scent memories

Matthew Milèo Knows What Every Emotion Really Smells Like

Photo: Courtesy of MILÈO NEW YORK

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 Matthew Milèo, founder of Milèo New York, a luxury line of natural, plant-based, and very photogenic facial elixirs. A chemist and former in-house fragrance expert for Chanel, Milèo launched his skin-care line around oud, an extremely rare and nutrient-dense resin extracted from agarwood trees in Southeast Asia that happens to do anti-aging wonders for skin. The Cut talked to Milèo about flowers, chakras, and how to naturally deodorize your dog.

My first scent memory is: Mothballs. I remember first walking into the principal’s office in Kindergarten and it smelling extremely stale and stiff, and I thought My God, this school is very strict. And it actually was; it was this strict, private Christian school, but I didn’t actually know that as a kid until I smelled it; it was so heavy. I also remember getting hit with a shoe there, but that’s another story…

Happiness smells: Very bright, fruity, and ethereal. Like apricot, peaches, and Osmunthus flower, which is a blossom that comes from China and smells lusciously sweet. Every time I smell it, I immediately get happy. I later studied it and it turns out that it actually activates the pleasure pathways in the brain.

Love smells like: The classic roselike scent, but mixed with something citrus-y to brighten it, like orange or orange blossom, so you end up with something sparkling and effervescent that gives you those butterflies in the stomach. If I can just get science nerd on you: Every time you blend some citronellol with citral, you get a love-inducing type scent because that’s what’s in rose-type flowers and citrus. It’s that heavenly, spun-sugar type scent — it’s sweet, but not cloying, it’s still light and fresh.

Friendship smells like: Bluer notes like blue tansy, blue yarrow, and blue cypress. Those notes are floral, but have a minty-freshness to them, and when I think of friendship, it’s similar to love, but it’s light, its fun, it’s more airy, and you can really be yourself.

Heartbreak or loss smells like: Rosewood. Every time I smell rosewood, it reminds me of love because of the rose in there, but its base is a heavy wood, so it has this deepening of feeling. With heartbreak, you’re still in love, but experiencing loss and feeling more introspective at the same time.

Regret smells like: Wine notes, like in davana flower, immortelle, and absolute; things that have more of a rum raisin-type floral. When experiencing regret you need something to get you through to the other side, and for some reason, those deep base wine notes kind of clear your head, so you can get there faster. Regret can also be something you haven’t done yet, and davana flower is actually used for meditation because, like oud, it can be used open the crown chakra and help clear your head so you let in more positive thinking.

Success smells: Very green. Clasically chic green notes like violet leaf, magnolia blossom, and galbanum always have this feeling of confidence behind them. They’re fresh, but still very pleasant and present. With success, there’s usually this slow and steady wins the race mentality of patience and putting in the work. Similarly, green notes are fresh, but still very tenacious and long-lasting.

The worst smell is: Indole. It’s a constituent mostly found in white floral notes like jasmine, orange blossom, magnolia — they’re what gives the white flowers their lightness, but if you use it too much, it’s like … stale urine. It’s very fecal and animalic smelling. It’s similar to when you put too many flowers in something. It can smell very heady, because there’s too much indole in there.

Vacation smells like: Ylang-ylang. It’s very vacation-y, exotic, and has that tropical feel to it. The banana note is the most elusive and the hardest note to get in fragrance making because you can’t actually extract it from the earth — it must be synthetic. The only way to do it is to use ylang-ylang.

Sunday morning smells like: Frankincense, lavender, oud, and things that open the crown chakra, because Sundays are when I do my my spiritual things and my spa things. I always sleep in, read the paper (which is technically now on my phone), look out the window, water the flowers. It’s all very relaxing and chill, but also a time to open up your wellness. It’s a you day — a treat yourself day.

Monday morning smells like: Rock rose. It has a really rich base note, it’s almost amber-type smelling, but it actually helps with focus and concentration so you can actually get through your Monday with ease, while still feeling cozy and comforted, which is how you really feel on Monday. You just want it to be gloomy so you can stay in bed but, you actually need to productive.

My home smells like: Walking into a flower shop. There’s literally flowers in every corner. I have some cacti over here, some orchids, some pink roses, it’s very floral. I also have a dog and he really picks up the lavender and rose and sage, so when I leave the apartment with him, people always say God your dog smells so great! Wow what’s on your dog?! It kinda makes me want to launch a pet line [laughs].

If I could have one smell on my hands forever, it would be: Narcissus flower. When I first smelled it, I was blown away because I’ve never smelled a single flower that smelled like an entire fragrance on its own. So I’d probably smell a little different, gorgeous fine fragrance, every day of my life. That’s why I added it to my Collognes La Rouge. It’s sweet, it’s lush, it’s woody, it’s deep, it’s exotic, it’s fresh. It also gives you a sense of delight and joy. Who doesn’t want to smell like they’re on cloud nine every day?

I smell like: A flower shop with a lot of oud slathered on. I use a lot of oud in my skin care and love to blend it with flowers. All the flowers I use are freshly distilled so you’re getting the top notes that are extremely potent. Actually, you know what, I hate to say this but: luscious. I smell luscious. You could eat me up [laughs]. Like dessert.

 If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.

Matthew Milèo Knows What Every Emotion Really Smells Like