memory and smell

Even before Proust, scent has played an integral role in memory-making and memory recall throughout history. One has only to consider the vast tomes of naturalist fiction, only the tip of the iceberg. It is one of the key senses in creating an immersive experience whether on the page, in conversation, and now, in the virtual realm of screens. The rising popularity of digital scent memoirs is also strong testimony.

Alzheimer’s researchers are continuing to investigate the relationship between olfaction and memory. For some time, they have known that the loss of smell or anosmia is a sure sign of the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. Now teams are trying to determine how special scents can be used strategically as stimuli in patients struggling with dementia and memory loss.

Belgian fashion collective Margiela is tapping into the rich digital space for scent memory. Their fragrance line replica has spurred a social project to mine sensory-rich, smell-inspired or evocative photos via Instagram. All are invited to share their personal smell images like this lovely post by Mimi Frou Frou  by tagging photos with #smellslikememories.

Here’s my very first scent memory  and a smell image to accompany it:maplesyrupPhoto courtesy of

I will never be able to separate the smell of maple syrup from my unsophisticated yet eager five-year-old nose, from my five-year-old skin. My tiny curious self, trudging through a maple farm in the bright, crunchy snow, puzzling at the plastic jugs parasitically strapped to the maple trees’ wispy figures. These dainty giants stood at attention in service of the warm glowing cabin and its endless stream of billowing white smoke. I remember wondering if the trees were in fact bleeding. The smoke filling my nostrils with warm woodiness, goodness of the  slender forest overtook the tingly icy chill of winter’s air tickling my bare cheeks. The dim light of dusk cast an overwhelming blanket of mystery over this place, which at that moment seemed to me as secret and profound as the other side of the coat closet in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe must’ve been for those fictional children I would read about a few years later. These great clouds of smoke filled my wool scarf, wrapped tightly around my neck, over my coat, catching the condensation of that fantastic new scent dripping from my nose. How amazed I was by the rich sensations. How strange that in my memory, I am virtually alone, except for the incredulous, excited glances fired between my sister and I. Stranger yet that my memory is absolutely silent, and that this heavy silence is a crucial part of the experience that is today only awakened by the accidental thought that I love the smell of maple, but not its taste. Perhaps this is because no bottle I’ve opened to this day has had the power to bring me back to the feeling I’ve just described, the intoxicating novelty of witnessing the magical birth of maple syrup in the New Hampshire countryside. You see, the scent of maple is vision, quietude, sensation, and awe. It is too rare to be plucked from the shelf out of a crude grocery store lineup, too precious to be cavalierly spilt in public, among strangers, over pancakes or waffles or bacon.


Take a small stick of cinnamon, or a maple branch, if one is handy.

Put a dram of very peaty scotch into a small glass or bowl. A very smoky cognac, brandy or armagnac will do.

Drizzle a bit of maple syrup into the scotch. It will sink to the bottom.

Get a match (ones that light fire logs are even better).

At dusk, preferably during the winter or fall, bundle up in coat and wool scarf.

Gather your scotch-maple glass, stick and matches and go outside.

Light the stick or branch just until it smoke a bit, like an incense stick and wave it under your nose.

Throw back the scotch and maple, making sure to lick the last bit of maple from the bottom of the glass or bowl so it is the last taste you have.

Enjoy the warm. smoky, sweet, stickiness of maple against the chilly mystery of winter dusk.

For maximum enjoyment, do this alone.

smells unseen


Photo courtesy of

The small town of Herford, located between Hanover and Dusselforf, is home to Frank Gehry-designed Marta Herford museum. From June 8 – June 15, 2014 you can test and train your sense of smell. Belgian artist Peter De Cupere uses scratch and sniff technology in his invisible (SCENT) paintings of olfactory art, which is part of an interactive sculpture and architecture show.

JUNE 8 – 15
Marta Herford
Goebenstraße 4–10, 32052 Herford
Fon +49.5221.994430-0
How to get to Marta Herford with Google Maps


scent tourism


Photo courtesy of Steve Hill Photography

Environmental olfactory advocate, Victoria Henshaw, is on a mission to elevate the odors of various cities and landscapes to a new level of cultural import. She has authored a book on the subject, Urban Smellscapes, and offers guided olfactory tours in her native England. Her website contains tips for smell-walking along with an exciting catalog of the smell walks, some including DIY smell tours, with a handful of tours outside the UK. These delightful forays into the olfactory experience of a geographical location are perfectly in sync with graphic designer Kate McLean‘s wonderful sensory maps of primarily European cities including isolated sensory taste, smell, and tactile maps. We hope to experience some of these smellscape guides this side of the pond one day soon.

scent stories

From the personal to the political, stories about smells are proliferating over the waves and wires. Check out these short but sweet narratives to inspire your own scent journeys on and off the page.

Photo courtesy of

A lovely bicyclist gives us a tour of the coast of Northern Ireland through photo and smell images.

Beauty editor Cristina Mueller invites us into her personal journey with perfume.

Writer and musician Martin Cook takes us to Melbourne on a Saturday night.

Writer and writing coach Maria Berg tours the olfactory experience of home.

Finally, John Herrman raises eyebrows about a New York City scent guide as political propaganda.

get the led out


Glaring sun on miles of dusty oranges, browns and blues layered as far as the eye can see. Dry thick air whipping past your face, bringing the heat up through your nose and down your throat. There’s the inimitable honeyed rock of Zeppelin crushing in your ears as you drive at breakneck speed down an empty highway. Where you’re going, you don’t know. When you’ll get you, you don’t care.

This is the Californian desert at its best. This is summer in Mojave Desert.

This extraordinary mood captured by Led IV, a fantastic summer scent dreamed up by Dana El Masri in her niche perfume line, Jazmin Saraï.

Although it was inspired by “Going to California” in particular, this fragrance is evocative of the whole glorious sonic range of the greatest classic rock band ever. This woodsy incense fragrance has the gentleness of Zeppelin’s acoustic tunes like “Tangerine” but the top notes strike as brightly as Bonham’s high hats, the guiac and labdanum provide the soulful rhythm, and the railing energy of Robert Plant’s vocals in a barely sweet bergamot-grapefruit-davana accord.


This fragrance draws so many favorites together into a fantasy roadtrip that never ends. It should be in heavy rotation at Coachella.

scent shopping in the digital age


Though it’s impossible to replace the real live experience of sniffing out scents in a boutique, digital tools can make that process more fun, and perhaps even more efficient. There have been so many new developments in olfactive e-commerce, most obviously, robust sampling programs offered by individual brands or fragrance boutiques. Check out an old list of some brand-specific sampling programs. Here ‘s a breakdown of what we’ve seen so far.

Most Promising

Nose – boutique and website based in Paris
Monday – Saturday: 10:30AM to 7:30PM
20 rue Bachaumont, 75002
M° Sentier or Etienne Marcel

Nose stands out because of their wide range of niche fragrance brands and discovery tool. The site and shop use a diagnostic that analyzes fragrances you already wear to identify your favorite scent families and suggest similar scents. Unfortunately, at the moment, the tool only allows for up to 5 scents to analyze. For someone with a larger scent library, it’s not as helpful as it could be.

Luckyscent – scent bar and online boutique
7405 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles CA 90036
Monday-Saturday 11-7
Sunday 12-5

Luckyscent has by far the widest range of niche fragrance brands and are constantly introducing new products. Their scent descriptions are thorough and they have lots of reviews, although, over the years, I’ve noticed many of them disappearing. Perhaps this is part of shifting stock. That’s one trouble here. Luck Scent has great stock, but you can’t smell everything in store with the limited space in their tiny boutique. They send great email updates and have a fun sampling program. For $3-5 per scent, you can select and buy samples to be shipped to you. At Scent Bar, you can peruse solo, with friends, or get expert help from the staff.

The Fragrance Lab at Selfridges

Part of Selfridges’ Beauty Project, until June 27, 2014, the lab offers a unique ipad diagnostic and exploration experience that includes a bottle of perfume for £65. Selfridges perfume collection is focused more on commercial than niche fragrances. When you buy a ticket, you are fitted with the perfect original scent for you. For the fun of conversing with lab coats in a fog-filled room, until and 50ml bottle of a signature smell, it seems worth it. Buy a ticket here

Jury’s Still Out

Over the past few years, other notable boutiques have joined the perfume party, such as Bergamot, Pinrose, and Scentsa. Several apps have also appeared but need considerable more development to be truly user-friendly.

Iperfumer is an app that simply does not work. What’s more, their perfume database is predictably limited to the fragrances they create.

Perfumance looks really good right off the bat, but they have a strange database of a couple of scents per brand. For example, Frédéric Malle, Byredo, and Heeley are represented by a few seemingly random scents in the larger collection.

Sephora has an in-store app, Scentsa, but alas, is also focused on commercial fragrance.

Pinrose follows a subscription sales model with their own original collection. The program enables shopper to learn about their own unique fragrances through a synesthetic tool – seeing or tasting smells – to explore the best fragrance for her or her.

Bergamot is another company that follows a subscription model, sending you 3 different scents each month to discover. It’s a great concept, focused on niche fragrances. It’s perfect for those getting into niche fragrance for the first time. More experienced fragrance hunters will likely want to see the collection expand dramatically.

Scentbird takes inspiration from the success of Warby Parker. You get fragrances in the actual bottle, try for a few days, and keep it if you like it, return it if you don’t. Neat concept, and a fun, personality-cased discovery method. At present, the company’s offering is limited to commercial fragrances.

bringing molecular gastronomy home


Photo courtesy of

The Canadian molecular gastronomy company, Molécule-R is tackling a new frontier in taste and home dining. They are about to release aroma-diffusing forks and spoons – Aromafork, at $58.98 CD and Aromaspoon $24.95 CD – add various aromas to each sip or bite. They call these enhancements ‘volatile flavoring kits,’ which are available for pre-order slated for release June-July 2014.

aroma-r-evolution (1)Photo courtesy of

continuing education

ImagePhoto courtesy of Odette Toilette

Noses in the Big Smoke are lucky to have Odette Toilette, the founder of a thriving olfactory event scene in London. Her scratch + sniff nights provide rich olfactive adventure and education.

Californians can take a more institutional yet no less exciting approach to olfactive training at one of perfumer and wine consultant Alexandre Schmitt‘s seminars as he travels wine country across the state.

As the latest smell research shows, participating in scent events like these trains your brain and nose to smell a wider range and greater nuances in smells.