Your Personal Museum of Scents

Last year, I received an email from one of my readers asking me an interesting question–if I could create my personal museum of scents, what would it include? She mentioned a NYT column by Tejal Rao, a restaurant critic in Los Angeles, in which she described smells that were meaningful to her. I immediately thought that Bois de Jasmin in its entirety was indeed my personal smell museum. If I were to limit it to certain themes, then I would mentioned two articles that I have already written, Scent of Kyiv, about the city where I was born, and Where Jasmine Forest Blooms, which describes my grandmother’s garden in Poltava, a place that inspired this page.

Yet, as I reflected further, especially on the last decade of my life, I realized that my personal scent museum at this point encompasses much more than I have previously noted. So, I decided to put down a list of scents that move me, evoke memories or inspire me.

Libraries

“Paradise is a library, not a garden,” Jorge Luis Borges said. Or could it be both? Either way, the scent of books and the scent of libraries is one of the most essential and evocative smells for me.


Sandalwood and Jasmine

India. My India. A place where I spent so much time and where so many momentous events of my life took place.

Pandan

Penang, Malaysia. Small shops that sell cakes and pastries made of sticky rice and coconut and flavored with pandan. Described as the vanilla of Asia, pandan smells nothing like the sweet vanilla beans. Its aroma is similar to jasmine or basmati rice, toasty, assertive, nutty.

Cumin

Animalic and musky when raw, nutty and sweet when toasted.

Freshly Baked Bread

Hot clay stone, cinders, flour, dough, sustenance. I don’t know how many breads I have baked in the past twenty years, but every time I take a loaf out of oven, I can’t help marvel at the transformation of flour and water.

Ink

Years ago, a friend gave me a set of writing brushes that traveled with his father from China to Taiwan as he commanded one of the divisions of the Kuomintang. The brushes then ended up in Hong Kong and later in the American Midwest. The brushes traveled with me in an easterly direction as I moved to Belgium. I’m not a skilled calligrapher by any means, but practicing with these brushes makes me feel that someday I can write with perfect ease. The smell of ink reminds me of many other moments–my first day in school, drawing lessons, and art classes at the university.

Osmanthus

The tiny flowers of a plant sometimes called Chinese olive smells of leather and apricots. It smells of tea. It smells of streets in Tokyo on a cold November day. It smells of something familiar and yet unusual, teasing, lingering.

Pomelo and Incense

In the courtyards of temples in the backstreets of Hanoi, pots of pomelo trees and swirls of incense.

Rosewater

From Ukraine to Grasse, from Delhi to Tehran, sometimes I feel like I am following a rosewater trail.

Oolong Tea

The tea that tastes of flowers. During the first lockdown, I had trouble sleeping, so I started waking up early, around 5 am, making a cup of tea, reading or practicing calligraphy and only then starting my workday. I drink any and all kinds of tea, including the supermarket bagged kind that leaves indelible stains but tastes so good with spices and milk. Taiwanese oolongs and their elegant floral scents, however, belong to a special category of marvelous things.

Now I’d like to ask you–what would you put into your personal museum of scents?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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84 Comments

  • Sandra: What a beautiful list!
    I am not sure what my scent library would smell like but I used perfumes during this difficult time to to help lift my spirits when I couldn’t smell the real thing. For instance libraries are not fully open here (mostly just a drop off at the door and a quick pick up at the desk), and I miss the smell of those books. However, supporting my local indie bookstores and creating my own library at home has been a lot of fun!

    My father in law, who grinds his own spice for his chai tea is a smell I miss. This March it will be a year since we have seen each other. When I miss this smell I wear Omnia.

    This year I made my way through a Parsi cookbook given to me by my Parsi neighbor. I love the spice mixtures and enjoyed the new flavors of this cuisine. I actually wrote to the author about how much I enjoyed it and we became friends on instagram. Lots of chili pepper, cumin, turmeric and ghee. My husband and I enjoyed a spicy yogurt curry.

    With the shut down this year I missed when our corner florist brought in mimosa. Both the color and the fragrance was missed on my kitchen table. As a replacement, I would open my bottle of Mimosa and Cardamom by Jo Malone to remind myself of the scent. That house hasn’t always worked for me, but this cologne is one I cherish. I should seek out my decant… January 4, 2021 at 8:39am Reply

    • KatieAnn: I have often thought of purchasing Mimosa and Cardamom. Does this get very musky in the drydown (I’m thinking more of the dryer sheet musks I encounter in really light perfumes)? I’m also not a huge fan of this house, but I love both cardamom and mimosa! January 4, 2021 at 1:57pm Reply

      • Sandra: I am not a huge fan of the house either mostly because the little I have tried hasn’t lasted more than a New York minute. I can’t offer you a dryer sheet musk versus any other type of musk, maybe Victoria can weigh in.

        My neighbor down the hall smells fabulous all the time. I can smell her perfume when she has been in the elevator and even in the garbage room. She has the most beautiful scent trail I have ever smelled in my apartment building and this is even through my mask during this COVID period….last month I asked her what she wears? Her reply, to my astonishment, was Jo Malone cologne. So apparently, it does last on her skin.. January 4, 2021 at 3:03pm Reply

        • Sherry Frantz: Which kind, did she say? January 5, 2021 at 5:46am Reply

  • Lema: That is a beautiful dream like list, how to travel the world through scent. I’d add the smell of rain (petrichor), the smell of spring-almond blossoms, orange blossom and sweet garden peas. A new beginning. January 4, 2021 at 9:44am Reply

  • KatieAnn: Such a beautiful and poetic post! I also love the smell of libraries. The scent of paper in old books is intoxicating. I would have to include very strong fresh brewed coffee, Early Grey tea, All flowers, especially hyacinths, viburnum, and magnolias. Also, wet stone and the sweet smell of hay in the countryside. The smell of cotton or linen that has just come out of storage. I am deeply moved by the scent of churches. And the wind. Thank you for the lovely post! January 4, 2021 at 9:47am Reply

  • Dorothy Van Daele: Thank you, thoroughly enjoyed your list! Earth after rain in warm weather, a cat’s fur just after s/he runs through the cat door, melted chocolate, laundry fresh from the line or the dryer, the elusive, fleeting fragrance I can’t pin down on some walks or bike rides in spring and summer, fallen leaves while raking, just cut wood, beeswax candles, my partner’s scent. January 4, 2021 at 10:28am Reply

  • Phyllis Iervello: Beautiful post as usual and a good way to start 2021. My museum of scents would have to be:
    Chai Tea
    The smell of coffee brewing
    The smell of caramelized onions
    The smell of Marinara sauce simmering on the stove
    My Beloved Perfume Collection
    The smell of a newly bloomed rose
    The smell of the air after a fresh spring rain January 4, 2021 at 10:35am Reply

  • Tourmaline: Dear Victoria,

    Thank you for a wonderful post.

    This must be one of the most interesting questions you have ever asked us. As I began jotting down odors to include in my response, I quickly realized that I could write a book on the topic of my own scent museum. I’ll spare you that volume, but I apologize in advance for the length of my comment; I didn’t want to leave out anything that is important to me. Thankfully, blogs exist in the ether, where space is limitless. I’ll divide my comment into the segments of my life.

    TODDLER

    – the Johnson’s Baby Soap, Baby Shampoo and Baby powder that my mother used on me and my two brothers;

    – freshly-laundered cotton bedsheets;

    – Milo;

    BEGINNING SCHOOL

    – leather school shoes and black shoe polish;

    – Vegemite sandwiches that improved from being wrapped in plastic and stored in a lunchbox until Big Lunch;

    – chlorinated pool water during compulsory swimming classes;

    – swimming pool change rooms with slippery floors;

    – the Blue Grass EdT that I won in a lucky dip when I was so young that I didn’t know what it was, and poured a third of it into my bathwater on the advice of my little brother, to the ire of our mother;

    – the Avon Honeysuckle cream perfume that I thought was hand lotion, once again annoying my mother every evening when I carefully applied it before going to bed;

    CHILDHOOD

    – freshly-cut grass after Dad had mowed the lawn;

    – water on dusty concrete, as Dad hosed out the area downstairs;

    – the aromas of mum’s excellent cooking emanating from the kitchen, including beef stew, curried prawns, fruit cake and endless biscuits and patty-cakes (especially the metallic smell of mum’s warm Sunbeam Mixmaster combined with the smell of eggs, butter and sugar);

    – the jasmine flowers that I would pick for my mother from the vine that curled around the metal railing of the veranda;

    – the needles of the real pine tree every December – the smell of Christmas to me even now;

    – plastic dolls and other toys, especially new ones;

    – foiled chocolate Easter eggs;

    – sand and salt water at Noosa’s main beach every August, while I’m slathered in Sea & Ski sunscreen;

    – camera film and used flash cubes;

    – lanolin from the old, almost empty tube that I pinched from my mother’s top dressing-table drawer, because it gave my lips a pearly gleam, long before I was allowed to wear makeup;

    – the tiny bottle of Phul-Nana (Grossmith, 1891) that a classmate gave several of us for Christmas one year when I was about nine, and its rich, exotic scent, not unlike Shalimar;

    – the Schaumbad (bubble bath) that was a gift from my mother, and probably my first green fragrance;

    – the Mitsouko that my young Grade 7 art teacher wore, along with the leather note from her smoke sillage (the best fragrance I had ever smelled up until then);

    HIGH SCHOOL

    – the half-full bottle of pale pink, frosted Cutex nail polish that a school friend kindly gave me because my mother wouldn’t let me wear nail polish (hidden, of course);

    – fumes of ammonia from the Clairol hair lightener that I surreptitiously used one day, wanting so much to have hair the colour of Agnetha’s (remember ABBA?) – which nature had given me until it went a tiny bit darker at around 14, and which caused me to fear that my mother would surely catch me out (she was apparently oblivious to it, which astounds me to this day);

    – teenager cosmetics, including Neutrogena “not-soap”, Bronnley’s lemon-shaped soap (from mum), Nivea body lotion, Helena Rubinstein’s “Apple Blossom” talc (from a friend), new Cutex “Magenta” nail polish (out in the open at last!), Cutex Herbal Nail Polish Remover, Max Factor Erace cover stick, Max Factor Lip Potion roll-on lip gloss in mint flavour (they couldn’t prevent us from wearing clear lip gloss to school!)

    – my first “legal” lipstick, by Max Factor, in a pale colour not that far removed from that lanolin lustre;

    – magazines of mum’s, including The Australian Women’s Weekly, and later, my glossy magazines that often contained scent strips;

    – dad’s The Australian newspaper, and his National Geographics;

    – the rosewood wardrobe in my parents’ bedroom that I opened whenever I wanted to use the full-length mirror that was inside the door;

    – gifts of perfume including Avon’s “Bird of Paradise” (from an aunt), Yardley’s “Sea Jade” (from mum) and Revlon’s “Moondrops” (from my maternal grandmother), which I wore during my final year at school;

    UNIVERSITY

    – the petrol that was required for my car, and the Windex I used to clean its windows;

    – The University of Queensland’s Michie Building (home of the English Department), which has its own aroma;

    – the Cyclax plum-coloured lipstick and powder (scented of violets and vanilla?) that I wore throughout 1979, my first year at uni;

    – Intimate, which I wore during 1979, and which a boyfriend bought for a platonic female friend early the next year;

    – the clinical smell of the newly-built Psychology Department;

    THE WORKPLACE

    – books at the bookshop where I worked for several months in 1980;

    – Y, which I chose as my first French perfume and wore from 1981 – 1984;

    – the Paco Rabanne aftershave that my GP boss used during 1981-1982;

    – the Miss Dior that my boss’s wife used during 1981-1982;

    – the Shalimar that my boss gave to the nurse that he was having an affair with in 1981;

    – the Oscar that I chose as my default fragrance in 1985, when I also experienced the liberation of allowing myself to develop a fragrance wardrobe;

    – the stench emanating from houses where hygiene was a problem, when I worked in the field of child abuse investigation from 1989 until I retired in 2013;

    MY OWN HOME, where I have lived for almost 33 years

    – the divine Mr Lincoln roses that I grew on my balcony until aphids sucked the life out of them;

    – the perfume drawer of my fridge;

    – the damp in one set of kitchen cupboards;

    – several miscellaneous soap drawers;

    – my violet and rose soaps drawer (heavenly);

    – the soap in my bathroom – currently a cake of L’Air du Temps soap that I am finally using, as part of my resolution to use and enjoy all of my soap before it turns rancid;

    – my books – in the lounge room, in the dining room, in the hallway, in my bedroom, in my Violet Room and in the garage;

    – the washing powder in my laundry in the garage;

    – the night-blooming jasmine that I can smell from my bedroom at night, but which the Brisbane City Council classifies as a weed;

    – the clothes that I mend for my 92-year-old father. January 4, 2021 at 10:41am Reply

    • Tourmaline: P. S.

      And cappuccinos! January 4, 2021 at 10:47am Reply

      • Sandra: cappuccinos! yes..I agree.
        That and/or any coffee scent would be in my library. I especially love the smell of sweet Turkish coffee bubbling on the stove. January 4, 2021 at 12:50pm Reply

        • Tourmaline: Hi Sandra,

          I’ve heard so many people sing the praises of Turkish coffee. I must try it sometime. January 5, 2021 at 8:47pm Reply

    • Ann: Wonderful list tourmaline! And so thorough, i nodded along with a lot of the scents you list, thanks for taking the time to do such a thorough exercise January 4, 2021 at 1:41pm Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi Ann,

        Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed reading my list and could identify with me as regards some of my scent memories. January 5, 2021 at 8:50pm Reply

    • OperaFan: Omg, Tourmaline – Avon’s Honeysuckle cream sachet! The best honeysuckle fragrance… Ever! Your list is extensive and thoughtful, but this one caught my eyes and evoked happy memories of my early fragrance exploratory years. January 4, 2021 at 6:17pm Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi OperaFan,

        Yes, that’s what it was called! I still have the glass pot and the pretty box in which it came. They are part of a little display of my earliest perfume memorabilia in my Violet Room. I agree; I’ve never smelled a better honeysuckle fragrance. I even prefer it to the Annick Goutal one that my brother bought me, because it is sweeter, and I tend to prefer sweet fragrances. January 5, 2021 at 9:05pm Reply

        • OperaFan: That’s amazing you managed to save it for so long. Avon products had the prettiest packaging back then. January 6, 2021 at 6:38am Reply

          • Tourmaline: Hello again, OperFan,

            They did indeed! I googled images of them in an effort to find the gold, hot pink and green box in which my Honeysuckle pot came – to no avail, but I certainly appreciated the pretty photos.

            I should have added that, somewhere along the way, I lost the lid, but the pot is worth keeping because of it’s pretty creamed honey colour, and the relief of honesuckle flowers around it. January 6, 2021 at 9:07pm Reply

    • Annemarie: Australian! Had you at Vegemite. I recognise many of the scents and sensations you mention, although I grew up at the other end of the country. Thanks for such a great list. Must dig out my bottle of Y. January 5, 2021 at 2:59am Reply

      • Tourmaline: H Annemarie,

        Yes, Vegemite pretty much gives the game away! Thank you; I’m glad you enjoyed my list.

        Y is such a beautiful classsic. January 5, 2021 at 9:08pm Reply

    • Peter: Aloha Tourmaline. Our Waikiki hotel had to stock Vegemite for the Australian guests.
      The Japanese ‘Natto’ (fermented soybeans) is another divisive, acquired taste (and aroma). January 5, 2021 at 10:11pm Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi Pekolo,

        I bet you did! Some say it’s an acquired taste, but I grew up on it, so I don’t remember the first time I had it.

        Natto might be an acquired taste for me. January 5, 2021 at 11:21pm Reply

    • Amy Stevenson: That is such a beautiful list. Real, evocative, sentimental, scandalous and insistent scents. I would include the scent of tears at you mention of your father’s clothes! I darned holes in my father’s sweaters until he died at 96. Your scents give me a picture of your life and what you do just from reading this list. January 6, 2021 at 2:08pm Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hello Amy,

        Thank you so much; you are very kind. I’m glad you enjoyed my list. Indeed – tears. You know what it is like to help out and to want so much to do a good job. I hope that my father will live as long as your dear father. January 6, 2021 at 11:49pm Reply

    • Eliza: I loved reading your list, Tourmaline. It was like reading your life story. January 7, 2021 at 10:18am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi Eliza,

        Thank you so much. I’m glad you enjoyed reading through my life’s scent museum! January 8, 2021 at 4:15am Reply

  • MaureenC: Ooh what a great mental exercise! I would have to include the scent of snowdrops, not all varieties have a great scent but when they do (for instance Galanthus S. Arnott) and a large clump is hit by sunshine it’s magical. Also in my library would be roasting coffee, Earl Grey tea, church incense, several different single malt whiskies and above all the smell of a turf fire. If I could only have one perfume in my virtual library it would be Ormonde Woman. January 4, 2021 at 11:08am Reply

  • Christine Funt: What fun. Thanks for the idea.

    I love the smell of herbs that I have just picked–parsley, oregano, cilantro. For me, this is the best part of gardening. January 4, 2021 at 11:39am Reply

  • Claudia: Such a beautiful post, and what a wonderful question! I am flooded with memories 🙂 My granny’s freshly brewed Turkish coffee that filled the whole house each time we visited her. I am not a coffee drinker, but I find the smell of coffee, Turkish coffee in particular, absolutely addictive. My mum’s delicious sour-cherry cakes dusted in powdered sugar, my neighbour’s blooming magnolia tree as we would sit in her yard and sip cold homemade lemonade with honey during lazy summer evenings whilst playing cards, our own colourful garden roses which smelled so different to each other. The smell of lime tree that would flood our home each time we opened our windows, the scent of damp earth after a summer’s shower, the smell of that very first winter’s snow that is about to fall from the red sky. And, above all, the irresistibly sweet scent of my son’s silky hair and soft skin as he curls up in my arms each night. This is why I’m still not ready to let him sleep in his own room although he’s four years old. January 4, 2021 at 12:43pm Reply

  • Aurora: Fun exercise:
    The smell of boulangeries in Paris
    The metro smell (not the RER which smells bad) that dusty, sweetish and slightly metallic smell which hits you as you go down the steps
    My mother’s No 5 and Cabochard
    Smell of wild thyme on the mountains above Nyons
    Churches in Provence, encaustic, wood and incense. January 4, 2021 at 12:52pm Reply

    • Tara C: I love the smell in the metro too! Thank you for reminding me. The curches in Provence & boulangeries too. Ah, France! January 6, 2021 at 12:47am Reply

  • Claudia: Such a beautiful post, and what a wonderful question! I am flooded by memories 🙂 My granny’s freshly brewed Turkish coffee that filled the whole house each time we visited her. I am not a coffee drinker, but I find the smell of coffee, Turkish coffee in particular, absolutely addictive. My mum’s delicious sour-cherry cakes dusted in powdered sugar, my neighbour’s blooming magnolia tree as we would sit in her yard and sip cold homemade lemonade with honey during lazy summer evenings whilst playing cards, our own colourful garden roses which smelled so different to each other. The smell of lime tree that would flood our home each time we opened our windows, the scent of damp earth after a summer’s shower, the smell of that very first winter’s snow that is about to fall from the red sky. And, above all, the irresistibly sweet scent of my son’s silky hair and soft skin as he curls up in my arms each night. This is probably one of the reasons why I’m still not ready to let him sleep in his own room although he’s four years old. January 4, 2021 at 12:59pm Reply

  • Perfumelover67: This is a beautiful post, Victoria!

    My museum of scents would have:

    -The salty smell of the ocean.

    – The smell of fresh grass just mowed.

    – The smell of ozone before it rains.

    – The smell of french baguette being baked.

    – The smell of fresh popcorn.

    – The smell of coffee brewing.

    – The smell of new books in a bookstore.

    – The smell of fresh roses.

    – The carroty smell of orris butter.

    – The smell of saffron.

    – The smell of church incense.

    – The smell of pine trees.

    – The smell of baby powder.

    -The smell of Tabu, my mother’s signature perfume.

    -The smell of CK Obsession. The first perfume that I fell in love with.

    I am sure I am missing many other smells very dear to me, but these are what come to mind now. January 4, 2021 at 1:46pm Reply

  • Kim Cravatta: Scent is so powerful for me, I find it can evoke the most realistic memories.

    Here are some scents that I find trigger good memories or are just plain wonderful:

    * Jean Louis Scherrer perfume
    * Black Tea Camellia blossoms
    * Chloe perfume – original
    * English boxwood
    * Shalimar perfume
    * Coffee beans
    * Chocolate
    * Peonies
    * Basil
    * Lime January 4, 2021 at 3:18pm Reply

  • Nancy Chan: What an interesting and fun idea. My museum of scents would include:
    -Lily of the Valley.
    -Violets.
    -Mimosa.
    -The Rose bush in the front garden from my childhood days.
    -Clover’s sun warmed fur. Clover was my pet rabbit.
    -Champaca. I have never smelled the scent of this flower, but my mother said the scent is so lovely that it was difficult for her to describe.
    -Nivea Creme.
    -Oil of Ulay (aka Oil of Olay).
    -My Guerlain Meteorites face powder pearls, that lovely old fashioned Violet scent.
    -Osmanthus, together with Hermes’s Osmanthe Yunnan perfume.
    -My dad’s cooking.
    -Chinese Jasmine green tea.
    -Mysore Sandalwood, would love to smell the real wood.
    -Sun, Moon,Stars perfume before reformulation. January 4, 2021 at 4:25pm Reply

  • Rosella: I agree with so many of the scents already listed! Growing up in poverty, the scent of our backyard Lilacs and the neighbor’s Lily of the Valley flowers felt transcendent; they’d need to be in my museum as would the scents of cigarettes and Charlie, to again feel the presence of the strongest woman in the family – my grandmother. January 4, 2021 at 4:28pm Reply

  • Old Herbaceous: Beautiful post, and I love all the comments with everyone’s lists. My scent museum would have:
    – the scent of my babies (now all young adults)
    – the aftershave my husband wears
    – flowers, but especially spring bulbs like daffodils and hyacinths. Also lily of the valley, cherry blossom, pink magnolias, lilacs, roses of all kinds, oriental lilies
    – the perfume that most reminds me of my late mother, Chanel No. 5
    – the herbs I grow plus the dirt they grow in
    – the ocean and the beach
    – the marshes in the Lowcountry
    – snow
    – Christmas trees and wreaths
    – balsam pillows
    – the leather of a good handbag
    – the interior of a new car
    – candle wax, scented or not
    – books (mine, the library’s, a bookstore’s)
    – sheets dried in the sun
    – dogs and cats
    – brownies baking
    – the “lucky” cake I regularly baked for my son’s team dinners
    – green grass and mown lawns
    – Elmer’s Glue and rubber cement
    – cheese
    – homemade soups and stews
    – gravy
    Whew! I’m sure I could think of more, but those will do for now! January 4, 2021 at 6:12pm Reply

  • Caro: I loved to read this post and the comments. My museum of scents would include:

    – the smell sea spray in early mornings
    – grounded coffee
    – olive oil
    – mate
    – baking yeast
    – citrus zest and petitgrain
    – petrichor
    – lavender
    – gardenia and jasmin
    – the smell of VHS cases
    – peaches, ripen bananas, yellow plums, papaya
    – some fruits and herbs that I remember from my childhood: lemongrass, persimmon, passion fruit, guava, and other things common in South America that I don’t know how to translate
    – chypre perfumes (to me the oakmoss in these perfumes is the scent of fairy tales) January 4, 2021 at 7:20pm Reply

  • Jo: Such a lovely topic to read. I have felt often as if I could pin-point particular fragrances throughout my life that have left an indelible imprint on my memories.

    Carnations – my mother’s favourite flower, familiar from her Charlie Red and my grandfather’s Old Spice.
    Freshly mown grass and hay – the smell of the end of summer.
    Lilacs in May and apples from the apple tree – that had pride of place at my grandmother’s house.
    Roses – from my first bouquet that I received after a show.
    Salt air and seaweed – on the breeze close to home.
    Rain on concrete and damp woollen school uniforms – school days in a city rarely visited by sunshine.
    Blackberries and bramble – blackberry picking in August, excitedly gathered for compote on ice cream.
    Indian spices and masala chai tea – getting to know my husband and Indian food.
    Autumn leaves – crunching through and raking the late autumn display of colour.
    Paper and ink – old books and new, fresh journals and fountain pen refills. January 4, 2021 at 10:14pm Reply

  • Nina Z: Thanks for this lovely post! It is beautiful to think of one’s life through this kind of lens.

    Moving Through the Years:

    Chaparral: the dusty herbal scent of the Santa Monica Mountains in Los Angeles, is the scent of my childhood because I loved hiking being up there behind our house

    Acacia: the intoxicating fragrance of acacia blossoms—a tree was native to California—is the scent of my early teenage years because I sat under a big acacia tree to write in my journal

    Gardenia: the scent of the long walks I took around West Los Angeles when I was a teenager

    California Bay Laurel: the very distinct fragrance of Bay leaves mixed with redwood bark and needles and damp moss was the scent of the redwood forest during my young adult years in Northern California.

    Lilacs in the Rain: My years in Boston, Mass.

    Earl Grey Tea: My years in Cambridge, England

    Eucalyptus and Redwood Trees and Bay Laurel for the Berkeley Hills, where I now love to walk.

    Star Jasmine and Roses and Freshly Roasted Coffee and Bread Baking for my own Berkeley neighborhood.

    P.S. Mandy Aftel, a natural perfumer who lives walking distance from me in Berkeley, actually has an amazing scent museum at her house! It’s a hands-on, nose-on experience of exploring classic perfume ingredients, some in their raw forms, like benzoin chips. January 4, 2021 at 10:50pm Reply

  • Peter: Mahalo Victoria, for challenging us to a Scent Audit. It was wonderful to review the other’s memories and get a spark of recognition. I mostly remember the smells of the Mainland, specifically Berkeley, where Nina now lives, and where I used to visit my Grandparents.

    I also remember Eucalyptus in the hills above the UC campus

    Potted Geraniums on my Grandfather’s patio

    My other Grandmother’s Rose garden

    Ripe Peaches from a roadside stand

    The bitter smell of Roasting Coffee on Columbus Avenue in San Francisco

    My New Orleans memory is the rich dark Gumbo, a specialty of the restaurant where I was a busboy

    My favorite dish of my Mother’s: Chicken sauteed in Olive Oil, Rosemary and Green Olives

    The elusive perfume of my childhood. I’m guessing it’s Tuvache Jungle Gardenia

    The teenage shock at smelling a hidden sample of vintage Miss Dior

    Of all the Hawaiian flowers in my childhood yards, my most favorite are the White or Yellow Ginger. If anyone has bottled this lush spicy fragrance, please let me know! January 5, 2021 at 2:11am Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi Peter,

      These sound like wonderful scents. We certainly have lots of eucalyptus trees in Australia. Believe it or not, I had to google the meaning of busboy, although I assumed it had something to do with serving customers! I think I would enjoy that chicken dish that your Mother made! Alas, I don’t think I’ve ever smelled white or yellow ginger flowers, although I love smelling ginger and eating it. January 5, 2021 at 9:17pm Reply

  • Nikos: The first thing that crossed my mind after reading this evocative article was “extinct” smells and smells in danger of extinction… not only in perfumery but in general.
    Chinaberry trees in bloom, immortelle, thyme, fig trees, sea would be pillars in my museum of scents.
    Have a happy and healing new year. January 5, 2021 at 5:01am Reply

  • Caroline: The smell of ink and new school/other books (particularly those from good French publishers, they must use some different paper stock), chimney fires (especially apple), my mother’s Eau de Lanvin (discontinued) and my father’s pipe tobacco, savon de Marseille, frangipani, mimosa, Moment Supreme (discontinued sadly), the wood shavings of nice pencils, the old 19 and original 22 and also L de Loewe. The old Chanel lipsticks (not so much Dior, a bit too much like caramel), leaves in autumn (the bitter-scented ones), warm bread and croissants, coffee (only the smell, not the taste!), sweet box and witchhazel flowers in winter. So many delicious scents! January 5, 2021 at 5:32am Reply

  • Brigitte: The scents of my childhood…Nivea, Jean Nate, 4711, original green Vitabath gelee, the smell of the city sidewalks after a heavy rain

    Crushed rosin on pointe shoes

    Winters in NYC walking down Broadway after ballet class with soft dry snow falling and the smell of evergreen from trees sold on the street mingling with my scents of the season, Clinique Wrappings, Chanel Cristalle or Estee Lauder’s Private Collection

    The musty, old world, sweaty scent of backstage at the Metropolitan Opera House which permeated my nostrils from childhood to teen years

    The smell of my three children as babies while I nursed them

    The smell in the air as we segue from winter to spring

    The scent of my lawn as I am mowing it

    The scent of soap on my beloved after he showers and gives me a hug

    The scent of my furry granddaughter when I bury my face in her beautiful black fur January 5, 2021 at 5:52am Reply

  • Sherry Frantz: Enjoyed this article very much. I read somewhere that when women in prison get to see their children during family visitation, the first thing they do is smell their children. I can only imagine the longing they must feel and the feeling smelling their children must evoke in them. January 5, 2021 at 6:04am Reply

  • Mara: Dear Victoria, Dear All,
    This is the most moving piece of writing that I have ever read -and by ‘this’, I refer to both Victoria’s elegant article AND to the readers’ comments that followed which moved me to tears with their beauty and genuineness! I shall reread what you all already contributed, deep, authentic, intact pieces of LIFE, as well as all comments to follow. And, if I find the courage to dive in my personal scents’ museum, I shall return with my message too.

    For the time being, I want to wholeheartedly thank Victoria, for just another of her brilliant initiatives and ideas, and all of you for sharing with us your mostly precious scent memories.

    This is one of the most trustful, humane, so very gentle and beautiful, and, thus, touching things I have ever read!

    THANK YOU ALL!
    HAVE A MAGICAL NEW YEAR! January 5, 2021 at 6:48am Reply

    • Tourmaline: Dear Mara,

      Thank you for your beautifull and moving response. Yes, kudos to Victoria for such a wonderful idea. I think many of us will re-read both Victoria’s post and the comments, perhaps multiple times, in the years to come. January 5, 2021 at 9:24pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Mara, and thank you to everyone for your heartfelt comments and for sharing your personal museums. It’s been such a pleasure to read this thread, lingering and savoring all of the scents you’ve mentioned. January 6, 2021 at 6:18am Reply

    • Gabriela: Very beautiful and touching, I totally agree with you Mara. I sent this post to my parents so that they can make a list too.
      My museum of scents include:
      The smell of rain on earth (in Africa and Brazil)
      My babies
      Jazmin flowers (in Brazil and Spain)
      The sea
      Baked bread
      Coffee and toast

      Thank you Victoria! January 6, 2021 at 6:36am Reply

      • Gabriela: I forgot do add the smell of cigars (it means my dad is happy) and the smell of mother (impossible to describe). January 6, 2021 at 6:47am Reply

  • rainboweyes: The title of your post made me think of The Museum of Innocence – my favourite book by Orhan Pamuk.

    I found it extremely difficult to limit myself to just a few scents… I’d say all scents I encountered in my life add up to shape my personal museum of scents.
    Of all scents, though, these three have accompanied me during my entire life, from early childhood until now:
    – books
    – summer rain / petrichor
    – iris flowers January 5, 2021 at 2:52pm Reply

    • rainboweyes: Oh, how could I forget the sea – that makes four 😉 January 5, 2021 at 2:58pm Reply

  • Tara C: This is a great post! Off the top of my head, these are my top 10:

    Fresh lilac blooms
    Warm fur smell of my pets
    Hot black assam tea
    Books
    Fresh bread
    Clean laundry
    Petrichor – rain after a long dry spell
    Ozonic smell in the metro (Aurora mentioned this and reminded me)
    Ocean
    Wild roses January 6, 2021 at 12:45am Reply

  • FleuryCat: What a lovely, lovely, personal traverse through scent and your experiences in the world. You express so beautifully the wonder, delight and enrichment we seek and find, especially in traveling, baking and cooking, in cultural experiences and meaningful interactions, which are enhanced by the scents that hover and vibrate around us. January 6, 2021 at 1:51am Reply

  • Matty1649: A wonderful post. I’ve enjoyed reading all the responses. January 6, 2021 at 10:04am Reply

  • Anu: Victoria, thank you so much for this lovely idea for a post! It has been so rewarding reading the contributions by everyone. January 6, 2021 at 10:54am Reply

  • Tourmaline: Hello again,

    OnWingsofSaffron, Klaas and other guys, I’d love to hear what would be in your scent libraries. So far, I’ve only counted about three comments from men. January 7, 2021 at 12:17am Reply

    • Tourmaline: Also John and John Luna… January 7, 2021 at 12:33am Reply

      • Tourmaline: P. S.

        Please see my comment – “A Tale of Two Johnnies” – towards the end of the “Classical Challenge” post from December 28th. January 7, 2021 at 7:33am Reply

  • Hilde: Hi Victoria.

    I guess it wasn’t easy. Probably you will say ‘oh yes, that one I was forgotten’ when you read the comments.
    I have the same problem and therefore I am giving only a non-exhaustive list of my personal museum of scents. I am sure I will have forgotten quite some.

    Food
    Fresh grained coffee beans: the smell of brewed coffee can never achieve this smell
    The smell when yo pass a bakery
    A fresh peeled orange

    Nature
    Petrichor: the smell of rain on a hot and dry underground
    Fresh cut lawn: evokes spring to me
    The smell of fallen leaves in autum

    Flowers
    Jasmine flowers, lilys, carnation, orange blossom, old climber rose varieties

    Scents
    Sandalwood soap and pine tar soap
    Incense such as is used on funerals
    Brown floor soap with line seed oil on an old wooden floor January 7, 2021 at 7:12am Reply

  • rickyrebarco: My scent museum would begin with the antiseptic smell of a hospital. I spent the first 6 weeks of my life in a neonatal ICU so that is my first scent memory.

    Next is something much better, the smell of animals, horses, cattle, and my sweet little pet goat, warm, animalic, earthy smells and the dry scent of hay.

    The farm life also included the smells of crops growing in a field, especially the smell of corn growing, an amazing earthy, sweet, milky green scent and the sweet smell of wild honeysuckle (caprifoglio).

    Next strong scent memory would be the wonderful scent of wood floors in my school, the powdery scent of chalk and blackboards and the musty smell of books, along with the pungent scent of a green powdery substances the janitor used to put on the wood floors to help attract the dust to this broom. Smelled like a mix of camphor and patchouli with a bit of birch tar thrown in.

    The smell of oil and hot rubber and hot metals as I helped my dad repair machinery on the farm and going to the farm store to buy tractor tires. New tractor tires actually smell really good.

    And, of course, the smell of cooking, especially baking. The warm comforting smells of coffee, chocolate and vanilla in baked goods and crisp smell of baking biscuits.

    Later, the scent of my sweet greyhound’s head, warm, like hay and slightly salty.

    Then the world of fragrance enters- Faberge Tigress and Woodhue in high school, Estee Lauder Aliage in college, then on to YSL Rive Gauche and Jacomo Silences.

    Fast forward to working life with Calvin Klein Obsession and Must de Cartier, and then to Casmir Chopard and L’Heure Bleue.

    In the 90’s and 2000’s on to iris and violet scents with Prada’s Infusion de Iris, Bvlgari Femme (original) and then, finally, in 2012, a trip down the perfumista rabbit hole to exploring scent in depth and learning about so many of the amazing fragrances available to the world. January 7, 2021 at 1:39pm Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi Rickyrebarco,

      I so enjoyed reading your list of scent exhibits. I got a wonderful feel for life on the farm and all the aromas of daily life, warm animals, produce and baking. Your description of school scents rang bells for me as well. I like Rive Gauche and Casmir, and I LOVE L’Heure Bleue. Thank you! January 7, 2021 at 8:47pm Reply

      • rickyrebarco: Thanks for the kind words! Your list is amazing! January 7, 2021 at 10:39pm Reply

        • Tourmaline: Thanks so much, Ricky! January 7, 2021 at 10:41pm Reply

  • Klaas: Such a delightful post Victoria…….again!!
    And what a pleasure to read all those fragrant memories and favorites. We all seem to have so much in comon 😉 In my personal Scent Museum, the following items would have a prominent place:

    Shalimar. My first encounter with a high quality perfume. One single drop on my 12 year old wrist was all it took to fall through the rabbit hole….

    Lavender. Always present in my life. In my parents garden, in toilet waters, soaps, sachets, cheap air fresheners and in the endless lavender fields of my childhood vacations in the Provence. Its smell always make me happy!

    Coffee smells great, but tea……..is pure bliss. I love black teas, my favorites being Darjeeling (autumn flush), Lapsang or good old Earl Grey.

    No matter how stressfull the day was, when frying an onion (in butter!) to start dinner things immediately look better!

    Idem for baking! Any baking really…….

    Petrichor is another a favorite. It is also persent in snow I find.

    Green herbs. No matter which ones…….Basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano……so uplifting!

    Idem for citrus. Any citrus! The simple pleasures of peeling a mandarine or squeezing a lemon in a salad dressing…….

    The smell of the canals in Amsterdam, my home town. I just love my city, and in summer one can smell the water. It is very subtle and green (algue) and aquatic. I love it…..in winter, when we have northern winds, the smell of the cocoa factory in the harbour floats over the city. It is a sweet smell, slightly burnt, with hints of yeast, I’m not even sure if it is a particularly pleasant smell, but it never fails to make me smile…..

    I lived in Paris for a couple of years in my early twenties and they were among the happiest years of my life. I share a love for the very particular smell of the Metro with Aurora. I don’t visit the city as often as I’d like, but when I do the descent into the metro at Gare du Nord makes me 25 years younger 😉 It gives me butterflies!!

    Ballet is not only a beautiful art form, it also is an olfactory universe. The smell of (new) point shoes, rosin, shellack, Elnett hair spray and face powder (layered if possible!) are very dear to me. Also, the smell of the linoleum floor as it warms up under the stage lights….

    Unfortunately, my museum would not be complete without the smell of cigarettes, since I was a heavy smoker for over 10 years. Another olfactory universe!! Smoke, ash tray, dead butts, yellow fingers, cigarette breath…….I must say that I don’t miss any of it, but these smells were part of my life for a long time. Both my parents smoked, my dad also cigars! In the car!! With me and my sister sitting in the back!! Well, it was the 70’s, and this was all perfectly normal at the time. We have learned our lesson since 😉

    And yes…….fresh laundry…….cut grass……..printing ink………marker pens………kerosine…….. January 7, 2021 at 5:17pm Reply

    • Klaas: I’m afraid I got a bit carried away ;-))) January 7, 2021 at 5:19pm Reply

    • Peter: Aloha Klaas. Even though I’m a non-smoker, I find the combination of perfume and cigarette smoke intoxicating. The fragrance that gives me the strongest scent memory is Atelier Cafe Tuberosa. In the 1970s I worked as a lei greeter at the airport. My smoking co-workers mixed with the pungent flower leis. Heaven. January 7, 2021 at 7:10pm Reply

      • Klaas: Aloha Peter! Your comment made me smile…….you were a lei greeter!! I LOVE that ;-))

        Unfortunately, I only know Hawaii from the Elvis movies. When I was a kid, it seemed like the most exotic and heavenly place on this planet!! I almost made it there once, but in the end the friends I was traveling with at the time decided on Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. I still haven’t forgiven them!! January 8, 2021 at 6:44am Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi Klaas,

      No, you didn’t get carried away; I’m the one who did that! I enjoyed reading your list.

      In the Classical Challenge post, Mela said that, at about the age of 10, she swiped a spritz of Shalimar from her grandmother’s vanity and fell in love. You encountered it at 12. I’d love to know where you found it.

      I must try both Darjeeling and Lapsung tea, along with violet tea. Perhaps they would rival my beloved cappuccino!

      Ah, frying an onion in butter is wonderful, whatever is added next.

      I take it you are or were a ballet dancer. For how long did you dance? I still have the little, pink pig-skin ballet shoes that I wore during classes for a year or so when I was about seven. I only stopped because I didn’t have time for both ballet and piano. Did you dance en pointe yourself? I’ve heard that sometimes men are required to do so.

      I have used Elnett hairspray. I’d be interested to know what the shellack is used for.

      I have to confess that I’ve always liked the smell of smoke on people, even though I’ve never smoked myself, and know that the practice is dangerous. January 8, 2021 at 6:08am Reply

      • Klaas: Hi Tourmanline!

        My story is similar to Mela. I found a little sample of Shalimar in the bathroom at my aunts. She lived in a very big, old house, and I loved roaming around while the adults finished their extensive Sunday lunch. The first and second floors wer incredibly quiet and dusty, like frozen in time, as my aunt lived there on her own and only used a few rooms.

        I started to be interested in perfume at the time (my mother wore Anais Anais and Dior Eau Fraiche, my dad the aforementioned lavender water) so when I found the little glass vile I carefully placed a drop of Shalimar extrait on my wrist, not knowing what to expect……oh my God, the sensation was so strong!! I had never smelled anything as delightfull or complex in my life!! I remember it very, very well, I literaly had the feeling that I was falling into the fragrance, very much like Alice in Wonderland!! Also, the bathroom smelled a little bit dank, the bathtub had a rusty trail in it, so the oppulence of Shalimar really, really stood out!!

        And yes, I was a dancer for many years. I was trained at a very prestigeous ballet school, but after a few years dankcing in classical companies I made the change to a more contemporary dance company, which allowed me to be more versatile as an artist. I did dance on point, once as a witch in the ballet La Sylphide, and later on in a contemporary choreography. I had good feet and could really enjoy it, for most guys dancing on point is quite an ordeal. Dancers use shellack to add resistance to the tip and the sole of the shoes, so they last a little longer and offer more support to the feet.

        Most dancers smoked at the time, so I just followed along. I must confess that I really enjoyed it, but now I am SO happy that I don’t do it anymore! Some of my friends still smoke, and I find the smell of old smoke in their homes, on their hair and on their breaths rather offputing. The smells have lost all their charm for me….. January 8, 2021 at 7:10am Reply

        • Tourmaline: Hi Klaas,

          How interesting it must have been, to be able to explore that house. And how wonderful that your first experience of Shalimar was with the extrait! That is a fantastic memory. (If you’re interested in hearing the story of my rather unusual introduction to Shalimar, have a read of my comment on Persolaise’s “Guerlain Shalimar 95th Anniversary Review – The Favourites – Jacques Guerlain; 1925” here.)

          https://persolaise.com/2020/05/guerlain-shalimar-95th-anniversary-review-the-favourites-jacques-guerlain-1925.html

          It’s great to hear about your ballet career. It must indeed have felt liberating to switch to contemporary dance and have more scope. You were fortunate to have good feet; I often read of dancers complaining about their feet, or what dancing en pointe has done to their feet. I can imagine it would be an ordeal for men to have to dance en pointe when they are not usually trained from early on to do so. I remember that we were told we couldn’t begin dancing en pointe until we were aged at least 10, and that seemed like so long away! Ah, that is interesting to hear about the use of shellack.

          I’m glad you gave up smoking; it’s probably one of the best things you ever did for your health. January 8, 2021 at 9:14am Reply

          • Klaas: Hey Tourmaline, yes, quitting cigarettes and starting mindfulness are the BEST decisions I ever made as an adult. For a healthy mind in a healthy body 😉 January 10, 2021 at 6:48am Reply

            • Tourmaline: Ah, mindfulness… Meditation has been shown to help us both mentally and physically. I should do it more often!

              My main vice is sweet things – chocolate, cake with buttercream icing and the like. Well, I guess moderation in all things is the key.

              🙂 🌷 January 10, 2021 at 10:11am Reply

              • Klaas: When enjoyed with moderation, most vices should just be called pleasures 😉 January 10, 2021 at 11:11am Reply

                • Tourmaline: You’re right, Klaas. Those foods are pleasures. My collection of shoes, on the other hand, is definitely a vice (although pleasurable), because it is not done in moderation! January 10, 2021 at 11:17am Reply

        • Peter: Aloha Klaas. Hawaiians enjoy the beautiful outdoors, along with a slower pace of life.
          You’ve revealed a hidden talent. You must have a scrapbook of great memories.
          I also enjoyed your ‘snoop story’ about finding your Shalimar Treasure. I mentioned above that Miss Dior was my First Love. January 10, 2021 at 1:06am Reply

          • Klaas: Haha, good old Miss Dior! Your teenage nose had impeccable taste 😉

            I love your idea of a memory scrapbook. Scent is a great way to get me started, as you’ve seen…… January 10, 2021 at 6:51am Reply

    • Hilde: Hi Klaas,
      Next time when I am going to visit Amsterdam – which is not so far from Brussels – I will especially pay attention to the smell of the canals.

      Chris de Bruyne, the flemish singer and songwriter, didn’t mention it in his beautiful song ‘Amsterdam’. January 13, 2021 at 8:28am Reply

  • Rhinda: I found myself dividing my life in thought bubbles of scent.
    Early years:
    Horse dander
    Leather harness
    Metal polish for cleaning the harness (my job)
    Tan bark in the show ring
    Aqua net
    Carmel corn
    Cotton candy
    Roses
    The embossing ink on the show ribbons
    Horse manure
    Buckets of oats
    Saddle soap
    Pine Sol used for cleaning the stable
    The farrier’s stove to shoe the horse
    Lemonade shake ups
    A can of glass glitter
    Sequins when they used to tarnish
    Carnations
    Cigarettes, pipe tobacco, cigar smoke

    My mother in her black leather stroller coat
    Angora beret
    Kent cigarettes in her rhinestones holder
    Shalimar
    Revlon Intimate
    Caron
    Merle Norman cold cream and make up (I still buy this as three generations of women used this)

    My father loved cologne-Woodhue, British Sterling, Musk, Aramis etc
    Kool cigarettes
    Lol. That’s a library before I turned 7. January 10, 2021 at 11:11am Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi Rhinda,

      This is a wonderful list. I really felt as though I was there with you at an equestrian event.

      Gosh, you certainly had a chic mother!

      I’m sure I’d love to read of your scent memories from later years. January 10, 2021 at 8:03pm Reply

  • Jodee: Just lovely. ❤️ January 10, 2021 at 12:42pm Reply

  • Robin: Oh what a reverie I am having reading the post and the comments. I grew up in the East Bay of San Francisco – – so like others above, the smells of eucalpytus and redwoods and bay leaves and flowering trees (cherries? not sure) of the hills behind the house are so evocative. And to me the smell of arriving over the bridge into San Francisco will always be the Hills Bros. coffee factory, sadly no longer there.
    And swimming pools and sunscreen (coconut oil, or Bain de Soleil)
    My mother’s Pond’s cold cream, my grandmother in Wind Song, my father with his pipe and in Old Spice; the unique smell of the wood in the house I grew up in.
    We played with Little Kiddles who had scented hair – one with maybe lily of the valley I loved best. Herbal Essence shampoo was big; and then as a pre-teen it was Jean Nate and Bonne Bell lip glosses in funny flavors like Dr Pepper.
    When I was 9 we spent a summer with my aunt and uncle in Florence and the Italian seaside; I had a little leather diary that for years afterward would bring back the memories of that summer. My very elegant great-aunt was always wearing something with sandalwood in it (not sure the name of the perfume)- I can’t smell that note without thinking of her.
    In young adulthood it was Rive Gauche and Laura Ashley perfume
    And then I spent a year in Khartoum, Sudan. It was hot hot hot and dry – and the dominant smell in the air was from the brick factories, a burnt clay earthy smell that to me says ‘desert’ more than any other scent – – and I can’t seem to find it as part of any perfume – yet, including all the desert-y themed ones. But I am looking……
    A trip to Nepal and India in the 80s was such an olfactory overwhelm at first – the intensity of so many smells of condensed life all at once: spices and smoke and perfumes and sweaty people and street animals (donkeys, cows, etc) and their manure and garbage – made me realize how antiseptic and unscented our American lives are unless we add perfumes or gardens. Or badly scented – ugh to most laundry detergents and cheap soaps and shampoos.

    Anybody have any ideas for a perfume with that brick-baking note in it??? March 5, 2021 at 10:30am Reply

  • Ewan: Coming from Anglesey there is the seaside and the countryside at once. The smell of the sea, seaweed and gorse [ we put the laundry out to dry on the flowering gorse bushes ] and ice-cream. Fishing off the rocks and cooking on a beach-fire.
    Walking from the beach inland the smell of farms – hay and straw, cows, sheep and pigs, the smell of their bodies and their droppings.
    Grandmother’s cooking seasonal and celebration – the different smells around the year, Chriistmas, the Christmas cake that took a year to mature, roast chicken, the smell of the drinks cabinet – woody whisky. The blackberry harvest brought blackberry and apple pie , the two combined to make the most wonderful taste.
    My father moved to Jordan, and at the end of the street grew a jasmine bush and I remember this completely different smell in the heat of early evening while eating an Atta Ali ice-cream. May 17, 2021 at 3:37am Reply

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