scent memories

The Hair Care Founder Who Bottled the Smell of Cereal Milk

Maeva Heim. Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Arielle Thomas

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 Maeva Heim, founder of Bread Beauty Supply. With hair care staples specifically designed for curly, textured hair, the Australian entrepreneur is simplifying wash day and ending the war against frizz in the name of lazy girls with 3c-4a hair. Since securing a spot in Sephora’s Accelerate program, Bread has won over countless curl owners with its heavenly textures, top-notch packaging, and hyper-specific, nostalgic scents. The brand recently debuted its first styling product: a soft-serve-like hair cream that gives your braid-outs, slick buns, and air-drying sessions a semi-defined and lightly scented soft-hold. The Cut caught up with Heim to talk cereal milk, airport aromas, and the inspiration behind Bread’s popular scents.

My first scent memory is: Specific fragrances. My mom was a massive fragrance hoarder. She would buy so many fragrances, to keep herself, but also to gift to people, because when we would go back to the Ivory Coast to see family, we’d have to come bearing gifts. The ones I remember the most are the mini coffrets she would buy — little sets of vintage fragrance — and they were always either Lancôme, like O de Lancôme and Trésor, or Cacharel ones like Eden and Lou Lou. I would basically sneak into her cupboard, find the plastic bag where she kept them all, and smell all the little fragrances. I think it was the start of my mini obsession with beauty. Interestingly enough, I actually ended up working on Lancôme 20-something years later. When I was interviewed for that role, the interviewer pulled out a bottle of Trésor, and they said, “How would you sell this?,” so I already had a lot of ideas in my back pocket because of that early experience.

Happiness smells like: Fruit Loops cereal milk. There’s something just so comforting and nostalgic about that smell. To me, it’s a really innocent smell, because it reminds me of my childhood and teen years, and nothing can taint it. Every time I smell it, it takes me back to that age. Once I knew that we were doing Bread Hair Wash as a milky texture, I was like, “This has to smell like Fruit Loops cereal milk. If it’s gonna be a milk scent, that’s what it has to be.” I remember the first time I opened the sample, I couldn’t believe it. It was just pure happiness, and I couldn’t believe that we had actually bottled up this smell that I can experience all the time. It brings me so much happiness and so much nostalgia, and now I get to smell it every single day without having to eat Fruit Loops [laughs].

Love smells like: Food. I think some of my happiest and most love-filled moments happen over food, whether that’s an anniversary dinner with my partner, or when I got to visit family in West Africa when I was younger. A meal with family or loved ones is a massive privilege, and to me that’s love. There’s a dish in West Africa called aloco, and it’s basically deep fried plantains that you have with this tomato sauce, and I reckon that tomato sauce would evoke that feeling of love the most because it’s a process. It’s a half a day process of going to the market, coming back and sitting in the kitchen with all the aunties grinding down all these tomatoes, chilies, and onions until they create the perfect paste. That is one of my favorite meals and it’s something that will always evoke the scent of love.

Heartbreak or loss smells like: Dust and old pillows. I remember the first time  I lost someone close to me, my grandfather on my dad’s side, and I was about six years old. I remember him laying in bed, like literally on his deathbed, and the smell around that time was like vintage dust from old houses. I always  associate that smell with a slight heartbreak or loss. I can almost feel it when I smell that really distinct, old house smell.

Friendship smells like: I don’t know if you have this in the U.S., but this colored hairspray. It was something we used to use when I was in primary school when we had our sports carnival. At the sports carnival, we would each have different factions, and you would spray your hair the color of your faction. It has a very distinct smell, and if I smell that, it just reminds me so much of that time, and the friendships, and the bonds, and the camaraderie—like nothing else. It provokes all these memories of being in groups and having an amazing time.

Regret smells like: My old laptops and that keyboard-y kind of smell. When I think about regret and taking chances, a lot of that happens over email, especially for me in like the last few years.  I think when you make decisions that you sometimes regret, a lot of those conversations are digital.

Success smells like: Fresh carpet and stone. When I think about Bread and the office that I want us to exist in, and what that will look like in the future, I immediately start getting the smell of fresh carpet, and the freshly cut stone of the table I’m imagining that we’ll have in this future Bread space. All those fresh, calm smells.

The worst smell is: I have so many. Dead ants, stink beetles; the smell of cooked coconut oil makes me want to gag. But my number one worst smell is actually bananas. I hate them. I could never be a health food blogger. Something about bananas drives me up the wall. You don’t even have to crack the banana open, it just has to be in the vicinity, and I’ll be like, “Does someone have a banana? Because I need to leave.” I’ve always been like that, I don’t know why.

My ideal vacation smells like: Old-school sunscreen. I love beach holidays — on the sand, clear water. And I just love the smell of those old sunscreens that everybody hates. I’m obsessed. The thicker, the better.

My home smells like: Mostly dogs [laughs]. It probably also smells warm and deep. We love incense and I think that we probably use it a little too much because that scent of moody, spicy incense is almost baked into the walls.

The first thing I smell in the morning: The top of my dog’s head. You know how people say babies have a distinct smell and you feel a certain way when you smell the baby? Well I’m weird, and I get like that with my dogs, so I like to smell the tops of their little heads. I’ve looked after a couple of dogs because we look after seeing eye puppies from when they’re little until they’re adults so they can go on to become seeing eye dogs. We’ve had quite a few in my time, and I reckon I could confidently say, I could identify them all purely based on the top of the head and what it smells like. The two that I have now, one is our forever dog. We’re adopting her because she didn’t pass and she kind of smells like fresh cut grass. And then the other one, I have no idea why or how, but he smells like cinnamon toast on the top of his head. It’s so distinct, I’m like, “Where have you been? What have you been doing?”

The last thing I smell before I go to bed: My boyfriend’s forehead. I give him a kiss. He really loves the Weleda Skin Food, and that has a very distinct smell, very fresh.

A scent or smell I like that others usually don’t: I really like the smell of the airport. I think it’s the whole experience, but it’s the smell of the carpet, and the rubber, and the weird, sour smelling cologne they have in the airplane bathroom, and the hot towel before you take off, and even the plane food. All of those smells together, I love it. And I miss it. I miss the airport, and I miss airplane smells.

I smell like: A combination of fragrances; generally ones that are woody, spicy, and kind of deep. Currently, it’s a couple of Atelier Cologne fragrances that I like layering, and a few others. I almost never know the names of the fragrances that I use the most. I always just go by sight. I love how people will rattle off the name, and I’ve always just been like, Yeah, the green bottle? With the blue thing? That’s the one. 

What Bread smells like: I really wanted the fragrances to be grounded in a bit of nostalgia, and I wanted them to have a really sensorial, edible tone, given that the name is “Bread.” I really love skincare that smells like you want to eat it, and I wasn’t really finding that in hair, so I really wanted to create something that you would smell and think, oh my god, I really want to eat this, but not in a sickly, sweet way. For Hair Wash, it was the smell of Fruit Loops cereal milk; with Hair Mask, it was the smell of not a freshly-baked vanilla cake, but like you’ve just made the batter and you’re a kid again, licking it off the bowl. For Hair Oil, we wanted it to be berry-based, but I find berry fragrances can sometimes be a bit too sour and tart, so we combined it with a freshly-baked pie scent, so you still get that deliciously-sweet fragrance. Funny enough, as it’s gone to market, it’s kind of evolved, and the people have decided that it’s gummy bears. Still others will say no, it smells like ice cream, or sugar straps. So many different people say it smells like different things to them, which I love.

The Hair Care Founder Who Bottled the Smell of Cereal Milk