scent memories

For This Skin-Care CEO, Happiness Smells Like Fresh-Cut Grass

Nicola Kilner Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Courtesy of Deciem

Nicola Kilner is the co-founder and CEO of Deciem, “the abnormal beauty company” known for flouting beauty-industry conventions and creating cult favorites in the process. Earlier this year, the brand launched something fans have long been asking for: the calming signature scent of Deciem brick-and-mortars bottled. Enter Abnomaly Shop, the new room fragrance that has been five years in the making. The brainchild of Deciem founder Brandon Truaxe and London-based perfumer Azzi Glasser, the spray is a cozy blend of black pepper, cypress oil, chalk, sequoia, cedar, and white musk. The Cut caught up with Kilner to talk city smells versus countryside scents and the specific aromas that keep her connected to her late co-founder.

My first scent memory is: Probably the scent of my mum. The mix of her hair spray and makeup and the laundry powder that she uses and still uses — that now I use on my family. My mum’s someone who gives out lots of cuddles, so I was always kind of nestled in her smell growing up, and I feel like her smell’s never changed over the 30-odd years that I’ve been having those cuddles.

Happiness smells like: Nature and that cut-grass smell. I live in the countryside, so we’re fortunate to always be around cut grass, and it has a very fresh smell, especially when it’s been rained on, and you really get that dewiness. Cut grass also reminds me of Deciem stores and the head office, where we have a lot of visuals of cut grass. Whenever I smell it, it just connects me to lots of different things that I love.

Love smells like: My husband. We’ve been together for 11 years. Complete soul mate, my rock, my everything — all the good things people say, I would definitely say about him and our marriage. He wears the Le Labo Santal 33 fragrance, and that would be the one scent that really reminds me of him and our togetherness.

Heartbreak or loss smells like: Anything that reminds me of Brandon, who’s our founder. We went through a horrible time and lost him in the worst of circumstances. The thing that always reminds me of him on a day-to-day basis is Diet Coke. He always used to drink Diet Coke, and we both used to drink Diet Coke together. That smell, that kind of sweetness with that bit of stickiness, just always reminds me of him.

Friendship smells like: A nice bottle of Malbec with my girlfriends.

Regret smells like: Burnt food. So often, I’m going through the effort to make a really nice family dinner and then I always get distracted, usually by my children. I never regret taking extra time to play with them, but when I suddenly smell something that signals, Oh, I’ve left something in the oven too long!, that smell definitely has a tinge of regret to it.

Success smells like: New York. It’s always hard to take a moment to reflect on the success we may be having ourselves, but a time I felt like I had achieved something really special was when we first took investment from Estée Lauder Companies back in 2017. I remember we were in New York, and we’d been back and forth to New York many times over a couple of months whilst we were working on the deal, but I can remember after we signed the deal just walking out of their offices, just by Central Park. It was a moment where Brandon and I realized someone like ELC actually believes in us and is putting money into the kind of work we’re doing to help us progress. Whenever I’m in New York, I just have such a vivid recollection of that day and that moment.

The worst smell is: It probably contradicts with New York, but I hate the smell of pollution. I grew up in the countryside, and we still live quite rural, so it’s always a love-hate thing. I love going into the city; I love the hustle and bustle, I love the diversity and all the amazing things that city life brings, but I can’t stand the pollution. I feel like whenever I come from any city, I can just smell it in my hair; I can smell it on my clothes.

My ideal vacation smells like: The smell of the sea in the daytime — that kind of salty smell where you can just feel that there’s going to be an amazing sunrise and an amazing sunset, and so many happy family memories have just happened. I love being anywhere where you can see water. In the evening, it’s that smell of a firepit where you’re set up outside, hopefully the children are sleeping, and you’re having a drink and some social time.

My home smells like: Abnomaly Shop, which is our home fragrance. Brandon had an amazing nose for scent; I would have loved to see his answers to these questions. But we’re so fortunate that he picked so many of the fragrances that we use, and the fragrances we chose for our stores, which are all about making our stores feel like homes. We are now bottling that up into our Shop fragrance, but I love the fact that my home now can smell like that fragrance too.

The first thing I smell in the morning: My baby boy, Luca. Unfortunately, he always wakes up before I do.

The last thing I smell before bed: It’s always my children too. I have a daughter, Mila, as well, and even though I put them to bed, and even though I have the monitors on, when I’m just about to go to sleep, I always have an urge to go and check in on them and have that good night.

A scent or smell I like that others usually don’t: Cleaning polish. We’re fortunate that we actually have a cleaner, and when she’s been in, I just love walking into the house and smelling that cleanliness, particularly the polish she uses. I tend to like that smell of clean — almost industrial clean.

I smell like: I hope I smell almost like the smell I described with my mum earlier. I think there are so many different components that make up everyone’s personal scent, from the laundry powder and to what shampoo we’re using. From a fragrance perspective, I use Avestan, which was the fragrance Brandon always used to wear. Again, it’s got all these personal connections to me. When I’m going into our head offices in Toronto, or any of our stores, when I spray it, I just get this sense of Brandon. Scent gives you so many connections, particularly when we lose someone. You can still really feel that connection. I remember getting in Brandon’s car, and it always just smelled of this smell because he used to wear so much.

For One Skin-Care CEO, Happiness Smells Like Fresh-Cut Grass