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 Matthew Herman, co-founder of cult-favorite candle brand Boy Smells, which expanded into the world of personal fragrance this month with the launch of Cologne de Parfum, a line of five whimsical scents with Boy Smells’ signature “genderful” blend of masculine and feminine notes that transcend the gender binary. There’s Suede Pony (brushed leather and hazelnut), Rose Load (a shower of spiced rose), Violet Ends (a violet storm of smoky papyrus and tobacco leaves), Tantrum (an explosive green cocktail), and Flor de la Virgen (celestial bursts of flora and musk). The Cut recently caught up with Herman to talk foamy pillows, fish tanks, and the fragrance note he respects the most.
My first scent memory: One that sticks out in my mind is that we had this pillow growing up, a foam pillow, and I just remember loving that foam smell. I remember burrowing my head in it, and just loving this weird foam pillow. It was not a primary pillow by any means. We would take these summer trips for two or three weeks in this big van, and we would pile in, and we just had this pillow — it just lived in that van or something, it’s so random, but I remember thinking, I can’t wait to get in a van and sniff that pillow.
Happiness smells like: Orange blossom. We actually don’t use it that much at Boy Smells, just pure orange blossom, because I love it in its pure form so much that I don’t want to mix it with anything. I have too much respect for it.
Love smells like: Rose, always. It’s something cheesy that I’ve definitely learned from marketing and all the societal connotations that stem from marketing, but so many things from Boy Smells have rose in them, because it gives so much depth and texture to things. It’s one of those scents that drops you way down deep into yourself. It has this sacred feminineness, it makes you feel romantic toward yourself and toward others, it tints all the world in all its combinations with rose-colored glasses, no pun intended.
Heartbreak or loss smells like: A cold, dingy, mineral-y scent. Like rusty, cold metal.
Friendship smells like: Warm woods, because it’s what sustains us and keeps the structure of our sanity in place. Being able to rely on your friends’ friendship is like a boat dock on a warm day, or like wet wood when it dries on a hot day; that really comforting, textured scent.
Regret smells like: Cigarette butts in a half-drunk beer can.
Success smells like: New car.
The worst smell is: A dirty fish tank.
My ideal vacation smells like: Nature and fresh greens. When I go on vacation, I don’t like to go to big cities. I went to school in London, lived in New York and now in L.A., so I like to surround myself with the abundance of nature. Whether that’s upstate, or at a beach, I love foliage. My ideal vacation smells like being in raw, natural foliage.
My home smells like: Fleurshadow right now, which is what I have burning next to me. It’s usually our fragrances, a lot of which have incense in them like Fleurshadow, mixed with something that’s more traditionally burned in the house. So I’ll burn copal for example, and then put a candle that has copal in it in the living room, and something like Agua De Jardín in the kitchen, and they’ll all meander into each other, and it creates a nice little spin on one of our existing candles.
The first thing I smell in the morning: One of my dogs usually, because they sleep in bed with us, and I harrasingly try to snuggle them every morning. Sally is some sort of Shih Tzu concoction, Hope is half pug, half Brussels griffon — but I think we need to back that up with some science — and Mimi is a medium-sized terrier, and she looks like a goat. That’s youngest to oldest, and they literally have the personalities of those three kids in that order — one boy, a middle child; and two girls on each end.
The last thing I smell before I go to bed: My partner David, probably. That or lavender. Sometimes I’ll drop a little lavender on my temples before I go to bed.
A scent or smell that I love that others usually don’t: I love the scent of fennel, anise, and licorice; I think that’s really good. I remember when I was in high school, liking the smell of this Greek anise-flavored liquor called ouzo.
I smell like: I think it’s impossible for anyone to really know what they themselves smell like. I once had a boyfriend who thought he smelled like white chocolate, which was such a distinct, discernible smell. My raw essence? I’m not sure, but right now, I smell like Violet Ends; that’s what I chose to wear today. I had more time on my calendar than usual to get into writing some copy for some initiatives, and work on doing some rendering for future products, and Violet Ends is really good at evoking that feeling of productivity and creativity I like to bring to whatever I’m working on. It really makes me feel like the most refined, but true version of myself — like a really chic, elevated version of myself. But if I had the day off, I’d probably be wearing Suede Pony.