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 philanthropist Audrey Gruss, a former marketing and advertising executive at J.P. Stevens, Revlon, and Elizabeth Arden. Gruss is also the creator of Hope Fragrances, named for her late mother Hope, a former school teacher who struggled with depression for decades. Inspired by her memory, all net profits for Hope go to the Hope for Depression Research Foundation. The Cut recently caught up with Gruss to talk about fresh linens, fat fragrances, and how scent can help with depression.
My first scent memory: The third week in May, when lily of the valley bloomed. It was my mother’s favorite flower. Sometimes in the spring, we would go out and cut it and bring it back in.
We grew up in northern New Jersey, near the equestrian area. My father was an equestrian officer and had been cavalry officer in Lithuania. We had a little garden. I must have been 5 or 6, but that was my first memory of flowers and my mother showing me what she loved.
Happiness smells like: White flowers, a blend. It is the essence of Hope. My mother loved Fracas, which was tuberose, and was the first person I ever knew to wear it. She used to do Fracas and Diorissimo, the lily of the valley scent from Dior. She learned to love gardenias in Florida, and night-blooming jasmine. So those four, to me, are the epitome of a happy, loving scent.
Love smells like: Vanilla. I think it’s very comforting, warm, very familiar but relaxing and delicious. It happens to be a fat fragrance. I learned about this when I worked with Ferminich. Fat fragrances are bigger molecules which stay close to the skin and thus last for longer periods of time before they evaporate. There’s also skinny fragrances, like citrus. It kind of blows away very quickly.
Heartbreak or loss smells like: I don’t really associate fragrance with that. I don’t think of scent during that times. I think when it happens, we just think of how our heart feels.
Friendship smells like: Something warm and bright and very green. Very natural and outdoorsy, like the smell of nature after the rain. We have a secret green ingredient in Hope Sport, which I can’t tell you. But it’s delicious and very special, and it is that fresh, clean, green feeling. I associate friendship with lunches with friends and being very open about our deepest emotions — it’s the ultimate natural relationship.
Regret smells like: Leather. It’s usually the end of a relationship — some man has left my life. Although it’s been a long time, because I’ve been married 32 years. But I remember the leathery smells of people I didn’t want to see again.
Success smells like: White flowers. I knew we had a hit when some women came back after luncheons from wearing our test samples and said, “The men in the elevator want to know where to get that.” The power of a white-flower essence is amazing, it is so uplifting and happy.
My home smells like: I’ve got a Hope candle in every room. I’m in Palm Beach right now and have four Hope candles in my front hall. Then going down the hallway, there are two commodes and on them, I have a fern, with two more candles on each side.
The first thing I smell in the morning: My pillows. I love the smell of fresh linens. We use a linen finisher to keep them crisp and fresh.
The last thing I smell before I go to bed: My linen. I also don’t leave the house in the morning, or before I go out at night, without a spray of perfume — I’m crazy about Hope Night, a blend of amber, vanilla, plum, and patchouli. This is something I learned from my mother. I put on lipstick, earrings, and fragrance. I do it on the inside of my wrist and behind my ears. When I go to sleep, I’m sure some of it lingers.
The worst smell is: Our olfactory system is so sensitive. The same way something beautiful lifts you, anything that’s acrid or unpleasant is so immediately a turn-off to the brain.
A scent or smell that I love that others usually don’t: Tuberose, one of the strongest white-flower essences. I adore it. It’s very specific, but it’s a great mixer. It becomes so beautiful when it melds with something else.
My ideal vacation smells like: Beach, sand, salt water, and a little tequila. Anything relaxing and not New York. My husband and I used to love Sardinia, our favorite place with the most clear water.
I smell like: Hope. People smell me coming. When I walk into the office, I am one of the most positive people. I think I am Miss Hope. I really do think I have the aura of the white-flower essences around me.
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