Perfume Polytechnic turned one a couple of weeks ago. To celebrate the blog’s first birthday I held a giveaway and entrants were asked to share one of their favourite childhood scent memories with me. I received some fabulous answers, and what struck me most was the emotional power of these memories. These scent memories were not only pleasant smells remembered on their own, but they were related back to treasured activities, relationships and special moments.
Scent is evocative. It helps us to recall memories, people, places and things. It connects us. I’ve published a selection of some of the lovely scent memories that my readers sent in below. I hope you enjoy reading them too.
Crystal Marie (USA)
“Narrowing down my favorite childhood scent memory is sort of difficult as there are several. My favorite has to be of the totality of semi-swampy forest and fields behind my childhood home. The sweet fragrance of walking on crushed cottonwood leaves, as mimosa flowers, willow and dogwood perfume the air, especially in early morning or early evening. It’s a lovely combination, which is I suppose my inspiration for botanical fragrance work. I love the smell of places in nature best.”
“Both my mother and grandmother were superb cooks, so some of my strongest childhood scent memories are of food cooking, from aromatic chicken soup with home-made noodles to pavlova and honey cake, delectable savoury and sweet dishes of all kinds. And I also strongly remember the scent of 4711, which seemed to be everywhere back then!”
Goh Sha (USA)
“My favorite perfume memory is going through my mom’s drawer and smelling Dior’s Poison which took my breath away. It was so contrary to the idea of perfume I had at the time.”
Sue Holleron (UK)
“I live in a very old City called Chester. My favourite childhood fragrance was the scent of clean hay and straw when I helped my Dad with the animals as he was a Keeper at Chester Zoo. I loved the feeling that the animals had comfortable beds to sleep on!!”
“One of my earliest smell memories is of a cumquat tree in my parents’ garden – it sat in a large pot by the door, so I passed it often, and associate its zingy scent with summer warmth, bare feet and a bee-sting I received nearby. At some point I couldn’t resist having a taste of the cute little fruits, so I also associate that unpleasant experience with the much nicer smell. But I am still fond of the smell of a cumquat tree.”
Charlotte Scheuer (USA)
“My favorite memory as a child was walking to kindergarten and going past a greenhouse. I loved the smell of earth, geraniums and the various flowers therein. I was a wee little girl growing up in Ohio and I think my ‘career’ as a perfumista began right there! I think I have been trying to replace that scent in my heart since then. At that age also, my grandmother had huge peony bushes in her backyard and I remember them as well. These fond memories bring me comfort and joy!”
“I’m from Australia and a childhood scent memory is the ink from those old-school stencilling machines we had back in primary school. I can waft the slightly sour acrid chemical smell right now if I close my eyes. It takes me back to year 2 – we had a cool teacher who loved The Beatles and I remember she made us draw pictures of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds – little did we know what it really meant! As well as stencilling ink, her classroom smelt of decaffeinated coffee and the jelly beans she used to hand out when we did good deeds.”
“My favorite scent memory from childhood… I sometimes have trouble recalling them until the smell is actually present. One of them would be the smell of mustard flower in the night air, when I walked outside in a village in my native country, Bangladesh, and you couldn’t see anything, not even your hand in front of you… but you could smell the flowers, and that smell lent you a sense of peace, even though your vision was lost.”
“There are many different kinds of olfactory memories from my childhood (preschool age).
Memory #1 Roses in spray: My great-grandmother had a neighbor who worked in Germany. Every time she came home, she brought a bottle of home fragrance. A large pale green bottle like the old design of hair spray bottles under pressure. The smell was so similar to the roses that are rare today. An intensive smell that was almost identical to many roses we easily found in most of the yards then. It was sweeter probably because of high concentration but it smelled like real roses.
Memory #2 Peonies: My great-grandmother had many bushes of multicolored peonies. Once upon a time, in the 70’s, when the climate was healthy, spring showers happened often in the period of the peony’s blooming. The rain intensified the scent of the peonies that was spread and mixed with the scents of the other flowers.
Memory #3: Forest. My favorite memory. It is amazing to watch how the seasons of the year change and bring various odors in the same place. It depends on so many factors: tree species, the level of humidity, the amount of rotten and dry fallen leaves, lakes and streams, the amount of snow and sunlight are some of them. I’m happy that I spend a lot of time in the same forest nowadays, too. It is a very important place for me.”
The Perfume Magpie (Spain)
“Your question on a favourite scent from childhood made me think a lot… There are so many and it’s rather difficult to pick one or two. If I were to choose the smells with emotional attachments, I would say incense and osmanthus. Incense was a part of my daily life and I did enjoy the act of offering incense every morning. The smell and the sight of osmanthus in autumn was pure magic. Every autumn, I was waiting and waiting for the gorgeous orange coloured blossoms to open. Pity, I haven’t found any osmanthus trees here in Spain.”
Sun Mi (USA)
“My favorite scent memory is a bizarre one, but it’s the smell of Powerbait. I actually wrote one of my college essays on it back in the day. My dad and I would go fishing often, and I loved it. After a day of fishing our hands would reek of the potent, neon fish bait, layered with the slimy smell of fish and lake water. It wasn’t, perhaps, the most pleasant of smells – but it was the smell of fun with my dad.”
“Perhaps my most vivid childhood memory is related to summer holidays at the sea and to the various scents I recall from those days spent at the beach: the salty smell of the sea, obviously, but also that of suntan lotions, pastries sold in the bars on the promenade and plastic bags in which my mother used to put all my things (swimsuits, toys, etc.). I used to miss this fabulous mix of smells when I came home, and I’ve always loved exotic/beach scents since then – especially after getting seriously addicted to fragrances.”
“A “scent memory” I hold dear is of the musty yet fresh scent of the ice-skating rink. The anticipation of a seven year old being able to do something exciting, a little dangerous and somehow otherworldly with its endless white was added to with the crisp smell of the ice plus the leather from my beloved little ice skates. I remember how the scent would intensify when on the ice, when a blade would cut into the ice and of course, when I fell. When I get a whiff of a smell like this, I am transported back to this time.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these wonderful scent memories and conjuring up the images that they convey and suggest. Do you have any treasured scent memories from childhood that you would like to share? If so, please leave a comment in the box below!