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Bond No. 9 New York Signature Scent; Photograph from Dorothee Hübner on Unsplash

Fragrances that evoke nostalgia and develop a “scents” of place

Every trip is built on the experiences and the sensation that come with it. Now, perfumers are attempting to recreate every olfactory moment and capturing it in a bottle.
Barry Viloria and David Celdran | May 21 2019

Among other things, it’s the experience we have while traveling that makes it visceral and personal. The joy and pleasure of every travel experience live on in the photos we take and the memory of the food we ate, the clothes we wore, and the stories we tell. And, sometimes, in scents that bring us back to the place.


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In niche perfumery, there are fragrance makers keen on working on ingredients that are distinct to a place. The idea is to capture forever the impression of a place through scent. The warm aroma of white pepper, sandalwood, and leather encapsulates the ancient palazzos in Italy. Jasmine mixed with water lily, magnolia, and citruses call to mind the great continent of Australia. An amalgamation of vanilla, caramel, and orchid can come from nowhere else, but the Caribbean. And, if you haven’t been there, perfumers liken the heady riot of rose, jasmine, iris, and lily to being in the royal halls of Windsor Castle.

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The town of Grasse, France— the perfume capital of the world.

Such perfumers have become in vogue in the past decade. Some that started as women’s brands have begun to cater to men. (If we believe The Luxury Channel, men have become increasingly obsessed with clothing, accessories, and, in this case, fragrances that share “a narrative, a quirky history.”) These wizards of scent have become obsessive in their attempts to evoke the specific geographies their scents are named after.

The famous Bond No. 9, the first and only niche scent in New York, is focused on “neighborhood fragrances.” The brand has crafted scents named after the city’s iconic streets, boroughs, parks, and beaches. Aqaba by artisanal perfumer Miriam Mirani is also a Jordanian coastal city and the scent reconciles the history of trade and Islamic conquests and the Arabian Nights stories. With bottles for men and women, Aqaba conjures the warm and wild smell of spices, resins, balsams, and flowers.

British brand Molton Brown, founded in 1973, has its Navigations Through Scent line, comprising five fragrances related to countries from the “lost worlds and the brave New World.” Guerlain also launched the Les Voyages Olfactifs series in 2009, which are redolent of Tokyo, Moscow, and New York. Italian perfumer Profumi di Pantelleria formulates the flavors and scents of the island of Pantelleria in Italy, called the Black Pearl of the Mediterranean. L’Occitane from France highlights in its scents its “strong ties to the authenticity of the region, and its close relationship with nature.”


Fields of inspiration

Born and trained in Grasse, Karine Dubreuil’s memories of growing up amidst the lavender fields and fruit trees of her native Provence continue to inspire her creations for L’Occitane. She reveals the influence of travel and memory in her creative process as a professional perfumer.

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Karine Dubreuil, Prefumer. Photograph by Paul del Rosario


From where do you find inspiration for your scents and perfumes?

It can be a moment, it can be an ingredient, it can be a souvenir, a memory, a trip, food, or smelling someone somewhere. It reminds you of something and you want to recreate the idea. The process is complicated and at the same time personal.


And what you did was to recreate your childhood memories of Provence?

When you learn perfumery, you just recall your memory. And it’s the only way to memorize the materials. When you learn perfumery, the first thing you do is memorize all the raw materials. So, they give you a big table like this with hundreds of raw materials and you have to memorize everything. There are different qualities of lavender and roses and the only way to memorize is to write down your emotions. So, write all the things that come out of you, of your brain, your memories. So, when I did this for a collection, it was easy and nice. That’s if you have a nice childhood, of course.


Is there a particular memory that you find difficult to recreate in a scent because of the complexity of the ingredient?

The smell I would like to create is the smell of a baby. It’s so good, the smell of the baby. It’s hard because it’s human. The baby itself, it smells good without any body lotion. There’s a smell. That would be great to recreate. It’s true, there’s a lot of smells that we would like to reproduce but we can’t.


Is there any scent of a place in the Philippines that stood out for you?

Yes, the first time I went to the Philippines was almost 30 years. I saw Boracay all virgin. I remember the sampaguita in the evening. It was so gorgeous in the evening. I love sampaguita. I saw it once in Manila when I was walking with my friend and I saw a kid selling the necklace and it was so gorgeous. Because it was like our jasmine, but it was stronger. I worked on recreating it already. And I did, but I haven’t sold it yet.


This story first appeared on Vault Magazine Issue 14 No 2 2014.

Photograph by Paul del Rosario