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 Florence Welch, singer, songwriter, leader of Florence and the Machine, and one of the four new faces of Gucci Bloom. Welch stars in the new campaign for Gucci Bloom Profumo di Fiori, the latest edition to the franchise that features the fragrance’s signature blend of jasmine bud extract, tuberose, and rangoon creeper, with a new twist of ylang-ylang, sandalwood, orris, and musk in a bright, honey-yellow bottle. The Cut caught up with Welch to talk sniffing shoulders, staycations, and scented bedtime rituals.
My first scent memory is: It’s sort of embarrassing, but I feel like I’ve always been kind of like a little animal — really interested in smells, and quite overwhelmed sensorially a lot of the time. I love smells and I love people smells, and I remember there was this girl in my class who smelled really great. I remember just going up to her and smelling her shoulder, and she was like, “Stop smelling me.” [Laughs.] I remember realizing, Oh, this is not socially acceptable! But I think her mom must’ve used amazing laundry detergent or something. There was no fabric softener or anything like that in our house, and people at school whose parents had fabric softener had clothes that smelled amazing. But, yes, I learned from an early age that it’s not okay to just smell people.
Happiness smells like: I have really bad anxiety, so I’ve been trying self-soothing techniques. I was actually taught to self-soothe with scent as well, and I have an herb garden, so if I’m having a sort of panic moment, I’ll go there. I find it soothing to pick the peppermint and sage in my garden and try to do breathing exercises and smell it. It really calms me down.
But I feel like that’s the wrong thing for happiness — that’s what anxiety smells like! I think happiness smells like my dad cooking something in the kitchen. My dad is a great cook and obviously he hasn’t been able to be in the house, and I haven’t been able to see him. We’re British and we’re really fucking uptight and reserved, so the no-hugging thing is fine because no one fucking hugs in my family [laughs]. In our family, the way we show love is cooking for each other, and I really miss that.
Friendship smells like: Amber, warmth, and magic. A lot of my friends just smell really good; maybe because I’m a scent and smell person. I got to finally hug one of my friends after a long time of not seeing them, and she just smelled so good. She smelled like clove, and cinnamon, and I think she uses a lot of natural oils and natural scents. I missed her so much; it was really joyful, actually.
Regret smells like: Oh, this is the first one where I know exactly what it smells like. It smells like an extra-dirty, super-cold vodka martini with extra olive juice and extra vodka. I haven’t had one of those because I’ve been sober for six years, but that icy-cold olive vodka, that was my drink and probably the one that caused the most regret. That, mixed with the slight smell of smoke from the hotel that you’ve accidentally set on fire. Yeah, that’s from personal experience … I was like, Oh, I just set a small fire, but then the bar bill was more expensive than the fire bill? [Laughs.] So, yeah, that’s kind of what regret smells like.
Success smells like: Being in the scrum with my fans, and actual blood, sweat, and tears. I kind of only really think it’s been a successful show if I’m in the pit, and I’m covered in others’ tears and my own tears, and other people’s sweat and my own sweat, and I come offstage and I’m kind of bleeding — but hopefully it’s just my own blood and no one else’s. I miss that.
The first thing I smell in the morning is: Coffee, so much coffee, lots of coffee. And the smell of my telephone.
The thing I smell before I go to bed is: Also my phone. No, I actually put on perfume when I go to bed because I find, with the anxiety, I get a lot of cyclical anxious thoughts, and a way to soothe repetitive, intrusive thoughts is to refocus. I’m kind of a bit of a fragrance nut, and I have a really extensive fragrance collection, so if I’m trying to calm down and soothe myself I’ll start going through to find a soothing scent. Nighttime is also a good time to try out testers and things you’re not sure of, because you’re not going into the world and you can put it on and let it dry down. It’s a nice way to find if a fragrance suits your skin. If you wake up and it’s dried down to a really good thing, you know it works out with your chemistry because you’ve already sweated all over it [laughs].
A scent or smell that I love that others usually don’t: I think all of this goes back to being a sort of animal-person, but I really like the smell of sweat. I don’t like it if people wear synthetic deodorant; I would rather just smell the human, if you know what I mean? I like that kind of musky animal scent. I was dating someone, and I was like, “I don’t like when you wear deodorant!” And they were like, “But I have to. I have to go to work.”
I do like cologne. I quite like smelling a mix of sweat and people smells with a beautiful fragrance. I find that really sexy.
My home smells like: A lot of amber candles. I’m really obsessed with amber smells; I love warm smells.
My ideal vacation smells like: I’m terrible at taking vacations, I’m really bad at them, I don’t go on holidays. But I miss the smell of Italy. I used to go there a lot as a child because my mother was a professor of renaissance studies, and I kind of miss the smell of those old Italian churches and the smell of the Italian countryside. But really, I don’t go anywhere. Even when we could go anywhere, I wouldn’t go anywhere. A lot of the time, I’m just vacationing in my garden. We have some really beautiful blooming jasmine that smells amazing, so my staycation smells like jasmine, which is also in Bloom.
I smell like: I probably smell like dusty vintage clothes and incense. All my clothes are vintage, so they have that vintage-store smell, and obviously, Gucci Bloom now. I think someone once said that I smell like an old church because I love woody, incense-y, sandalwood smells. I would hope I smell kind of warm, too, but I probably smell like stuffy, vintage clothes.
On filming the new Gucci Bloom campaign: It was so amazing; everyone I got to work with was so iconic: Jodie, Susie, Anjelica — it was like my dream coven. Watching Anjelica Huston walk to set, I’ll never forget that. She has the most graceful walk of any human being; it’s like she glides. And just the place; this place [La Scarzuola] was insane. It was an old monastery that got turned into a surrealist theater, and we wandered around being like, What the fuck did they do in here? There was definitely some weird shit happening there … What kind of rituals? What kind of performances? I feel like there was a lot of nudity, it was very far-out; the energy of that place was one of such experimentation. It was really so special just to be there.
On her Gucci Bloom role: As for my character, I feel like I almost sort of become intoxicated by the scent and then go on a hallucinogenic trip into a floral underworld with the high priestess Anjelica Huston, and we all make these fragrance spells. But I don’t know if that’s me being a character? I feel like that might just be me. [Laughs.] It’s not very hard for me to go off into a floral underworld.