People’s triggers for memories vary. For many, it’s a song. It can be barely heard over the din of a busy bar, yet instantly a different time and place—a high school date, a drive to a new city, a college party—will come to mind. For others, a particular piece of clothing will bring back specific memories relating to an occasion it was worn (a lucky shirt!). For me, it has been and will always be scent. A particular food’s molecules wafting from a kitchen, orange blossoms or jasmine scenting the Los Angeles air, and especially perfume can bring back special memories. So I had to be intentional about how I used perfume during lockdown.
My introduction to perfume
I can remember the first perfume I fell for, and some might think it possibly too sexy for my age. It was Obsession by Calvin Klein. It’s a nearly indescribable experience when you smell something that instantly touches you in some way. But this scent strip in a magazine—it affected me.
Obsession launched the same year as my bat mitzvah, so a whiff of it brings me back to my childhood bedroom, papered over with my obsession, Duran Duran. When I was a little older and took a trip to Europe with a group of kids from high school, I bought a bottle of Chanel’s Coco from a shop in Paris. It made me feel glamorous and fancy and sophisticated, even though I had a Jewfro, bushy eyebrows, and Sally Jessy Raphael plastic glasses. I haven’t worn Coco in ages, but when I smell it memories of that trip come flooding back.
Since then I’ve only become more obsessed with fragrance, becoming more knowledgable about notes and large and, more specifically, niche brands. I’ve bought too many samples than I’d care to admit. I reason that each sniff is in itself an experience. I hardly ever regret trying one. And I’ve purchased (and in some cases, later given away) many bottles, each representing a moment in time.
Perfume during lockdown? Yes.
Because of its ability to both transport me to another place and time, and to ground me and remind me of home, scent has been especially important over the past year. I’m not alone in this—it turns out that this was a huge year for fragrance, both for personal wear and for home. I’m sure others felt a need to escape in some way, even if just by imagination, during the extended lockdown periods.
One of the reasons why I love perfume so much is that it’s one of the few material items that is also an experience. And it’s a rare experience that, once you acquire, you can repeat again and again. It can also affect how you experience your day. I heard about one woman who during lockdown wore one scent while she worked and other when she shut down for the day to create a delineation when she was spending all her hours at home. I decide how I want to feel each day—glamorous, sexy, comforted, energized—and choose a fragrance to match.
During lockdown, I turned to some favorites, all worn or picked up during vacations. There’s Miller Harris Terre d’Iris, bought on my first trip to London, that brings back the sense of awe and wonder I had wandering the city alone, seeing the charming streets and historic sights amidst the aromas of fresh baked pastries coming from the many bakeries and coffee and tea shops. When I spritzed on Anamor’s All That Matters, worn on a trip to Sanibel Island, Florida with my mom and sister a few years ago, its floral-tinged white musk instantly recalled memories of enjoying an ice cream cone from a local mom-and-pop shop and visiting the shell museum, and gulf breezes through humid warm air.
And Perfumer H Tobacco, purchased for me by my best friend when we visited Lyn Harris’s shop in London in 2019. That one makes me think of my friend, that trip, and sipping cocktails at Zetter Townhouse in Marylebone surrounded by antique furnishings, luxe velvet upholstery, gilded picture frames and a fire roaring in the fireplace.
Scent for reemergence
But with the hallmarks of lockdown including sweats, maskne, loneliness and a few too many carbs, I wondered if buying a new perfume during lockdown would set me up for unpleasant associations in the future. Would I feel suffocated? Would I want to banish it once things returned to (or transitioned to a new) normal? There was a sample of another Perfumer H scent I’d been dabbing on throughout lockdown. I found Dusk comforting, cozy—and, as the copy on the website says—like a cocoon. Something in its ambery warmth reminded me of what I loved about Obsession. And yet its rich complexity brought all of my favorite notes together, feeling very “me.”
After mulling a purchase for nearly a year, I finally ordered a bottle, deciding on its purpose: This would be my vaccination scent. Because also like a cocoon, eventually something emerges from it. As would I. Dusk would be my scent of reemergence. Of resilience.
Where to find your scent
While I hope none of us ever has to consider a perfume for lockdown again, having some favorite scents in your arsenal now could prepare you for any future events where a little comfort or inspiration would be welcome. For a good place to start, longtime fragrance blog and community Now Smell This has daily reviews, fragrance reviews, and more. Luckyscent (and its brick-and-mortar store, Scent Bar) is the best place in the U.S. to buy fragrance and samples, IMHO, and if you email them they can make recommendations. Also be sure to follow their Instagram account. They host regular, super fun lives (that will also be posted to their feed) on different fragrance genres.
Some of my favorite accounts on Instagram are those of beauty journalists and others who are huge fragrance fans themselves. Watching and listening to their talks and reviews are informative and entertaining.
Alice du Parcq is warm, funny, and has a weekly Instagram Live called “Desert Island Spritz” where she interviews a guest about his/her favorite scents. It’s okay if you can’t watch live, since she always posts the shows to her feed afterward.
Suzy Nightingale is a talented perfume writer who recently has co-hosted Nicola Bonn‘s podcast Outspoken Beauty on its “On the Scent” episodes. They’re worth a listen to get some insight on different perfume houses and what scent can do for your mood.
Thomas Dunckley, aka The Candy Perfume Boy, is an award-winning fragrance writer. He co-hosts the podcast Fume Chat, and does wonderful perfume reviews on his Instagram account. Check his feed each Monday for his latest roundup.
Once you dive in, you’ll find many more resources than those I’ve listed. But the ones listed here agree that perfume is for everyone. There’s something for every taste and at every price point. Try using a perfume intentionally, to commemorate special events or experiences, so that whenever you smell it after the fact, you’ll be brought back to that moment. Once you’ve experienced the magical power of scent, and see how it can make you feel like a butterfly, too, there’s no turning back.