Fragrance is deeply personal.
It’s all about the smells you like, that complement your natural scent, and your lifestyle.
However, what perhaps makes it the most personal of all beauty products is that fragrance is especially powerful when it comes to memory.
Of all the senses, smell is the most closely linked to being able to trigger past associations.
A certain scent can take you back to a time, person, place or moment.
Emilie Bouge, perfumer for Miller Harris, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘There is an complex link between perfume and our past, and it is because our brains cannot actually describe smells.
‘To compensate, we have adapted by storing our scent bank with our memory bank.
‘Our brains are instantly triggered into finding associated memories to help us identify what we are smelling.
‘And this is why there is so much emotion in the fragrance industry.
‘You can catch a waft of something, often by chance and instantly the mind is transported to a place, a person, a time. This is truly powerful.’
While some smells have more ‘universal’ linked memories (such as pine making many think of Christmas time), most are individualised.
We spoke to readers to find out what their fragrance stories are, for better or worse.
Tom Ford Black Orchid
‘I got this perfume on my placement year at university and whenever I smell it I’m taken back to that time, and it was a really sore point at that time in my life.
‘I grew a lot, found new confidence, and started to accept myself, I got rid of a really horrible boyfriend and had a lot of fun – I enjoyed being fun.
‘I saw the perfume and bought it at this period.
‘But as the year came to an end I lost two really close friends through a fallout and it broke me. We had different opinions on stuff and it didn’t work.
‘During that year, I also developed an eating disorder and dropped a considerable amount of weight. Ididn’t properly recover from that narrative in my mind for years.
‘But, when I smell that perfume it doesn’t bring back the negative emotions – only the fun stuff we did and how fun that first year living in London was, going on nights out, and staying up too late.
‘As an adult reflecting on that smell I’ve realised this obsession with reliving the good moments isn’t always good – life experiences are mixed. So I look at that perfume with fondness, but I can’t wear it now.
‘A different person bought that to who I am now – so I want to leave it with her in that memory.’
Jo Malone Oud & Bergamot
‘I always used to raid my dad’s bathroom cabinet to see what colognes he had.
‘There was a tiny bottle of Oud & Bergamot by Jo Malone.
‘I thought it was incredible and so naturally asked if I could borrow it and he said I could have it.
‘I wore it on a walk around Richmond Park with a girl who later became my girlfriend.
‘I don’t know what either oud or bergamot smell like but the cologne instantly takes me back to the feeling of first falling in love.
‘I’m now at the end of the full size bottle my girlfriend very kindly got me for my birthday and it’s been my favourite for the scent but also the memories attached to it.’
Jean Paul Gaultier Classique
‘I’ve been wearing this perfume since I was 15 – it was the first one anyone bought me and it was an instant commitment.
‘I’ve even had ex-boyfriends ask me what perfume I’m wearing so they can buy it for their new partner!
‘It reminds me of wild abandon, nights out clubbing (when I shouldn’t have been) and when I used to DJ until the early hours.
‘It’s not the most expensive perfume but makes the wearer feel empowered, for me it’s so comforting – its familiarity makes me feel put together and reassured.
‘I find comfort in it every time. My own love affair with this scent spans over 25 years.’
‘It reminds me of living in my first home in London after moving out of my parents house and going out with the girls I lived with.
‘But when I got my sense of smell back after having Covid back in 2020 my smell senses had changed – I couldn’t bear the smell of it anymore!
‘So had to change perfume, sadly.’
Elizabeth Arden Red Door
‘Elizabeth Arden Red Door is my mum’s smell.
‘She lives up the country and I miss seeing her all the time.
‘So I keep a tiny bottle of it and when I miss her I give it a sniff.
‘I actually had the bottle through university and when I felt anxious or sad I’d give it a little smell.
‘The smell genuinely feels like a warm, soft hug. No other scent makes me feel that way.’
Givenchy Ange ou Demon Le Secret
‘I had some spending money and wanted to get a designer perfume on the ferry to France, so I got this when I was 14.
‘I was utterly obsessed and rarely wore it because I didn’t want to waste it.
‘Whenever I smell it now it reminds me of being a teenager and high school.’
‘Joop! is the most powerfully nostalgic scent to me because I tend to associate fragrance with people I’ve fancied and my first crush wore it liberally.
‘It brings me back to sneaking booze out of my parents’ house to sit in the park and hope he’d look at me (then ending up drunk and anything but attractive).
‘Whenever I get a whiff of it now it makes me think of him – and that 14-year-old longing and angst that’s so all-consuming at the time but seems so silly as an adult.’
Diptyque Do Son
‘I once treated myself to a miniature travel sized version of this as it was all I could afford from Diptyque and I really wanted to try the brand (and it was in the sale!).
‘As such, it came with me on holidays abroad, weekends away, and overnight crashes at friends houses.
‘Now when I smell it, it reminds me of travel, fun and living without responsibility.
‘As an anxious person, it’s a nicer reminder of that side of myself.’
Britney Spears Midnight Fantasy
‘I wore this at university as it was affordable yet powerful, so it takes me back to nights out at the Student’s Union with sticky floors and chart music.
‘I always tuck a bottle away to access those memories.
‘But it does also reminds me of the time our house got burgled and I found it first – when I walked in my bottle was smashed by the door, among lots of glass.
‘I’ve tried to not let that memory ruin the first experiences of independence I associate with this smell.’