scent memories

Natasha Gregson Wagner Loves the Smell of Gardenia and Dog Paws

Photo-Illustration: Getty Images

Call it the Proust effect: Memories are often triggered by smells. Scientific studies confirm that out of all the senses, smell offers the best recall. In Scent Memories, the Cut asks people about the scents they associate with different times in their lives. Next up is actor Natasha Gregson Wagner who recently added a new fragrance, La Rose, to the line inspired by her late mother, Natalie Wood. Based on the roses her mom kept in their garden, the realistic rollerball scent smells freshly picked thanks to a mix of rose essence, geranium, and heliotrope. The Cut spoke with Wagner about the smell of dog paws, hamburgers, and oil on canvas.

My first scent memory is: I would imagine it would be the smell of my mom because she was the first person who held me. It’s that kind of ubiquitous, but also very original, mom scent. Everyone has their own individual smell mixed with whatever fragrance they wore. My mom wore Jungle Gardenia.

Happiness smell like: My daughter, Clover. She’s 6 and she’s a real tomboy, but for some reason, she loves to wear the Natalie fragrance. She calls it “my grandma Natalie’s fragrance.” She keeps it in her room and she puts it on every day and I think it’s just really sweet. Like every fragrance, this one smells different on everyone, and on her fresh, innocent, clean skin, it seems to sing a little brighter.

Love smells like: A home-cooked meal in Wales. I think love smells like comfort and safety and I associate that with my dad’s house in England. He and my stepmom Julia are amazing cooks, and I would spend all my summers with them growing up. That smell of walking through their front door — they were always making a roast chicken, or Shepherd’s pie, or rhubarb crumble, or a leg of lamb — that’s what happiness smells like.

Friendship smells like: Coffee. Whenever my friends come over, they always want me to make them coffee. I’ve become a really good coffee maker because I like it really strong. I make it in a French press and I use Pete’s Major Dickason.

Heartbreak smells like: My dog’s paws. Whenever I’m really sad, I always lay in bed with whichever dog is my dog at the time. They lay with me and I smell their paws. They smell like dirt, mud, animal smell … but it’s a very comforting, rejuvenating smell.

Regret smells like: Saliva. Saliva in your mouth. I’m driving right now, on my way to take my cat to the vet, and I regret that I didn’t have a bigger lunch because now I’m hungry. So regret really smells like hunger.

Success smells like: Wine. A really amazing bottle of French red wine. The way the cork smells when you open it and think: They’re going to pour this wine in my glass and I’m going to drink it and I’m going to feel really good about myself.

The worst smell is: A trash truck. I’m a really overly tidy and clean person, and so is my husband. And we can’t stand the smell of anything old and nasty like any type of trash or garbage that has been sitting there.

Sunday morning smells like: Pancakes made by my husband. He’s an excellent cook and on Sundays he always makes pancakes for the kids. When I was pregnant, he would do a conveyor belt: I always got lemon pancakes, one son would get chocolate chip pancakes, and my step-son likes them with extra vanilla and cinnamon.

Monday morning smells like: The absence of coffee. It doesn’t smell like coffee because no one is making it for me, so it should smell like coffee. But it just smells early until I go downstairs and make it.

My home smells like: It’s a very specific smell. Everyone’s home has one, too. We have a lot of wood in the house and concrete floors. I think my house smells familiar, clean, and happy. It smells like love, it smells like a family, it smells like peace and quiet, too. And it smells like whatever flower is in season. I like to buy flowers, so in the spring it really does smell like lilacs and in the fall, it smells like eucalyptus leaves.

A pleasant surprise smells like: Oil on canvas. I was just in an art gallery in North Port and one of my sisters was buying a painting. I keep bringing my sisters into this one gallery and for some reason they keep buying paintings, so the artist, David Grath, gave me a very small painting. He had just finished it so it smelled like the oils on the canvas and it was surprisingly lovely in a weird way.

My favorite food smells like: A burger from The Apple Pan on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles. I’ve been going there with my dad since I was a little girl and I always get the same thing.

If I could have one smell on my hands forever, it would it be: The smell of my mom. The smell of her gardenia perfume. The smell of her coziness and love.

I smell like: This summer, I smell like La Rose — it’s not too cloying, isn’t too old lady, isn’t too heavy, and doesn’t give you a headache. We mixed the rose with a lot of heliotrope and jasmine to get that natural scent.

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Natasha Gregson Wagner Loves the Smell of Dog Paws