills, there was always an abundance of phenomenal scenery. I'm not familiar with the names of all the fauna but there's a lot of it. Lots of thorns and things that would scratch or cut the hell out of you (it often felt good). The smells were powerful and became a strong part of my youth. Hunting like that for a few days makes you feel like an animal.

    I bought a bottle of Diptyque's L'Eau Trois a few months ago. Its approval rating on Basenotes is low, but it's a beauty. As I wore it, it brought out feelings of exhilaration and vitality. I couldn't discern the genesis of the perceptions and began having a hell of a lot of dissonance about it. It finally came to me when I was lying in bed. The stuff smelled like the terrain I used to hunt in when I was a kid. I got up, turned on the computer, and went to the Diptyque website seeking info about L'Eau Trois. Notes for L'Eau Trois include myrrh, myrtle, incense, cistus, pine, laurel, thyme, rosemary and oregano. It all made sense. The frag was inspired by the resinous scent of the aromatic shrubs from the mountainous coastline of northern Greece. Texas may not be Greece but when you're walking through heavy cover in any part of the world you often find common features.

    I'll get back to Texas and hunt some more quail.
    Last edited by pluran; 26th January 2007 at 01:10 AM.

  15. #15

    Default Re: Autobiographies: Early Defining Scent Memories

    Nice imagery, pluran! I know that smell all too well. It's a different smell when chukar hunting out here in the deserts of Idaho, but I know that smell nevertheless.
    De gustibus non est disputandum

  16. #16
    Dependent pluran's Avatar
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    Default Re: Autobiographies: Early Defining Scent Memories

    Quote Originally Posted by ifconfig
    Nice imagery, pluran! I know that smell all too well. It's a different smell when chukar hunting out here in the deserts of Idaho, but I know that smell nevertheless.
    Thanks,

    I enjoyed reading about West Africa too. I love the Third World. I like being in the wild. I was fishing the John Day river and accidentally hooked a chukar. They were all over the bank. I got out of my rubber canoe and managed to get the hook out. No damage done. They're amazing birds. Beautiful. I love that sound they make.

    I don't think you'll like L'Eau Trois (not many people do) but it might remind you of some of those things.

  17. #17

    Default Re: Autobiographies: Early Defining Scent Memories

    My most important scent memory is my first teacher and her perfume (which I years later recognized as L'Heure Bleue): whenever she leaned over my desk I took a deep sniff and felt all was well in the universe. L'HB still gives me that feeling.

    Another early scent memory is from kindergarten, there were old handbags, empty scent bottles and stuff like that to play with. There was an empty Chanel no 5 bottle and I managed to squeeze some tiny little spritz out on a pair of old black gloves, several sizes too big for me, but still: wearing them I felt mightily elegant!
    "Wovon man nicht lesen kann, darüber muss man schreiben."

  18. #18

    Default Re: Autobiographies: Early Defining Scent Memories

    Thought I'd dust this one off. Love the idea of thinking about early fragrance memories and their influence on what sorts of frags affect us deeply. So what do you remember when you smell around in that cabinet of early childhood?
    I've been very moved by tobacco fragrances recently, and hadn't really thought about why. After several weeks of wearing Nicolai Pour Homme it finally dawned on me that the juxtaposition of lavender, musk and tobacco makes sense to me because of my dad. Fresh like the outdoors where he's happiest, musky like his body when he was working, dripping sweat, swearing up a storm. And tobacco. He smoked heavily from the time he was about 14, and I never knew him without the smell of tobacco. Our relationship is difficult but weirdly although I'd never go to him for comfort I feel comforted by his smell.
    If you've ever read Roddy Doyle's A Star Called Henry you'll know this great image of Henry being carried by his father smashed up against his repulsive coat as they run from the cops. His dad's coat is ruined with blood and snot, dirt and grease, because he's on the run, almost dead to Henry, obliged to use the Dublin sewage system as his highway. And when they shake the cops, his dad dumps him in a safe spot and disappears again. He's left with this ringing in his ears and the smell of the coat.
    So tobacco has come back to me recently with like a perverse and precious little love note from my Da.

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