I’ve always been obsessed with smell. I’m blessed in that I have both a strong sense of smell (I can smell things a mile off) and also a vivid scent-sense memory - walking out of the doors at Changi airport in Singapore evokes such strong memories - the rain, durian, fish, drains and orchids make me giddy with the nostalgia of my childhood. Smells are a part of all of us, so here are a few that have anchored key moments in my life, pivotal scent-events if you like.
Literally my earliest memory is being a tiny child in Singapore, sunburnt after spending Christmas Day on the beach and my mother applying Calamine lotion to my blistered back and fanning me gently whilst I cried my eyes out. Calamine’s medical twang remains unchanged in my mind - a pink-scented angel of mercy.
Fecund, heavy, tropical rain is powerful to many of my senses - the sound, the steamy aftermath, but it is the scent: ozonic and electric beforehand, wet and feral afterwards, that really gets to me. Again, childhood and nostalgic evocations galore.
“Smells Like Hell But Tastes Like Heaven,” the durian is somewhere between socks, onions and creme brûlée, and is banned in trains and cabs in Singapore. But man, you never forget it once you have smelled it.
I was an altar boy, and the smell of incense drives me crazy - its smoky, resiny, deep, thick, almost tar-like frankincense is a lifelong obsession to find as a personal cologne - more on this later.
Wet wool. Fuck. Years of being forced to play soccer and rugby in cold, damp Northern England brings back nothing but unhappy memories; the scent of soggy wooly clothes reeking like the steam off a wet dog’s coat. The Pet Shop Boys, fellow Northerners, wrote a song called “This Must Be The Place I Waited Years to Leave” about this exact moment.
Leaves. Specifically wet, fallen leaves. Ideally in November, when there is chill the air, fireworks in the background, and the ground is getting ready to close up and harden for the winter. The smell of Autumn. Of coming indoors, hiding and preparing for hibernation.
My first grown-up cologne. I reeked of this shit, and applied it by the handful to a freshly (and first time) shaved face, and then almost passed out from the pain. A critical rite of passage in fragrance form.
The smell of screen printing. The scent of creativity, of making, crafting and getting dirty. College years, happily giddy, passing away the hours doing nothing but self-expressing. To this day, I love the smell of print. My colleague Jessie Cutts and I used to obsess when something newly printed came into the office and would both sniff first.
Summer sidewalks after the rain. The smell of my Sex and The City: of New York, of Chicago, of London, of urbanity. I love the air as it crackles, the lightning, the asphalt twang. the temporary cleanness.
One of my happiest memories - jogging through Les Jardins du Luxembourg in Paris and the intoxicating smell of neroli. Orange and lime blossoms line the path, the beautiful people sitting on the beautiful chairs. Probably one of the rare times I remembered to freeze the moment, to enjoy it and remember.
The sum of all of the above. Churchy incense, tar, resiny glue, and ozone. I wear this every day. It’s not ideal, but is the closest I can get to a lifetime, bottled. I am never without it, travel everywhere with it, never forget to wear it. My memories travel with me, and I wear them proudly.