Scented Journeys of the Past

Do you want to go somewhere?  I do, probably sometime next spring when it’s cold and windy here. I won’t be flying to Maine for Christmas; this is literally my first one without the kids since I had them. The girls quarantined and then drove to my house in 2020, and I flew to Maine last Christmas, right in the teeth of Omicron, which was super-stressful. They all now work jobs that are very busy at Christmas rather than my leisurely office jobs of yore, where everyone was all “hey Bob, see you next year” for that entire last week of December. Anyway, I’ll most likely spend it here, Santa Fe is pretty over the holidays.

But it did get me thinking about trips past, and some perfumes that for me are inextricably intertwined in my memories with the city in which I first tried them.

Annick Goutal Mandragore I discovered on a miserably cold day in Paris, back when I used to do those February getaways with a friend as a sanity break from my kids. I think we walked by the Goutal shop somewhere on the Left Bank while in search of chocolate, and I was initially intrigued by the bottles in the window; this was early days for me and I knew the brand but hadn’t really explored it. Mandragore smelled like peppered grapefruit to me and I loved it instantly; it was so weird! So not what I thought of as traditional perfume! I blew through that first bottle long ago, but I’ve always owned at least one plus a backup.

I Profumi di Firenze Arancia Dolce happened when I was on a Rick Steves tour, we were staying in Florence (I love Rick Steves trips, fewer people and some freedom, I know there are other companies doing similar tours with someone else figuring out the itinerary and all the logistics and dealing with problems as they arise.) Most of my compatriots dedicated themselves to food and wine tastings; I spent the entire time jacked up on caffeine and covered in powdered sugar from whatever dessert I’d just tried. I spent hours in iPdF since they have a million things to sniff, but left with that “sweet orange” which still cheers me years later.

In Edinburgh (and what a gorgeous, fun city) I visited whatever the fancy department stores were at the time, which is where I ran across Worth Courtesan, and I still can’t tell you why I love it so much, it’s kind of odd – a nutty, sweaty hairspray of a scent. (I think Portia shares my love; Luca Turin does not.) I bought the bottle early in my trip so it became the scent I associated with my miles and miles of walking, traversing the city, taking it all in. I’m kind of craving Courtesan right now, just typing this.

Are there fragrances that are bound indelibly with a specific place in your mind, either because you bought them or wore them there?

(All images via Pexels)

  • Musette says:

    You will forever be my Courtesan association – I didn’t even know it existed before I met you. I like it a lot – but don’t love it – but as time has gone on I have come to appreciate the ‘why’ of your love for it.
    Alas, not quite so much for Mandragore. Try as I might, I just cannot with the Mandragore.
    And I, too, love Edinburg. Love it.


    • March says:

      Ha! I wound up with a couple of bottles of Mandragore from people who knew how much I loved it and they blind-bought it and said NEWP.

  • Portia says:

    YAY for Courtesan March. Yep, weird AF. It smells like a musky pineapple on top and a sweaty Betty after.

    On Jin and my first international trip together in 2013 we bought that strawberry, carnation, iris frappé of a scent Cartier L’Heure Convoiteé II in the old clock square of Prague. It was January, snowing and the fragrance fit the mood perfectly. Every time I spritz it takes me back there.
    Vero Profumo Rubj EdP will always be the ScentSation Bus Tour. I bought it at LuckyScent and that memory is another one of my happiest.
    2013 was a very good year. Can you believe May next year is TEN years since we did that?
    Portia xx

    • Musette says:

      Convoitee’ (one of the few L’Heures that I don’t LOVE) still challenges me, alas. But I absolutely love the scent memory it conjures. Soooo romantic!


      • Portia says:

        Musette! Bummer about Cartier L’Heure Convoiteé II.
        Prague is romantic at anytime but with Jin it was next level.
        Portia x

    • March says:

      Another perfect description of Courtesan lol. And what a great Prague scent-memory! Still kicking myself that I didn’t buy Rubj back in the day but I have a decant so at least there’s that!

      • Portia says:

        PHEW! I think all we really need at this point is a decant of anything. Even those will probably dry up before they get used up.
        Rubj would probably be a perfect wear for you right now, weather wise.

  • Brilliant article. I first tried Diptyque’s Fleur de Peau (great iris musky scent) on a trip to Hong Kong in 2018. I bought a bottle when I returned home, and every time I spray it, I’m transported back to the vibrancy of the markets, museums, and ferry rides I experienced in that fantastic city.

    • March says:

      Yesssss, that’s exactly it! You’re right there all over again! And I like Fleur de Peau very much on other people, I weirdly couldn’t smell it very well on myself! I still have a sample of it, though.

  • SpringPansy says:

    Beautiful post, March. I can think of a few associations with perfumes I wore at these times: Isle of Skye – DSH Perfumes Wild Fig (or something like that), a special date in Boulder, Colorado – NR Musc Oil, Christmases when the kids were still at home – Bois 1920 Sushi Imperiale.

    But my best story is that when I was in high school, I got to go on a spring break trip to Mexico City with my Spanish class (this was back in the 70s) and so unusual for my small town high school. At the time I was wearing some kind of cream deodorant (Tussy?). I kept that empty jar of cream deodorant for years because when I opened it, the scent wafted up and I was immediately on the top of the pyramids of Teotihuacan again. I think this was when I first realized the true magic of fragrance.

    • March says:

      Oh, I love your story about the cream deodorant and how even then you knew how much power that scent had to take you back… and your other scent memories. I feel bad for people who never experience that.

  • Dina C. says:

    I loved reading your scent memories, March. Youre such a good writer. There’s an inexpensive lemon cologne that is sold by the liter which is ubiquitous in Turkey that’s used as a hand sanitizer, refresher, cologne, substitute for a shower…that scent will always remind me of living in Turkey in the mid-70s.

    • March says:

      I totally get what you’re saying with the lemon cologne! I can see how its pervasiveness would ultimately be Eau de Turkey, it sounds great! And thanks for the compliments.

  • cinnamon says:

    Lovely read. My fragrance memories mostly aren’t to do with perfumes but rather with specific smells on specific holidays. I first smelled frangipani on an early island holiday with former husband. Bittersweet. It took me a while to realise it was the tree in the garden that was causing the amazing smell but it was also when I started to realise I really didn’t want to be in that relationship.

    A trip to Paris 15 years ago offered first visit to the Laduree cafe and the large Isfahan rose macaron with raspberry cream sandwiched. Smell glorious and tasted as good.

    I associate NYC with over spraying Opium in the 1980s and the perfume hall at the long gone Takashimaya, where I first encountered Santa Maria Novella.

    Planning a long weekend in Paris late January and mean to visit Lutens in the Palais Royale for the first time — and maybe the Divine store.

    • March says:

      RIP Takashimaya … oh, the endless time I spent there on visits to NYC. Not even just with the perfume but that whole store, including the basement tea room. Tak was such a quiet, enchanting refuge from the go go go of the city. And I agree, those non-perfume smells can stay with us for a lifetime. I hope you have a great time in Paris.

  • Tom says:

    One that comes to mind is AG Sables and Bergdorfs. I seem to remember discovering it in late autumn and totally falling (pardon the pun) for it. All that syrupy goodness worn while wrapped up in sweaters and tweed, walking down 5th Avenue with the smell of roasted chestnuts. I actually dislike them, but I love the smell of them roasting makes me think of NY.

    Barney’s Route de Thé is another NY one- I remember from before the store was on Madison Ave.

    Then there’s Giorgio from the long-gone eponymous store on Rodeo. Which oddly enough I well be posting about for Wednesday..

    • March says:

      What lovely fall memories about Sables! (and yeah I think roasted chestnuts are weird but that smell is great) Looking forward to your review of Giorgio, I immediately remembered the smell seeing your comment; it was everywhere for awhile there.

  • Maggiecat says:

    All of my Fragonard scents (I have, um, a few) remind me of trips to France where I discovered the house. This is true even though I’ve bought most of them online here in the States! They’re very French scents, pleasant but intelligent, well-designed, wearable, pretty. Also affordable, for people who can’t imagine not wearing perfume and like a variety of scents.

    • March says:

      Oh, that sounds great! There’s nothing like really diving into a house … I remember sniffing alllll the L’Artisan in some Paris department store, I think I stood there for two hours, in sniffage heaven.

  • Tara C says:

    There was a period of time just as I was discovering niche when I was traveling frequently to Paris. My favorite memory was visiting the Serge Lutens boutique, with the hushed purple and black gothic decor. So magical. I bought several bottles so no one scent stands out but I remember smelling Angel wafting through the streets. Heady days!

  • Filomena says:

    Yes, my first trip to Italy I wore a brand new Hermes fragrance that I had just purchased (Hermes H’iris) and so many other people on the trip commented on how good I smelled ( of course all perfume smells even better when you are in Florence and Rome). To this day, I always have backup bottles of H’iris.