Call it the Proust effect: Memories are often triggered by smells. Scientific studies confirm that, 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 Erika Shumate, co-founder of the San Francisco–based fragrance company Pinrose. Shumate and fellow Stanford M.B.A. grad Christine Luby founded Pinrose to simplify the often overwhelming fragrance-picking process. Their algorithm and personality quiz match you to scents that suit your style, like their new Mystical Misfit, which has notes of peach, berry, and patchouli and a charmingly mischievous vibe. The Cut caught up with Shumate to talk actual baby’s breath, clementines, and Enya.
My first scent memory is: I have two: One is my mom wearing this pink sweater and the smell of that sweater, and the other is my dad after mowing the lawn in the summertime.
Happiness smells like: Baking cookies. Anytime anything’s baking in a home, there’s something happy happening.
Love smells like: Skin. It’s sweaty, clean, the good, the bad, the real; it’s got all the things, just like love.
Friendship smells like: Sandalwood. Woods have a strength and support to them, but sandalwood has this nice buttery piece to it as well. That sturdiness plus the coziness makes me think about what I really value in my friendships.
Heartbreak or loss smells like: Nothing. An absence of smell. It’s so sad you can’t smell anything. It’s that feeling where you just don’t care and your brain doesn’t want to process anything.
Regret smells like: Metal and iron. It smells guttural. Almost like when you can taste blood in your mouth because you ran too hard. It comes from the depths, and it burns.
Success smells like: A redwood grove. Warm and in the sun, slightly sweet and elegant.
A pleasant surprise smells like: A ripe clementine! So friendly and so pleasant.
The worst smell is: Straight-up decay. Like a rotting animal or tooth plaque. This is really disgusting, but I moved into a renovated dorm when I was at Yale undergrad. It was beautiful, and they restored the original fireplace. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I felt like there was something weird about this one corner. Then I started getting these little whiffs of smell and I was like, Oh, God.
Then my dad came for parents’ weekend, and he is like a hound. He was like, I think it’s coming from the fireplace, and he opened the fireplace and all of these dead squirrels fell out! When they were renovating, they put wire on top of the chimney and didn’t check to see if anything was living in there, so they all got trapped. It was really sad, but I came face-to-face with that smell, and I moved out of my room for a few days. Sorry, vivid.
Vacation smells like: White flowers and coconut. Those notes always feel relaxing to me.
Sunday morning smells like: Enya — so soft and gentle. But I don’t really know what she smells like.
Monday morning smells like: Cityscape, concrete, and exhaust. I walk to work, so it smells more manmade.
My home smells like: I aspire for it to smell like an open window with hints of basil. In San Francisco, you can keep your window open pretty much throughout the year, so it’s attainable.
If I could have one smell on my hands forever, it would it be: Baby’s breath. My baby’s breath. It sounds kind of gross, but I had a baby in October and her breath to me smells just so divine. I never really put it together with the flower before, but I really like it! It’s just very pure. I’m sure there’s biological shit to why I like it, but I do.
I smell like: Dry coconut wood and some vanilla. I wear our Sun Saint scent a lot as a base layer, and it has a chill vibe to it. I love adding and layering to it, so if I want something more sprightly, I’ll add berry or citrus, and if I want something more cozy, I’ll add vanilla. But I always have that base, chill layer. I have a tendency to run as fast as I can most of the time, so I think that’s me trying to be more “hakuna matata” on a daily basis.
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