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 supermodel, singer-songwriter, and Jo Malone London Girl Karen Elson. She recently collaborated with the aforementioned British fragrance brand and British jeweler Duffy on a limited-edition collection of bespoke perfume bottle caps inspired by the 12 birthstones. Each hand-crafted bronze top features a cubic zirconia gem and can be used to personalize any Jo Malone London cologne of your choosing, starting this month. The Cut talked to Elson about wildflowers, skunks, and airplane seat-mates.
My first scent memory is: Picking bluebells when I was a little girl in England with my twin sister, Kate. We lived in an industrial part of Northern England, but there were a few sort of green parts. In England in the spring, the wildflowers are everywhere, but only for two weeks of the year. I have such a specific memory of an alleyway behind my neighbor’s house where we’d pick them. Jo Malone London has a Wild Bluebell fragrance, actually, and it is exactly that memory. I am literally taken back to being 6 years old.
Happiness smells like: Watching my children run and play outside and be happy, if you could bottle that idea. That’s always when I’m at my happiest. If that had a corresponding fragrance, it’d be a playful one, for sure.
Love smells like: Red Roses. It’s the quintessential romantic scent. It reminds me of another memory, when I used to steal my neighbor’s roses as a little girl and try to make rose perfume … terribly. It wouldn’t smell nice. It would smell good for like two hours and then go to smelling like rotting flower. But there’s something about roses and the way they smell – they’re so hopeful. It’s sweet, tender, romantic, and loving, as well.
Heartbreak smells like: Tuberose. Beautiful, white flowers are traditionally at funerals or when someone has experienced loss, and there’s something about tuberose for me. It has a heady, powerful scent that’s just darker than other flowers.
Regret smells like: When you’re sitting next to somebody — a guy, particularly — on the subway or on a plane who has doused themselves in cologne and it gives you a migraine. That’s regret, right there.
Friendship smells like: Wild Bluebell again, because it reminds me of my sister, and my twin sister is basically my best friend. She’s been like my, you know, what do they say, “ride or die?” She’s that. I’m so lucky to be her sister.
Vacation smells like: Frangipani. I was in Bora Bora with my kids this summer and there were frangipani flowers everywhere, and the way they smelled was divine. Just that sweetness of frangipani everywhere I went. It’s almost like honeysuckle in a way, with a little added tropical twist.
The worst smell is: You can’t bottle it, this stuff, but if you’re a nasty, not-nice person — it doesn’t matter how well-fragranced you are, you put a bad taste in my mouth, and so you smell bad. I live in Nashville, in the countryside, and there are so many skunks around. I’ve got to be quite blunt, they’re so cute, but they also reek when they do their thing. You can’t even open a door.
Sunday morning smells like: Pancakes and waffles; I make them for my kids every Sunday. It smells like scrambled eggs, maple syrup, and butter. Ugh, I love butter so much.
Monday morning smells like: Tea and lots of caffeine being made because I’ve got to get up and take my kids to school. It smells like damp, dewy, wet grass, and running outside, telling my kids we’ve got to hurry up. It smells like me running my fingers through my son’s hair and going “Have you showered?” [Laughs.] Literally, picking up his shoes and going, “God, Henry, really?”
My home smells like: So many things! I have so many scented candles, incense, you name it. A person probably walks into my house and doesn’t know what hit them. I have the Jo Malone London Red Roses candle in my entryway, the Green Tomato Leaf candle in my kitchen, and then Incense & Embers — have you ever smelled that candle? Sexiest scent ever. It is so foxy, it’s almost like church incense that feels like it needs to be under candlelight. It’s a lot [laughs].
My favorite food smells like: Molten chocolate cake. When that’s fresh out of the oven? It’s just — forget it. Sold.
I smell like: Red Roses, Wild Bluebell, or a mix of the two!
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