scent memories

Jackie Aina Loves the Scent of Oud and Having Secret Perfumes

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Brandon Lundby

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 Jackie Aina, Nigerian American entrepreneur, beauty YouTuber, and advocate for people of color. With FORVR Mood, Aina has created a self-care fragrance brand for Black women, urging them to prioritize pampering and put themselves first. With cheeky candle names such “Grown Folks Business” and “We Not Linkin,” the line also recently entered Sephora. In honor of her birthday and the brand’s first anniversary, she launched Lavishly Jackie, a collection containing an “Old Money” and “New Money” candle set. The Cut caught up with Aina to talk about the smell of oud, headache-inducing body spray, and her fragrance-layering technique.

My first scent memory: Going through my mom’s perfume collection when I was 9 or 10 years old. My mom and I both have hyperhidrosis and so we sweat a lot. One of the ways that I used to try to mask the smell of the sweat was through perfume. I would go in her room and concoct and steal whatever she had. I remember she always had a bottle of Dolce and Gabbana Light Blue. She hated florals. We pick up a lot of our habits from our parents, so naturally as I became an adult, I thought I wouldn’t like florals, but I actually do. She likes fresh, citrusy scents. I like the more edible sweet or gourmand.

Happiness could smell like: A kitten, a friend you’re reminiscing about, the college you went to, the country you used to live in, your first job. Happiness smells warm, comforting, sometimes spicy. It can smell fruity and floral.

I remember being at school, and I had drowned myself in one of my mom’s perfumes (like three pounds of Light Blue), because I didn’t want anyone to know that I sweat so much. I was outside for PE, wearing a puffy jacket in spring, not winter, to hide the smell more. I remember Mr. Abernathy, my grade-school teacher — one of my favorite teachers to this day, looking at me and begging me to take off the jacket. It was like, It’s safe for you to take off your jacket. Everyone is sweating. It’s fine. It was one of the few times in school I didn’t feel ashamed. I am reminded of how this teacher inspired me to go out of my comfort zone.

I also associate with happiness a specific type of oud, which reminds me of when I used to live in Kuwait. I have a lot of positive memories of living in the Middle East. Oud and perfume is a big part of Arab culture. I have no clue what the name of the oud is, but if I’m shopping or in a touristy part of L.A., I can smell it and be like, Somebody’s not from here.

Love smells like: Comfort, home, familiarity. Ironically my fiancé does not like wearing like cologne at all. It’s like, How did you end up with me? I’m the biggest scent snob. But he is very open to letting me create a fragrance wardrobe for him and play around with different scents. It’s really sweet because he is willing to do something for me that he normally doesn’t really care for. Love smells like all of that and just being open.

Heartbreak or loss smells like:  A familiar environment, a funeral home, or maybe even someone’s car. Or even someone’s body chemistry. It could be like the scent of when my ex would leave the gym. Or a fragrance you associate with someone you cut ties with, and now they’ve ruined that scent for you.

Friendship smells like: Someone you can count on. I think something airy or playful, non-judgmental, or endearing. When I’m hanging out with my friends versus my fiance, I’ll wear something more fresh and exciting, rather than sultry.

Success smells: Sometimes a little unapproachable. Like maybe I am the only one wearing this. It smells unique, individualized, sometimes a little heavier. Maybe it’s an oud because you want to stand out. Maybe you want to emit something that will make you smell noticeable, that’s spicy or intense.

I smell like: Nine out of ten times, if I want to stand out, I’ll layer fragrance. My mom taught me how to do it and I’ve been doing it since I was eleven. I’ll start with a heavier scent like an oud, then something spicy, and on top I’ll look for something with a tonka, vanilla, patchouli, or sandalwood vibe. I try to stay in that family on my “Boss” days. When I want to smell like quintessential Jackie, I’ll do something that is sweet and spicy and also a little on the heavier side. I’m not afraid to really, really go there. It’s experimental and trial and error but I really, really like smelling like me.

There’s also nothing worse than someone else stealing your signature. I don’t mind sharing the hair plug, makeup plug, if I have a discount code, I’ll share that too. But there is something about perfume — this is me and this is personal. Years ago, I worked at a company and used to wear this body wash (I couldn’t really afford a lot of perfume) every day, and one of my coworkers asked me what I was wearing. I told her and she went out and bought it, which was fine, but then she started coming to work and drowning herself in the scent. It was to the point where I was like, Girl, I have a headache now. I couldn’t even enjoy it anymore. So now if someone asks, I might be wearing three scents, but I’ll only tell them the one I’m wearing.

My ideal vacation: Definitely smells like Bora Bora. So, coconut, spicy aromas, and vanilla, like monoi. If I’m going on vacation in the summer, that’s what I want to smell like. Almost like a Tom Ford Soleil Blanc.

My home smells like: It depends on the time of year. We’re still burning like everything from our Valentine and Spring collection. The common areas will be more fruity or more fresh florals. For the bedroom, I like heavier and creamier scents. When I go to sleep, I think those are the ones that feel the most comforting and romantic.

The first thing that I like to smell in the morning: Well, I’m biased. But we have a coffee-scented candle called Hey Bighead. To me, it feels like a coffee shop first thing in the morning. But I also like to smell fresh citrus. My favorite morning candle then is probably Cuffing Season or Spring Fling, it’s more of a coconut white peach musk.

Jackie Aina Loves Oud and Having Secret Perfumes