From an early age, scent plays a huge part in our olfactory memory. Even if someone hasn’t got perfumania like me (and you probably have too if you’re reading this), you can bet your bottom dollar that they can at least remember their mother’s perfume from when they were a child, or the smell of their grandparents house, or even the soap in the school toilets. Revisiting a familiar scent can be like flicking a switch in your memory bank. Perfume and memory are intrinsically linked. The Alzheimers Society has recognised this and is examining it.
“We only have very preliminary results from this test, but together with mounting evidence in the field, we believe odours may be much better facilitators of memory and emotions than, for example, pictures and trigger quite different parts of the brain. These are brain areas that cannot be probed in any other way, yet which are central to diseases like Alzheimer’s.”-Dr Jason Warren, Alzheimers Research UK.
The full article can be found here and is well worth a read. It’s early days as far as research goes, but it is an indisputable fact that smell can trigger not just recollection, but emotion. On a personal level, and leaving my groaning dressing table of bottles alone for a minute (if I must), I can trace my whole life journey through an odyssey of scent: there’s the fresh cut grass of my childhood and the wildflowers you don’t see as much now. The smell of dirt and tomatoes and broken ferns can rush me back in time faster than any modern digital device. Scent is primal.
It’s no coincidence that the very first perfume I bought as a young teenager was called “Bluebell” from Boots, now long discontinued. Near where I lived as a child there were fields and woods full of them and Mum always had a posy from me in a yogurt pot on the kitchen windowsill.
Holidays provided their own unique library of scent too: coconutty sun screen, weak orange squash with sand in the bottom, and the malty smell of Dad’s pint of John Smiths. Don’t worry, my parents were never drunk in charge of three scamps, but they must have needed one after taking us all to a caravan for a week. Add the smell of roast lamb, real chips cooked in lard (Heavenly then, prohibitive now), and the smell of soil from my mud pies, and that pretty much sums up the smell of my seventies childhood.
As I got older, perfume played a bigger part in my life. In the 80s, you still had to take a roll of camera film to the chemist and wait three days to see if you had any good ones. As a result there are blessedly few photographs of my hectic social life throughout my teenage years and university, and no selfies at all. One sniff of Cacharel LouLou though, and I am transported to the exact songs I danced to in the Timepiece in Exeter, in a cloud of Marlboro Lights and the smell of feet that you get in dark nightclubs. I still have a bottle of LouLou, but it’s not the same now I’m a non smoking mother of two with firm dance floor inhibitions. My only late night fantasies now involve an early night and a good book, but one sniff of LouLou? Ah, those were the days.
In my early twenties I discovered Chanel Cristalle and it got me through five years of 90s Cool Britannia London. I barely wavered from it, apart from a flirtation with original Monsoon fragrance with the brown pointy cap. Only Gucci Envy in my thirties made me stray. Once I hit 42, I fell headlong into the fragrance portal that made me want to try them all with a thirst I couldn’t shake and here I am, having written 653 posts about fragrance.
My favourite smell, perfume aside, is the smell of my sons’ hair. One sniff and it tells me the story of them. Elder son smells of football games in the park. Younger son smells of school and still a little bit of baby. They don’t seem to mind their mother giving their heads a good sniff during a hug and I’m making the most of it before they get too tall for me- not difficult as I’m five foot two. Scent plays a huge part in my life, past and present. And you don’t have to own a flotilla of pretty bottles to think so ( but it helps!).
What smells take you back? Can you remember your mother’s perfume? The smell of holidays? Grandma’s house? The smell of your first kiss? Do share your thoughts. I always love to hear from you.
Photo credits: Top photo of Photo of me with my son Freddie aged two. Taken by Alison Oddy. LouLou ad from beautyofdawn.com. Cristalle photo from artofcosmetics.com. All others my own.