scent memories

For Prabal Gurung, Love Smells Like Resistance

Photo: Courtesy of Prabal Gurung

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 Nepali-American fashion designer Prabal Gurung. Michelle Obama, Kate Middleton, and Oprah have worn his color-centric designs, and he’s partnered with brands from MAC to Lane Bryant. His newest project is a limited-edition candle collaboration with Brooklyn scent studio Joya. The candles are named Hope, Soul, and Dream and scented like musky rose, smoky rhododendron, and fresh Nepalese fig. A portion of the proceeds will benefit victim services agency Safe Horizon.

The Cut caught up with Gurung to talk about the scent of raindrops, activism, and his mother’s cooking.

My first scent memory is: In the mountains in Nepal, I would go trekking for a few days. If I could bottle that sense of the Earth, that first morning dew, the plants and vegetation, fresh, clean air, I would be the happiest person. Imagine a mix of fresh, early-morning water, like raindrops and florals like rhododendrons. It’s a beautiful whiff of fragrance, and it’s magical.

Happiness smells like: My mother’s kitchen. She concocts her own recipe. It’s always from fresh markets. She lives in my building, so we eat together all the time. There’s the difference between making food and making it with love. She makes a mean fish curry, and last night, she made this quinoa bread that was sort of like a crêpe.

Love smells like: Resistance. In this particular moment, that’s what we are seeing on the streets. For me, this is the most incredibly inspiring and amazing time to be alive and to see everyone coming together for Black Lives Matter. I’ve never cried as much as I have when I went to the 15,000-person rally in Brooklyn where everyone wore white. Love smells like coming together. Love is standing for social justice not just for yourself but for the Black community.

Friendship smells like: Rain, tears, sweat, dancing in the rain. It smells like holding hands, even though we shouldn’t right now — salt, sweat, and love.

Heartbreak or loss smells like: A pint of ice cream. Maybe mango sorbet mixed with chocolate. It’s very rare that I eat it — I’m rarely very sad. I can count the number of times I eat it in a year.

Success smells like: I have a foundation called Shikshya Foundation. With it, I’ve been able to support more than 300 to 400 underprivileged children. The smell of their energy, love, afternoon sweat, dirt. That’s what it smells like to me, the real tangible results that I’ve been able to accomplish with my foundation.

Regret smells like: I don’t have any. I’m not trying to be a “kumbaya” person. I’ve been through ups and downs. But I know it’s preparation for what I have to go through.

Sunday morning smells like: A mix of calm, absolute hope, and optimism for the week to come.

Monday morning smells like: Determination. I don’t drink coffee. I make a black tea, I add peppermint, cardamom, and ginger, with a drop of milk.

My home smells like: A mixture of flowers and plants that I have at home. I have geraniums in the balcony, mint and rosemary and all these vegetables.

My favorite food is: Anything my mom or my friend Laura Kim (co-designer for Oscar de la Renta) makes. It tastes really good, too. We always knew Laura cooked, but she’s not the kind of person who posts everything she does. We went to her house for dinner, and it was insane and so good. She is brilliant.

What I smell like: I hope I smell like love, curiosity, empathy, compassion, zeal, and desire for life and to learn.

The worst smell is: Jealousy and desperation for validation from the outside world.

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For Prabal Gurung, Love Smells Like Resistance