In 2023, nothing smells as good as nostalgia – whether you lived through the time you’re yearning for or not
PHOTOGRAPHY by LAUREN BAMFORD
STYLING by POPPY BUNTZ
WORDS by LISA PATULNY
Of the five senses, smell has the closest thing
to the full power of the past. Smell really is
transporting. Seeing, hearing, touching, tasting
are just not as powerful as smelling if you want your whole
being to go back for a second to something ... It’s a neat
way to reminisce.
So said Andy Warhol – and the artist would know. Over his lifetime, he was committed to collecting perfumes, switching up his fragrance every few months and cataloguing the scents by era. In effect, he was creating an olfactory time capsule – one he regularly used to revisit his own past.
Scent memory and nostalgia have a storied history. Since Marcel Proust wrote about the sudden rush of feelings he experienced upon biting into a tea-soaked madeleine in 1913, we’ve been pondering the mystery of the olfactory bulb and its effect on our emotions. Everyone has had their own Proustian moment, where the smell of something familiar has triggered a flood of memories. The scent of your grandmother’s favourite hand cream, a whiff of chlorine from your local pool, the aroma of cinema popcorn – fragrance has a unique ability to unlock
memories. And in these deeply nostalgic times, it’s more
powerful and potent than even your digital camera or
Right now, we’re not only longing for a simpler time though; we’re yearning for things we haven’t actually lived through. Take the slew of perfumes crafted to evoke the ’60s counterculture protests (a surprisingly popular point of inspiration in niche perfumery). These stirring blends of patchouli oil, spice and weed smoke conjure up what we imagine the era to have smelled like. A fusion of nostalgia and fantasy, they allow us to immerse ourselves in a past we can only envision in our dreams.
Can you drop into a 1920s speakeasy? Until a bored billionaire manages to come up with a time machine, no. But breathe in a perfume that recalls booze, freshly snipped cigars, spilled coffee and polished chrome bar stools, and you can get pretty close. Unlike, say, a novel or a movie, scent can transport you to a specific time and place in stereoscopic detail – even if you’ve never been there.
Step into the intoxicating world of the NYC dance club. The scent is androgynous and strangely seductive, and the air is thick with sweat and Stoli. Infused with bitter notes that add a touch of intrigue, these modern fragrances will transport you to the dance floor, while the hints of coffee, tea and tobacco nod to the morning after, when euphoric nights stretched into dawn.
LA at the turn of the millennium smelt like glitz and glam. Like lychee, champagne and berries. Like the candy-pink hue of your Juicy Couture tracksuit. There’s coffee and vanilla too (Starbucks, of course), plus ‘blonde’ notes that defined the chunky high- lights of early aughts hair.
All peace, love and liberation, these captivating scents evoke the subversive spirit of the 1960s. A kaleidoscope of earthy sweetness (patchouli, vanilla, hemp and, ahem, herbs), they’ll take you on a jour- ney back to a time when psychedelia reigned and The Beatles were bigger than Jesus.
Opulent, rich and a little rebellious, a contemporary crop of fragrances serve up the essence of the extrav- agant jazz age. Notes of liquor, fizz and smoke recall not only the illegally mixed cocktails, but the clan- destine clubs themselves. Spice and warm woods pay homage to the fashionable perfumes of the day.
What did a suburban shopping centre smell like during the greed decade? Money. Sweet and a little strange. You’d swing by to pick up new clothes, hairspray (Elnett, always) and big, bold flowers. Synthetic notes Paradisone and Ambroxan recall new plastic and the woody pine of freshly mopped floors. Spritz to relive the glory days of the food court.
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