scent memories

For Jaime King, Regret Smells Like New York City With No Air Conditioning

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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 actor Jaime King, who recently teamed up with Tom’s of Maine to support Dress for Success as part of the brand’s Charcoal for Charity campaign. To celebrate the launch of their new Activated Charcoal Toothpaste, Tom’s of Maine is donating up to $10,000 to Dress for Success to help empower women by giving them the tools to thrive in life. The Cut caught up with King to talk gardenias, goat’s milk, and hundred-dollar bills.

My first scent memory is: I think it’s baby powder. When I smell baby powder, I can remember the smell of actually being a baby.

Friendship smells like: Oils, and perfumes, and shampoos, and body washes; lotions, and potions, and pretty things. When I think of friendship, I can literally smell the scents of my best friends. Marianna’s frankinscence and Selma’s shampoo, and what they feel like in my arms when we hug or when I’m holding them.

Love smells like: Morning. Like when you first step out of the house — that clean, cool, condensed morning air. Or when you wake up and just drive and all those scents come through the window: Nature, and water, and trees, and hope, and newness, and renewal.

Heartbreak or loss smells like: Lilies. I hate the smell of lilies. I can’t stand the smell of lilies, because it reminds me of being in a place far away from the people that I loved and because they were given to me in a time when I fell out of love. When I smell lilies, it makes me feel like they should all be sent to funeral homes or something, because that scent is just that strong for me.

Regret smells like: A mix of rage and disgust and betrayal. It smells wet, like saliva. Honestly, it also smells like … you know New York City when it’s really hot out? And it’s so hot, and you’ve just taken a cold, beautiful shower and meticulously gotten yourself dressed and then as soon as you step out, there’s a bus that drives by you and it steams off exhaust, and then you walk over a grate and the subway whooshes by. It smells like that urine on the sidewalk. You can’t escape it because you take another shower and you go back outside and the same fucking thing happens again. You can’t even escape it when you go inside because you know you don’t got that money for the good air conditioning. You don’t even have window AC — it’s just that fan that blows more hot New York City air into your apartment. That’s what I think of. Before I could afford window AC.

Success smells like: Bands, man. Success smells like money, like holding cash in your hands. I’ll never forget when I first held a hundred-dollar bill. I actually smelled it because I worked so hard for it and I wanted to know what that smelled like — crisp from the bank before it’s gone through every wallet and everybody. There’s a certain smell to the paper and to the ink and there’s something really copacetic about it. Most people would be like “Oh, that’s a pretty shallow answer, to say that success smells like money.” But not to a kid who didn’t grow up with it.

People misinterpret money. Money is not success. It’s the experience of how you earn that money, and whether that money is bringing you joy. When I got that first hundred dollar bill, I’d worked so hard for it and it came with the joy of knowing that the many things that were seemingly so out of reach for a kid from Omaha, Nebraska — that I’d done them. The idea of being able to be a filmmaker or move to New York and be an artist and actually pay your rent with that money at 14 — that was a big deal. I still feel that way about it. When I hold cash in my hand, I think about how I get to buy milk for my children with it; I can buy them books with it; and I am so grateful, because to me money is a spiritualized medium of exchange.

Vacation smells like: Gardenias, jasmine, sunscreen, and the sea.

The worst smell is: Exhaust. Like when you’re in a car that’s on Coldwater Canyon and there’s a car in front of you, or when you’re about to enter the Holland Tunnel and there’s a truck in front of you and you’re just stuck in black fumes you can’t escape.

Sunday morning smells like: The farmer’s market, fresh coffee, strawberries, oranges, gardenias, and all things from the ground. It smells like goat’s milk because that’s the first thing my kids want in the morning.

Monday morning smells like: A coffee with two shots of espresso in it and lots of cream. But mostly newness, like fresh paper. I love Mondays. There’s something about a Monday that’s like Okay, I just had this gift of having a weekend. Sometimes it smells like my pillow and not wanting to get out of bed, but sometimes it also smells like fresh laundry. But I have those pillowcases from Slip that are pure silk and they really hold onto scent so I guess Mondays do smell like my pillows.

If I could have one smell on my hands forever, it would be: The smell of my children. Their skin and their hair smells a certain way. I did this movie Slackers, and there was this kind of joke where Jason Schwartzman would always smell my hair and collect it or whatever, but I really do think we associate love with that, and my children are the ultimate manifestation of my love.

I smell like: There’s something called Flow, it’s an ayurvedic oil, and it’s pure rose and I put that on a lot because rose opens up the heart. It’s a heart-opener and a very loving scent. So I think I smell like love, whatever that is to you.

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For Jaime King, Regret Smells Like New York City With No AC