The Essence of London : In Perfume Bottle

I have a new article in the Financial Times Magazine’s fragrance column. Titled The Essence of London, it describes my quest for a fragrance that captures the scent of London, a city I once called home. Once I left London, I missed it so much that I longed even to get a whiff of The Thames at low tidy (yes, that’s how much I longed for London!)

bottles-ft

When I mention to people that I love the smell of London, they usually make a quip about smog and exhaust fumes. Like most big cities, London has its fair share of unsavoury odours. The musty smell of the Thames at low tide is the least irksome of them, but I would paint an olfactory portrait of London with the freshness of daffodils in Kew Gardens, the antique-wood sweetness of the National Portrait Gallery and the pungency of the spices at Portobello Road Market. I would add the heady, creamy accent of Neal’s Yard Dairy for the rich base notes. Please read the rest by clicking here.

What environmental scents do you experience on a daily basis? Please don’t hesitate to tell us about the unpleasant ones! Brussels often smells like vanilla thanks to the ever-present waffle stands, but you only need to enter the subway to experience that ineffable musty rag odor hovering in the underground passages.

Photo via FT

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79 Comments

  • Jillie: Your article is such a lovely evocation of my old home town. For a moment, I wondered how on earth you could yearn for the smell of the Thames at low tide, but then I realised I do too! It is like a history lesson for the nose – centuries of silt, man-made and natural, with the mighty river depositing yet more memories on the rich bed every day. A city teeming with life and all its varied aromas, good and awful. You’ve made me homesick! November 13, 2013 at 8:29am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m so happy to hear it! Thank you, Jillie. When I left London, there was a period of time I didn’t return, because of other obligations. Missing the city made me want to learn about it more and experience it via other means.

      Do you return often? November 13, 2013 at 12:27pm Reply

      • Jillie: Sadly, no. But my husband still works there, so I get to experience it vicariously. November 14, 2013 at 2:40am Reply

  • Hannah: A lot of Hamburg just smells musty.
    You smell baked goods but most bakeries are inside so when you’re just walking around you just smell Le Crobag and Ditsch. Ditsch smells unhealthy deliciousness but nothing looks very good.
    There are a lot of Portuguese places here (and the people who work at these Portuguese cafes assume I’m Portuguese so I get really good service), so I’m beginning to associate Hamburg with Pastel de Nata. Today I was given a free Pastel de Nata for no reason! These smell like vanilla, I guess.
    There are lots of trees and plants here but they just smell like wet wood. November 13, 2013 at 8:30am Reply

    • Victoria: Mmmm, a pastel de nata is one of my favorite pastries, and they smell so heavenly–caramel, vanilla, custard. There are quite a few Portuguese shops in my neighborhood, but they mostly smell of salt cod. November 13, 2013 at 12:29pm Reply

      • Hannah: It’s my birthday so it was like he unknowingly gave me a birthday present!
        People always want to believe Berlin is this dark, seedy place but it really isn’t. That’s more like Hamburg. Hamburg gets more rain and also I think there are more porous materials around just soaking the rain so it’s just really dank. I spent a weekend in Berlin and I went from the big Berlin main station to the Hamburg main station and I was like “wow it’s really dirty here”. But I don’t think it’s really dirty dirty, just mildewy dirty. “Like a wet rag that never dries” is a good way to describe it. Berlin’s U/S-Bahn stations are probably musty but I don’t recall them being that way. I don’t really observe a lot when I’m there. I feel really disconnected here so I notice more things around me. November 13, 2013 at 1:16pm Reply

        • Victoria: Happy Birthday! I hope that all of your wishes will come true and that you will have a nice celebration. Enjoy something that makes you smile.

          I can relate to feeling disconnected after moving to a new place. It’s always more challenging at first, but you also discover a lot about yourself and what’s important to you. Please feel free to vent anytime, though. I went through something similar after I moved to Brussels, and the support of friends and commenters here made a huge difference. November 13, 2013 at 1:28pm Reply

  • Zazie: Oh, intriguing piece!
    In the cold season, Milan’s city center smells of roasted chestnuts (they are offered at every corner along the pedestrian Corso Vittorio Emanuele): a smell I love – but then roasted chestnuts are on eof those humble and simple street foods I am particularly fond of.
    There is also a general powdery rooty smell ( not unlike iris?) conjured by the damp and cold air brushing against the old buildings… Or so my nose believes. In the backalleys you may be unpleasantly greeted with the acrid smell of urine, and the navigli district mingles the green and fresh smell of seaweed with the smell of food coming from the many restaurants and bar along the street, their doors wide open as to lure customers with their scent trail.
    But the smells are really seasonal:tar, jasmine, pittosporum and a different (more pungent and unpleasant) urine smell will greet your nose in the hot summer days…
    BTW, you reminded me how much I want to go to London! November 13, 2013 at 8:53am Reply

    • iodine: Do you mind if I subscribe every single word of your post, Zazie?! 😉 (“how much I want to go to London” included!).
      I would add the weird chemical smell of fog, partly aquatic, partly ill- burnt fuel, and the peculiar smell you could perceive along tramway rails- like burnt leaves and metal.
      And the beauty of walking through the Giardini Pubblici at the end of May, in the magnolias alley… November 13, 2013 at 12:30pm Reply

      • Victoria: And both in turn make me want to book a ticket to Milan! November 13, 2013 at 12:41pm Reply

      • Zazie: You are mentioning some of the things that made me fall in love with Milano! the fog, the old orange trams with the wooden benches and the giardini Pubblici di via Palestro… I even got married there (by civil ceremony, and the city gifted bride and groom with a copy of the Promessi Sposi, LOL!)! To my shame, I never paid attention to the scent of magnolias (I thought they were almost scentless, go figure!), or could I have mistaken their smell for that of linden flowers? Anyway I’ll pay more attention when the season comes, thanks for the tip!!! November 13, 2013 at 5:37pm Reply

    • Victoria: I visited Milan only once so far, and I remember eating a delicious blueberry cake in a hall-in-wall restaurant lit by harsh fluorescent lamps. It’s been years, but I still can recall the smell and taste of this pastry. Another memory is being disappointed about missing a chance to see Da Vinci’s The Last Supper fresco. We stood in line for a while, but the tickets sold out before our turn came. November 13, 2013 at 12:31pm Reply

      • Zazie: I think all this means you have to come back!!! 😉 November 13, 2013 at 5:39pm Reply

        • iodine: We definitely can arrange a sniffing tour of Milan, with Victoria as a guest star! 🙂
          You shouldn’t miss the magnolias- the grandifloras, the evergreen, begin of Summer blooming- their smell is so gorgeous!
          (The alley I’m referring to is close to the fountain in front of Palazzo Dugnani…). November 14, 2013 at 4:54am Reply

          • Victoria: I’m all for it! 🙂 November 14, 2013 at 10:05am Reply

        • Victoria: I think so! I haven’t given up on seeing the Last Supper, and now I have you and Iodine as extra draws. 🙂 November 14, 2013 at 10:00am Reply

  • Anne of Green Gables: This was a delightful read. Thank you, V! I lived in England (although not in London) for 8 years. I didn’t appreciate it so much when I was actually living there but once I left, I found myself craving certain foods & drinks time to time – Ploughman’s sandwich with mature cheddar and Branston pickle, Kettle chips, Pea and mint soup, Scones with clotted cream, strawberry jam and lemon curd, Pimm’s punch… OK, I’d better stop. 🙂 I guess I should try to appreciate the place I’m living now because once I leave this place, I know that I’ll dearly miss it.

    The environmental scents I’m experiencing most at the moment is fertilizer in the fields (can be nauseating sometimes) and the smell of burning woods in the evening (one of my favourite smells). But in central Munich, it smells of roasted chestnuts and candid nuts. Soon, when the Christmas market opens, then it’ll be filled with smell of Glühwein. Do you know of any perfume which captures the festive mood of Christmas market?

    P.S. Can I tell you a secret? I actually really like the musty and slightly rubbery (?) smell of the Underground. November 13, 2013 at 8:56am Reply

    • george: I had a pret posh ploughmans sandwich with mature cheddar and branston type pickle for breakfast. It was GREAT!!! November 13, 2013 at 9:11am Reply

      • Victoria: Don’t tease me this way! 🙂 November 13, 2013 at 12:39pm Reply

      • Anne of Green Gables: I LOVE Pret A Manger! I used to buy my lunch there frequently. November 13, 2013 at 5:25pm Reply

    • Anka: I used to live at several places in Munich but the area around Hackerbrücke (Stiglmaierplatz) is still the most characteristic one for me: With the Breweries there you get a strange mixture of mash and rotten eggs…very Etat Libre d’Orange-y.
      But I love the smell of freshly baked pretzel’s and of Circus Krone, the latter is so much like Dzing!
      For Früchtebrot at the Christkindlmarket Aziyade from Parfum d’Empire comes to my mind. November 13, 2013 at 11:23am Reply

      • Anne of Green Gables: Hi Anka, I haven’t tried any Etat Libre d’Orange perfumes yet. I just know that they made the famous Secretions Magnifiques. I also love the smell of freshly baked pretzels! And they are perfect with Obatzda and beer. 🙂 November 13, 2013 at 6:00pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much!
      You’re not the only one! I know several people who love the rubbery smell of the Underground, and I confess that I like it too. The Brussels subway can smell musty in a different way. Like a rag that never dries out and develops this sour, pungent smell. But by and large, it’s fine and in comparison to NYC’s subway, it’s heaven.

      On the other hand, I should post photos of the Kiev’s subway. It’s like the underground palace. November 13, 2013 at 12:33pm Reply

      • Anne of Green Gables: Really? I’m not the only one? Hurray! I thought that I was a weirdo for loving that smell. I think I wouldn’t enjoy the smell of sour rag though. Some Munich U-Bahn stations (I can heartily recommend Ostbahnhof ;-)) have very nice rubbery smell but for me, nothing can beat the smell of Seoul underground stations. I just saw some pictures of underground stations in Kiev and they look really magnificent! November 13, 2013 at 5:46pm Reply

        • Victoria: Ah, the Seoul subway! So clean, so efficient, so easy to figure out (again, in comparison to the NYC subway!) November 14, 2013 at 10:01am Reply

  • Caroline: I’m dying to visit London! Which time of year do you think is preferable, spring or fall?
    Not many remarkable ambient scents out here in the ‘burbs, but the leafy, crunchy fall smell is lovely & somehow melancholy. In the spring, we have a phenomenon of alewives washing ashore on Lake Michigan…talk about
    dank!
    OT, I had CBS This morning on just now, and they ran the Marilyn Monroe No 5 ad. Definitely more glamorous than Brad Pitt! November 13, 2013 at 9:00am Reply

    • Victoria: London, like most cities with mucky weather, has lots of great in-door activities (theaters, museums, cafes, pubs, etc), but if you want to walk around the city and enjoy its different districts and gardens, I suggest late spring or early fall. The weather is unpredictable though, and you never know when it might rain, so it helps to carry an umbrella.

      What are alewives, Caroline? November 13, 2013 at 12:37pm Reply

      • Caroline: They’re little silvery fish. Can’t recall if they’re the same thing as smelt. Maybe not–people actually go smelt fishing & cook them in firepits on the beach. November 13, 2013 at 2:23pm Reply

        • Victoria: I’ll ask my brother, who is an avid fisherman. But ok, now I imagine the smell you’re describing. November 14, 2013 at 9:52am Reply

  • Karina: The first thing that struck me when I travelled to Indonesia as a child was the smell. Unbelievably thick incense, cigarette smoke, spices and warm bitumen. I would love to smell that scent again. November 13, 2013 at 9:08am Reply

    • Victoria: A friend who lives in Indonesia and Thailand also mentioned missing this heavy incense-smoke-spice smell. I would love to experience it. November 13, 2013 at 12:38pm Reply

  • Karina: I should add that where I live now (Canberra, Australia) it’s a very clean smelling place with no outstanding scents. If anything it just smells of trees really, there are a lot of trees around where I live, mostly pines and oaks.

    I do have a favourite semi-industrial street to walk down though for its smell. There are small boutique cafes and bakeries emitting the scent of coffee and pastries mixed with the smell of oil and grease from a few car mechanics. It’s strangely comforting. November 13, 2013 at 9:17am Reply

    • Victoria: Now, this is a wonderful smell!

      Your favorite smell of bread, coffee and car grease is something I love too. I remember encountering it a lot in NYC. I would stand near the bakery exhaust and inhale the air in small gulps. 🙂 November 13, 2013 at 12:40pm Reply

      • Karina: The things we scent-fanatics do! 🙂 November 13, 2013 at 11:38pm Reply

  • Tijana: Such a lovely article Victoria, thank you!!!
    I myself have lived in London for 1 year, back in the late 80’s and can totally relate to this! My memory of London is a bit more linked to the first time I tried Chanel’s Coco, which just came out that year or the year before. While not a true “London smell” I will forever be reminded of London when I smell Coco, as that is the scent I wore during my year there. On a side note, whenever I travel somewhere for pleasure, I make a point of finding and purchasing a new fragrance (even if it is the smallest bottle) and I wear it for the entire stay there. That way, whenever I want nostalgia of that place to kick in (once I get home), I just spray the fragrance and I am instantly transported back. November 13, 2013 at 9:19am Reply

    • Victoria: I can relate to this, except that my “London perfume” was Coco Mademoiselle. I remember that it used to be available then in a body milk formulation, which you could spray, and the scent was soft, or rather, much softer than the EDP. It’s no longer sold and other forms of Coco Mademoiselle just don’t hit the spot the same way for me. So, I’m looking for other fixes for my London cravings. 🙂 November 13, 2013 at 12:51pm Reply

      • Tijana: I think all of the ones you mentioned are great fixes! 🙂 November 13, 2013 at 1:48pm Reply

        • Victoria: Especially port and Stilton! 🙂 November 14, 2013 at 9:49am Reply

  • george: Surely one to review, Victoria?- http://www.bexlondon.com/products/se1
    “Evoking the atmosphere and aroma of the old Thameside spice wharfs, Londoner SE1 is alive with bergamot, citrus, cardamom and pimento balanced with a deep woody base of amber, sea moss, driftwood and finest natural Vetiver.”
    It seems like it might even have a hint of the low tide you are longing for.
    Despite my knowing what you mean by that low tide smell, my favourite thing in SE1 is a sandwich shop (I seem a bit sandwich obsessed today), which does a cracking lamb and mint bap. Make me wonder if you could create a perfume with the major accored filthiest animalic musk and the freshest most contrary mint. I guess Dirty by lush is the nearest I’ve tried. November 13, 2013 at 9:20am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m jotting down the Bex London and your sandwich recommendations. I’m waiting for my dinner, so the thought of juicy lamb and mint is making me salivate. November 13, 2013 at 12:52pm Reply

  • Portia: Hiya,
    Smells around here are eucalyptus, we have a huge turpentine in the back yard. The swimming pool gives off salty chlorine and the dogs wee in the same spot daily which we have to wash out with vinegar on the weekend. There are car, human, house and pet smells but there are also feral bunnies in the front and loads of parrots visit the yards daily, they have a peculiarly dusty powder smell.
    You don’t have to go far for urban smells but this is my home.
    Portia x November 13, 2013 at 9:28am Reply

    • Victoria: I was surprised how many parrots there are in Brussels. I don’t think that I’ve observed them closely enough to notice the smell, but they are so plentiful that they can make bare trees in winter look completely green.

      I love the smell of eucalyptus, which is a very comforting scent for me. It reminds me of getting eucalyptus baths as a kid. November 13, 2013 at 12:54pm Reply

  • Lainie: A wonderful article, Victoria – thank you! November 13, 2013 at 9:36am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Lainie! It’s my love letter to London. 🙂 November 13, 2013 at 12:55pm Reply

  • Anne Sheffield: Beautiful article. As always!!! Have you had a chance to smell LONDON from tom ford? I am really intrigue by it.
    And too would love a London scent.
    I live in the south of France, my daily scent are mostly sea air, sometimes fishy, pine trees and right now, very sweet apricot jam that has spilt all over my bag from the kids 4 o clock snack. Off to school… November 13, 2013 at 9:45am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Anne! No, I haven’t smelled Tom Ford’s London, but I would love to. I wasn’t impressed with Guerlain’s Paris-London at all, which was far too bland to represent either city.

      The South of France, especially the countryside, has such a beautiful scent that it could be bottled and worn as perfume. November 13, 2013 at 12:56pm Reply

      • Austenfan: Yes, yes, yes. Someone really needs to capture the proper garrigue smell. I got whiffs of it during my last holiday after sunset. To me nothing beats it. It smells even better when accompanied by the sound of crickets. November 13, 2013 at 4:41pm Reply

        • Victoria: There used to be a perfume by Fragonard purporting to do that, but nothing is like the real thing. Annick Goutal Sables makes me think of the immortelle flowers that cover the sand dunes in some parts of southern France. November 14, 2013 at 9:57am Reply

  • Sandra: Ah.. The smells of New York (big apple)… Every time you turn the corner the smell changes. Hot sweet nuts on the corner, gasoline, sometimes a musty industrial smell.. I could go on and on November 13, 2013 at 12:53pm Reply

    • Victoria: There is nothing quite like it! Now that I’m far away from New York, I’m missing all of those smells too. November 13, 2013 at 12:57pm Reply

  • Domestic Goblin: November in England is one of my favourite months weather-wise, and also it is usually the time when people are lighting their bonfires or fireworks in their gardens.

    I find that Bvlgari Black really evokes that smell and feeling. November 13, 2013 at 1:35pm Reply

    • Victoria: Black really does smell like bonfire and also of rubber. It’s a mix of urban and very cozy smells. November 14, 2013 at 9:49am Reply

  • Yulya: Victoria, I enjoyed reading your article, as always! Well, how does Moscow smell to me in my memories and nostalgia? I would say, like autumn leaves. My most vivid memories are all around parks and autumn leaves on the ground. On the other hand, thinking of the Spring time, lilac, lots of lilac! November 13, 2013 at 1:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: So beautiful, Yulya! My memories of Kiev are also full of the autumnal scents–fallen leaves, fresh chestnuts, bonfire smoke. Here in Brussels I sometimes get whiffs of those smells too, whereas in NYC the fall smells very different. It’s probably because the vegetation in Belgium and Ukraine is similar, and there are lots of chestnut and linden trees everywhere. November 14, 2013 at 9:52am Reply

  • Isabelle: What a great way to remember a place ! Now I wish I could go back to London and experience it with my nose. Thank you, Victoria, for this great article.
    As a teacher, the most frequent unpleasant smell I encounter is that of a roomful of students who have thought (hopefully) and sweated for an hour or two. It’s not exactly sweaty, not acidic, more warm-animal-stuffy, but it does make me go to the windows immediately, even in winter. I really disliked the harsh smell of the first markers when we switched to whiteboards, but either the smell is a lot less noticeable, either I’m too used to it now… The school I teach in has roses and trees and lawns, so in spring and autumn we are treated to the delicious smell of cut lawn. I seem to be the only one to literaly stop and smell the roses, though (but they all smell different ! who can blame me, really?).
    Chartres is very windy, so the smells tend to dissipate quickly. Just this morning, on a parking just outside the school, I caught a waft of something delicious, a kind of honeyed flower (acacia?). But locating the source was impossible.
    The weather has turned cold so the smell of woodsmoke becomes noticeable. If it turns foggy, the mineral smell of damp old stone will cling to everything. And come summer, the wind will bring bursts of the surprisingly pungent smell of colza fields in bloom…
    One of my favourite shops is located in the heart of the city; the owner burn coffees and ground them on demand, and also create a large variety of perfumed tea. Coffee mot often overpowers the tea/fruits smells, but the combination is very enjoyable, even more it’s summer and the baker just next door keeps the door open. November 13, 2013 at 3:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: I was in Chartres for the first time this summer, and I loved the town. The Cathedral alone, of course, is worth the visit, but the whole region is very beautiful. I’m now trying to imagine all of these scents you’re describing. November 14, 2013 at 9:54am Reply

  • rainboweyes: The place where I live (outskirts of a small town) mostly smells of autumn right now – the musty smell of rotten leaves, wet wood, sometimes smoke.
    Not my favourite notes, actually. I much more prefer the smell of early summer with heather, peonies and iris flowers in bloom in my garden…
    My favourite scent memories are those of Spain, though. My family have a small swimming pool surrounded by rose and jasmine bushes. Their scent blends in the middle of the pool, just above my head. What a pleasure to have a swim there!
    And then, there is this gorgeous fig tree in the garden, mmmh… November 13, 2013 at 4:38pm Reply

    • Victoria: According to the legend, the Belgian Saint Nicholas spends his time in Spain and only visits the North in December. I don’t blame him! What you’re describing sounds like paradise to me. November 14, 2013 at 9:56am Reply

  • Austenfan: Lovely post/article!

    I don’t associate London with a particular smell at all. I always think of curry, and the National Gallery when I think of London. ( and bookshops)

    The South of France I do think of in smells. Lavender for one, and that wonderful green and herbal smell of the garrigue which makes me instantly happy when I experience it. November 13, 2013 at 4:55pm Reply

    • Victoria: The National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery are my favorite museums. There is one room in the National Gallery that always smells like baked bread. I wonder what gives it that smell. November 14, 2013 at 9:58am Reply

      • Austenfan: Never noticed it myself. My favourite room is the one with one of Rembrandt’s portraits. I think my visual system is on such overload while I am there that I may actually forget to use my nose.
        Agree with you on the two Galleries. I keep a soft spot for the British Museum as well. Visited there twice, and was very impressed by the huge Assyrian statues. November 17, 2013 at 1:02pm Reply

        • Victoria: Me too! I was just sorting through the photos I took at the British Museum; the Assyrian statues are among my top favorites too. November 17, 2013 at 3:27pm Reply

  • annemariec: I’ve lived in my city (Canberra, Australia) so long that I hardly smell it. Maybe it’s when you travel that you notice the smells of cities because they are unfamiliar.

    Here I smell the blossoming trees in people’s gardens, the local farmers’ market, eucalypts (of course), and maybe an aquatic smell around the various lakes (which are very clean). But Canberra is indeed a very clean city in a sunny, dry climate and, some would say (not me) it is a characterless place. There are few outdoor foodstalls, smoking is banned everywhere (thankfully), there is no underground, and if the many museums and galleries have a smell, I rarely notice it. The Museum of Australian Democracy, housed in the first parliament house building, does have a musty furniture and old carpet smell, I guess. I do love the nearby rose gardens, too.

    Maybe I need to get out and smell more! November 13, 2013 at 4:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: So true! I notice the smells of Brussels much more when I return after a trip than day to day.

      Your description is not just giving me an idea of smells in Canberra, I can even imagine what the city is like. Thank you. November 14, 2013 at 9:59am Reply

  • Anna in Edinburgh: Funnily enough I read about a recent survey wherein people complained about the brewery smell in Edinburgh, which amuses me because I love that smell and it tells me that I’m home!

    It is a subtle yeasty smell from beer being brewed that you only get when the wind is in the right direction: it isn’t over-powering at all so I can’t see how could anyone find it objectionable? It has character!

    Actually, on a cold and windy day, the prospect of being somewhere that’s warm enough to carry out brewing is very attractive:-)

    cheerio, Anna in chilly Edinburgh November 13, 2013 at 7:24pm Reply

    • Jillie: Hi, Anna! You just brought back memories to me of the time I used to work near a big, old brewery on the banks of the Thames in West London. On frosty winter mornings, I could smell the hop-laden steam long before I saw the place. As you say, not overpowering, and quite comforting in a strange “tomato soup” sort of way. November 14, 2013 at 7:21am Reply

    • Victoria: There are many breweries around Belgium, and some of them have a subtle yeasty smell, but others are so pungent I don’t envy anyone who lives in the vicinity.

      But you know, I once lived in a neighborhood that smelled of chocolate (there was a candy factory nearby), and you can’t imagine how much people complained about it. I loved it, even though it always made me crave candy. 🙂 November 14, 2013 at 10:04am Reply

  • Nicola: As someone who has lived, loved and worked in London for over 25 years I am touched by the expressions of fondness for it from people who have either visited briefly or stayed longer. It is a truly marvellous place, wonderfully diverse, but the gap between rich and poor is becoming alarmingly obvious. But back to topic. I expect my nose is so attuned to its scent that I don’t notice it anymore. There are roast chestnut vendors in Oxford St and the curry houses in Brick Lane but I think you, Victoria, hit the nail on the head when you wrote about the Thames. It is the City’s lifeblood. Thank you a thought provoking article. (My favourite scent of another place is the South of France as already and beautifully described by others above.) Nicola November 14, 2013 at 10:13am Reply

    • Victoria: I can’t agree more, and I noticed it when I returned for the first time in years. At the same time, it’s something that one sees in other big European cities (and certainly, in the US too).

      When I was reading your comment about the Thames, I realized that Brussels is probably the only place I’ve lived that doesn’t have a big body of water. It’s fascinating how water can determined and define the geography of a place. In Kiev, for instance, Dnieper River cuts the city in two halves, and it’s crossing from one town into another. November 14, 2013 at 11:47am Reply

  • ralu: I wish these perfume houses had a presence in the US (with the exception of Penhaligon’s has somewhat of a presence in the US). November 14, 2013 at 4:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: Miller Harris used to be sold at Saks, but I don’t think it’s there anymore. Smaller boutiques carry them though. November 15, 2013 at 7:00am Reply

  • Nancy A.: Interesting. The memory lingers when I first experienced the lingering scent of petrol in the Paris air. Go figure!
    Guerlain also has city inspired fragrances, one of which is London. November 15, 2013 at 1:12pm Reply

    • Victoria: It was my first memory of Paris, from my very first visit. For these days, I don’t notice this smell anymore. November 17, 2013 at 9:43am Reply

  • Patricia: The smell if the Paris metro as you descend the stairs in the cold winter months. Not pleasant, but, oh so provocative. November 16, 2013 at 11:41pm Reply

    • Victoria: And it’s so unmistakable! I know exactly what you mean. It’s not conventionally pleasant, but it’s evocative and strangely compelling. November 17, 2013 at 9:44am Reply

  • Michael: I popped into Ormonde Jayne today and there is a limited edition scented candle for Christmas that is only available at their boutiques. “Etoile” has notes of mandarin, cardamom, bay and amber – it smells absolutely divine and comes in a beautiful brown container with a gold coloured cover. The candle has a burning time of 55 hours and retails for £62. November 20, 2013 at 8:00pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Michael! November 21, 2013 at 10:00am Reply

  • Aisha: Loved your article! It makes me want to visit London again. It’s been decades since I’ve been there (my parents took me and my sister there one year when we were very young), but I still remember the scent of tandoori chicken from a restaurant we went to called The Red Fort. I don’t remember The Thames having a scent, but I’m sure it did. 😉

    I live in a small town (population about 7,000) that tries to be a big city, but is far from it. The county in which we’re located (as well as the surrounding counties) are very rural. Thus, the most prominent smells are … um … farm smells — and I don’t mean damp soil or the metallic smell of rusted fencing. During the spring and fall, the most prominent smell is that of animal manure, which is used to fertilize acres of farmland. Sometimes you can pick up the scent of lilacs in the spring/summer, or maybe the yeasty smells coming from our local bakery, but not often enough. 😉 I suppose if I really focus, I might be able to pick up other scents. You’ve inspired me to really pay attention to smells now — the good, the bad and the ugly. LOL! November 21, 2013 at 4:35pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Aisha! Your evocative description made me experience your hometown a bit. I love the farm smells, both good and bad, because the melange reminds me of vacations at my grandmother’s village. Plus, the scent of lilac (in the spring!) Just heavenly. November 22, 2013 at 8:13am Reply

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