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 fragrance designer Raymond Matts, who recently worked in collaboration with perfumer Frank Voelkl to create Mikimoto Eau de Parfum, the debut fragrance for high jeweler Mikimoto, the originator of cultured pearls. The timeless, gender-neutral scent has notes of cool sea breeze, floating iris, and magnolia, encased in a soothing bottle designed by Lance McGregor to mimic a pearl within its shell. The Cut recently caught up with Matts to talk ski lifts, celery juice, and saffron risotto.
My first scent memory is: Probably the smell of clean laundry that has been drying outside on the clothesline, something I miss living here in New York City. Another is the smell of a leather baseball glove. I remember opening that on Christmas Day and the smell just enhanced the excitement.
Happiness smells like: The beauty of natural citrus notes. They’re bright and exhilarating, and have always been a signature of mine, even over 20 years ago when I designed the iconic fragrance Clinique Happy. This new Mikimoto fragrance opens up with beautiful citrus accord as well. I’ve always used citrus notes in the top notes; I liken it to that mesmerizing smile you see when you first meet someone, or a bright-blue sky with the sun shining down upon you.
Love smells like: A few different things. You have the love of someone or something, and that can be a petal-y beauty, which comes from the smell of flowers wafting in the air, or the smell of linden trees in springtime, which I love. I also have a fond memory of the smell of mother’s milk that comes through the breath of a baby; something I always found mesmerizing when my two sons were young. These scents are captivating to me; they really enable me to appreciate beauty in many ways, and it’s something I never tire of. It’s like that signature scent that reminds one of a loved one, your wife, significant other, a family member. Scent plays such an integral role with love.
Heartbreak or loss smells like: Patchouli for me. It’s evil. On its own, it’s dark, it’s dank, and it’s musty, yet when used as just a touch, it can provide elegance and a mystery. I also think of metallic smells that are cold — a reminder of how one feels afterward.
Friendship smells like: Friendship is always based on trust and being comfortable with another; so for me, sandalwood has this warmth that brings everything together. Saffron also comes to mind. It reminds me of my favorite comfort foods, like saffron risotto. I find it very endearing and genuine; it provides this genuine warmth of another that makes you feel close to that individual.
Regret smells like: Musk and lactone fructose. I never get when people say musk smells like skin. To me, it smells like an old man’s bedroom, it reminds me of the old aftershave creams men used to use. When musk is used in the wrong way, in the background, it’s like ivy; it takes over and suffocates the beauty of what’s above it. It’s like that annoying person who never goes away.
And then you have lactone fructose, which smells jammy and cheap to me. I’ve never understood the intrinsic value of them in perfumery because they don’t mimic the beauty of natural fruits that you smell when you walk past a fruit stand. They’re used a lot in hair care, fruit notes, and musk because they’re very strong, inexpensive to use, and they just last forever. You’ll also find musk in a lot of laundry detergents — it’s the last thing that you smell on your skin. I find it very annoying, but when used correctly, musk softens and rounds things out.
Success smells like: The perfect balance of all the elements; so in perfumery, it’s the meticulous balance between all the notes — top, middle, and back — that come together beautifully to tell a story. It’s something that I strive for in fragrance, probably because I’m a Libra, so I like balance. I’m always working with the perfumer to find that perfect balance that tells a story when you smell the different layers.
The worst smell is: I teach at Pratt, and I always tell the students that some of the notes we use in perfumery can be really ugly, yet when knowing how to use them they create this amazing beauty. But one note that comes to mind is ambergris. It smells like the worst case of halitosis, if you can imagine. But when used in perfumery it’s kind of cool and interesting. Also, I don’t like the smell of coffee. Most people love it, but black coffee smells like a cigarette ashtray to me.
My ideal vacation smells like: Crisp mountain air, while riding on a chairlift when I’m skiing. I also just started hiking and spent this summer doing different parts of the Appalachian Trail with my youngest son. We had so much fun just taking in all the different odors that you smell in nature; we were constantly just stopping and noticing and smelling and appreciating it. It really brought us closer to nature.
My home smells like: Many different projects and blotters, because my company consults on fragrances and I work from home. But when I shut down, I actually love the smell of palo santo. I keep a stick that I burn, and I’ll just pick it up, smell it, and keep it close. I find it really relaxing.
The first thing I smell in the morning: This morning, cold, crisp air because my windows are open. But usually, the smell of celery juice because it’ll be the first drink I have in the day. Once you put it through the juicer, it just permeates through the whole apartment.
The last thing I smell before I go to bed: Two things: I drink this haritaki powder, which is great for the mind and helps vitality, but it smells like the bark of a tree and suede. It goes down pretty hard, but it’s really good for you. I also smell anise, which flavors the toothpaste that I use.
A scent or smell I love that others usually don’t: It’s kind of weird, but I find animalic odors really alluring, intriguing, and sensual. Animalic notes are typically things like dirty, stinky feet or earwax, and this odor is found naturally in several flowers, like rose and ylang-ylang. If you smell cocoa or 90 percent dark chocolate, you’ll experience something very similar to that. Most people would cringe, but we’re like that in perfumery. Because we smell so much and smell so many different notes, you learn that ugly notes can add beauty to a fragrance when you use them properly.
I smell like: Crisp and clean, and I smell like Tulile, which is a fragrance from my collection, and a collaboration with Christophe Laudamiel. We used over 32 citrus notes, providing this incredible freshness, with this alluring, leveling quality of Ambroxan and Iso E. I borrowed some of this for Mikimoto’s fragrance — with sandalwood, the Iso E, and the Ambroxan — because it’s something I just love. When you smell it, you want more of it; you just want to nuzzle up to it.