Scent of Travel : Perfumes for Wanderlust


The announcement came that my flight is going to be delayed by another hour. I actually love airports and have many pleasant memories associated with them, other than those times when I was either being interrogated by Italian custom officials or being taken for a drug smuggler by their American counterparts. Yet, I love the rush of the crowd, anticipation of a new journey, bittersweet pangs of parting, slight fear of take off, and impatience to arrive.

My maternal grandfather was the director of a factory that transformed fighter jets into passenger planes, and I grew up surrounded by airplane parts. The airplane is perhaps the first thing I recall from childhood. I remember floating dahlias from my grandmother’s garden in one of the containers made from a jet fuel cell. The silvery sides reflected intense sunshine, while the inner sides were coated with green slime from the constant contact with water. I would bend over the canister bringing my face closer to the sweet smelling water until my grandmother would warn me that I might fall in and drown. Somehow that did not scare me at all. Instead, I was fascinated by the silver well that tapered towards the bottom.

One of my great grandmothers was part Roma, and I must have inherited my nomadic tendencies from her. I often feel that at moments of dissatisfaction I have a strong urge to get on a plane and leave. Somehow, things are very different midair.

As I hear flight boarding calls and as I watching people rushing past me on the way to their destinations, I think about scents and travel. I am not talking about duty-free stores, which are fascinating, especially when the layover is long and the book has been finished during the first leg of the trip. What I mean here is travel via scent, the ability of smells to change spatial and temporal dimensions as we understand them, to blast a memory out of “homogenous, empty time,” to use Walter Benjamin’s phrase. The desire to move beyond the universe we know best and to experience life as lived by others is at the core of many human achievements, not the least of which is perfume.

Art Deco (1920s-1930s) made the enchantment with far away places the focus of its creativity. François Coty’s trendsetting Chypre (1917) was purportedly inspired by the scents of herbs and shrubs found on Cyprus. A mythical place in India, the garden Shalimar, built by Shah Jahangir for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, led Jacques Guerlain to create Shalimar (1925), a fragrance evoking a garden where jasmine embraces bitter orange trees—or at least, to christen the perfume he created by this name, which in itself constructs specific images for those who wear it. Islands in the Pacific and spices nurtured by their soil are the transporting essence of Ernest Beaux’s Bois des Iles for Chanel (1926). On a less exploratory note, Jean Patou understood the desire for a short break from the routine. Hence came Vacances (1936), an opalescent lilac and mimosa combination that transports you to the Côte d’Azur, leaving one feeling surrounded by a cool sea breeze and mild sunshine.

Some perfumers especially relish travel, grounding their creations firmly in the places that inspire them. Serge Lutens and Chris Sheldrake’s creations are vignettes of Middle Eastern impressions—spice markets (Arabie), sweetmeat shops (Rahät Loukoum), wind blowing through the desert (Chergui), camel caravans (Muscs Koublaï Khän), chai-hana (Fumerie Turque). Certain scents are linked to particular countries. Thus, India smells of jasmine (Serge Lutens A La Nuit), nag champa (Caron Narcisse Noir), and basmati rice.

In Egypt the lotus is a revered flower, and this note appears in creations inspired by the Nile and its environs (Olivia Giacobetti’s Cinq Mondes Eau Égyptienne, Jean-Claude Ellena’s Un Jardin Sur Le Nil for Hermès). Japan’s scent impressions are of green tea and sakura blossoms (Guerlain Cherry Blossom) as well as cedarwood (Iunx L’Eau Sento No. 2). Greece smells of figs and cypress (Diptyque Philosykos), while Spain is redolent of roses and tobacco (Molinard Habanita). With Comme des Garçons, an intrepid traveler selects Russia as the travel destination–and Zagorsk, no less–with a combination of iris and Eastern Orthodox church incense.

My own fragrant magic carpets include Guerlain Coriolan, which smells like the hot rocks and shrubs I remember from Malta. Annick Goutal Petite Chérie awakens a memory of eating peaches on the Black Sea beach, sticky juices dripping onto warm sand. Frédéric Malle En Passant is Kiev in the spring. JAR Parfums Jardenia is an unreliable navigator, first taking me to Sochi, a Russian coast city smelling of magnolia and caper buds and then suddenly transplanting me in the middle of Androuët, a cheese shop on rue Saint-Dominique in Paris.

I sit on an uncomfortable airport chair staring out of the window behind which planes are taking off one after another. From the darkness shot with the straight ribbons of lights on the runway I see my own reflection. There is a mélange of scents that is the most potent temporal transmission belt for me–hot asphalt streets of Kiev, sweltering under the intense June sunlight, tall chestnut trees with their large dusty leaves, sugar cookies prepared by a local bakery. I want to run as fast as possible up the dark stairwell and enter the warm familiar scent of our old apartment. There is no perfume made up of these smells, however in about 8 hours I will experience them in reality. Sometimes, the Latin saying is poignantly true—navigare necesse est, to sail is necessary.

The article was originally written on July 4, 2005.



  • Robin: What a lovely post, V, brava!! And now I wish I was off for foreign shores…sigh. July 4, 2005 at 9:35am Reply

  • mireille: I agree with Robin. I was pulled in, swept up and blown away with your fragrance/travel vignettes. Wonderful. July 4, 2005 at 10:11am Reply

  • Marcello: Great post, Victoria! It reminded me how some of the greatest perfumers are travellers at heart. Jean-Paul Guerlain is a great example: he wrote a book entitled “Les routes de mes parfums”, which gives a pretty good impression of how important it is for perfumers to discover raw materials in their natural environment. July 4, 2005 at 3:39pm Reply

  • Laura: I thought I knew before how talented you are. I was wrong. Graceful, beautiful writing.
    Your Illustrator July 4, 2005 at 5:47pm Reply

  • Katie: How wonderful to get swept into your personal whirlwind of fragrant travels.

    I, too, find there is something irreplacable about the smells of home, even when it’s no longer “home.” July 5, 2005 at 1:49pm Reply

  • vanessa: great site.Reads like poetry. This reminds me of how I found my favorite perfume Cabotine, while I was travelling: I got a tiny tester. No parfumerie sold it anywhere, exept a parfumstore in Amsterdam. I bought two big bottles and I am faithful to this parfum eversince July 7, 2005 at 6:32pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thanks to everyone for your wonderful comments. Hearing your thoughts is the best part of maintaining this site! July 14, 2005 at 7:55pm Reply

  • sara: I love this post. I also associate fragrances with travel. Zagorsk reminds me of Finland and today I’m wearing Or des Indes which invokes places I’ve not yet been. Thanks for an inspiring morning read. June 16, 2011 at 6:39am Reply

  • Reese: As always, your gift of description is enchanting. I’m going to be traveling for a month soon, and I will have to keep this post in mind as I wait in overcrowded airports full of ugly, badly-dressed fat people and their screaming children and try to find something compellingly romantic in it all. Thanks for the inspiration! June 16, 2011 at 6:49am Reply

  • karin: Ahhhh…I love to travel, and do not do it as often as I’d like. For me, it’s a fascination with different cultures, languages, foods, smells. So much fun. Welcome home, V! June 16, 2011 at 7:13am Reply

  • lovethescents: Wonderful article! How clever of you to be able to associate certain perfumes with the cities/countries you’ve been to. This would make a great perfumista game 🙂 June 16, 2011 at 9:51am Reply

  • linda fey: Thank you Victoria for your lovely post. Absolutely wonderful and inspiring. You have such an ability to transport us all to far away places. I love that. 🙂 June 16, 2011 at 10:15am Reply

  • Olfactoria: Such a beautiful post. I travel mostly through perfume these days, but you are right, sometimes it is necessary to set sail and go for real.
    Have a wonderful time at home. June 16, 2011 at 6:16am Reply

  • maggiecat: Happy sailing! And thank you for the lovely post, which gave me a refreshing break in the middle of a long, hot stressful day! June 16, 2011 at 1:15pm Reply

  • Victoria: I also think that it is important to find adventures through other means too. Books and perfumes top my own list! 🙂
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile June 16, 2011 at 11:50am Reply

  • Marion: AAAAaaaah to be based in Europe, so close to so much…it would be my only ‘regret’ about being born in the “Lucky Country”, Australia. Twenty, twenty four hour long hauls to get to Europe or America, making these trips the sort of ‘once in a lifetime’ journeys, taking so much time and money.
    And yes, the first thing that hits me about a foreign country, either stepping out of a plane straight onto the tarmac as you do in many places around the Pacific or Asia, or first emerging from an air-conditioned crowded airport terminal, is the unique smell of a place…
    Have a wonderful journey B d J! June 16, 2011 at 7:11pm Reply

  • Lavanya: Such a lovely post, Victoria..I especially love your images of Kiev..
    Your post was as evocative as the perfumes that inspired it! June 16, 2011 at 4:43pm Reply

  • sweetlife: Bon Voyage, V! And my you have a sweet homecoming. Thank you for this lovely, lyrical post. I feel like I just took a short trip myself! June 16, 2011 at 6:01pm Reply

  • k-amber: Very beautiful article ! I couldn’t agree with you more. My parents have visited Malta and brought me “Honey Ring”. This Maltese specialty tastes “far away and an exotic place” 🙂 Have a great trip!
    Kaori June 17, 2011 at 3:26am Reply

  • Suzanna: I remember this piece from long ago and it has always been one of my favorites. Today it is more so than ever; I am on the road in Savannah, a place you must visit if you haven’t already. In my mind it smells of spring flowering chestnut, plus linden and an airy white jasmine and magnolia.

    Completely agree about the urge to flee (plane, train, automobile, au pied). It’s a strong one for those with tendencies of wanderlust to begin with. June 17, 2011 at 7:45am Reply

  • Olfactoria: Absolutely! Thank God for books and perfume! 🙂 June 17, 2011 at 4:04am Reply

  • [email protected]: Such a beautiful post thank you. I hope you were no longer delayed and are now safely enjoying the sight and smell of home. I’m travelling tomorrow, just for a weeks holiday but I am very excited. Airports are fascinating places full of energy. This time tomorrow I will have got my first lungful of Sardinian air, full of its equivalent of maquis and sea – yum! Nicola June 17, 2011 at 8:41am Reply

  • Ruta: And Chasse aux Papillons by LAP is Vilnius in July with linden trees blossoming June 20, 2011 at 8:26am Reply

  • Lynn Morgan: What a gorgeous post, Victoria. If you are ever interested in writing a book, I’d love to introduce you to me agent. June 20, 2011 at 6:54pm Reply

  • Rowanhill: My magic carpet to Bali are AG Songes EdP and Molton Brown Templetree shower gel. The first trip there triggered the need for frangipani fragrances. The subsequent trips to Bali have all been stocked with these two fragrances. Some more days to go for the next trip – the bottles are lined up, accompanied with Azuree Soleil and some citrusy fresh thing. June 27, 2011 at 12:09pm Reply

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