Call it the Proust effect: Memories are often triggered by smells. Scientific studies confirm that out of all the senses, smell triggers the best recall. In Scent Memories, the Cut asks people about the scents they associate with different times in their lives. Next up is Carole Radziwill: journalist, author of The Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating, and reality-TV personality who you probably recognize from The Real Housewives of New York City. She recently hosted an event to celebrate the launch of Goutal Paris’s newest fragrance from its Night Bird collection: Étoile d’Une Nuit. The scent is described as “lush, soft, and memorable” with notes of iris, rose, and raspberry. The Cut spoke with Radziwill about lilacs, the subway, and her obsession with scented candles.
My first scent memory is: Lilacs. My grandmother lived with us in upstate New York and she had three lilac bushes right outside her window. I used to go out into the garden and look for salamanders under rocks. I know, it’s so weird! [Laughs] Salamanders are very chic, though: They’re thin, they’re long, they have beautiful markings, and they’re very shiny. I spent lots of summers in those lilac bushes looking for salamanders. The smell of lilac brings me right back to being 4 years old again.
Happiness smells like: Pink peonies. When I first started dating my late husband, his mom (the late Lee Radziwill) had a weekend house at the beach and she had bunches of pink peonies everywhere. You know those early dating summer weekends? Where everything is possible? That’s what they remind me of. They bring me happiness because they’re so untamed and messy and I find that beautiful. Now I have two kitties so it’s hard for me to keep flowers around, so I do have a bunch of pink peonies on my bedside table — but they’re silk. If it wasn’t for the kitties, I’d have the real deal.
Love smells like: Fresh cut grass on a really hot summer day. That smell to me is just divine. I know it doesn’t seem like love, but I just love that smell. Unfortunately I live in New York City, so I don’t get to smell it that much. But I live not that far from Hudson River Park, and they have these nice areas of grass that are a little unkempt and wild, and so sometimes I’ll go there and lie down — I don’t bring a blanket or anything — I just lie there directly on the grass.
Friendship smells like: Hawaiian Tropic dark tanning oil. Everything about this smell is comforting, and I think friendship and comfort are synonymous. I know it’s very old-school and I’m dating myself but it’s one of my favorites. It just smells familiar, comforting, exciting, and maybe a little forbidden. I do not use it anymore, but you can find me at a drugstore sniffing it like glue.
Heartbreak smells like: The New York City subway on a scorching July afternoon. There’s nothing worse than getting on a crowded subway on, like, a 90-degree day. It’s like a cacophony of smells: It’s urine, it’s sweat, it’s heat, it’s everything.
Regret smells like: That’s a hard one. Maybe it’s the absence of smell? The nothingness of the air? Like, when you just breathe in and there’s no smell at all. Either that, or gasoline. Oh, but people do sniff gasoline, I suppose. I can’t think of anything in particular. It’s just nothingness.
Vacation smells like: Worms. You know the smell right after a summer thunderstorm rain? The smell of earthworms ? That reminds me of vacation, because many of my vacations as a kid revolved around fishing. So every time I smell it I think of being in upstate New York at my grandparents’ house on a lake. I don’t smell it that much in the city. And you know who else comes out after the rain? The salamanders.
Success smells like: The inside of a brand-new car. It’s just perfection. You open, say, a brand-new 2019 Jaguar, in navy with camel leather seats. Sit in that driver’s seat and breathe in that smell. That’s success. You can almost feel it, it’s like, Ahhh, I’ve made it.
Monday morning smells like: Melting asphalt coming up from the sidewalks and paved streets on a hot summer day. It hurts your nose a little. The smell of tar and asphalt that melts slightly because it’s so hot. That smell envelops the city.
My home smells like: Scented candles. One of my greatest extravagances is smelly candles. I’m embarrassed to say, but I spend a disproportionate amount of money on candles. It adds up. I don’t like subtle scents, I need to walk into my apartment and smell it. Right now it smells like Goutal Bois Cendrés.
A pleasant surprise smells like: You know, I don’t like surprises, so that’s a hard one. The smell of my new puppy, Baby, probably. Puppy breath and puppy fur is so yummy. She’s a mini goldendoodle.
If I could have one smell on my hands forever, it would be: Lilacs. Lilacs is my Rosebud. You know, from Citizen Kane? The last thing he said before he died was “Rosebud” and everyone was trying to figure out what it meant and it was just his childhood sled. Oh wow, I’m getting so nostalgic!
I had a friend who passed away, and after she was gone, I used to put on the perfume she wore. That really made me feel close to her again, and brought back such wonderful memories. You get so obsessed with looking at pictures, especially nowadays, that you forget about how well scents bring you back to specific moments in time. I guess that’s why the column is called Scent Memories.
I smell like: Goutal Étoile d’Une Nuit. I’m having a French moment right now. I mean there’s something just elegant about classic French-ness. And we live in such a crass time right now that anything French to me seems very elegant and feminine. It’s just they’re chic, they’re elegant, they’re understated, they’re everything that society right now is not, so maybe it’s a little bit of my rebellion.
If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.