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 Alia Raza, founder of niche luxury fragrance brand Régime des Fleurs. Raza recently collaborated with editor and stylist Christopher Niquet on Rock River Melody, the line’s first fragrance for men. Drawing inspiration from the Andrei Tarkovsky film Mirror, Arabian stallions, carved emerald, and Tyler, the Creator, the final creation features notes of cedar, sap, patchouli, sandalwood, and amber, a combo Raza says smells like “a horse ride through the forests of France.” The Cut caught up with Raza to talk baby products, green smells, and the flower that reminds her of shoe polish.
My first scent memory is: The inside of my mother’s purse in the ’80s. I feel like all kids love to go through their mom’s purse and just see what’s inside. It’s so fascinating, like, What is in there? My mom had a pack of cigarettes, cash, and cardamom seeds in a silver pouch. We’re from Pakistan and people chew on them to freshen your breath after you eat. I can smell the combination of the leather from the purse, the cash from the bank, the tobacco, and the cardamom seeds that she sometimes would chew.
Happiness smells like: This is Régime des Fleurs, so I’m always thinking about flowers, but for me, the happiest-smelling scent, floral or not floral, is orange blossom. It’s too obvious, isn’t it? But it’s gorgeous. It’s a really happy smell. It’s a little bit sweet, it’s a little bit tart, it’s a little bit musky, it’s a little crisp. It’s all of that, but somehow also very smooth. The natural essential oil has an incredible smell; it’s almost the perfect smell. In France they use it as the scent of all baby products, which makes perfect sense to me. In America, the baby product scent is more of like a Johnson’s baby powder or Nivea lotion; that lotion-y scent. That’s got more ylang ylang. It’s a little more tropical and more powdery.
Love smells like: It depends on what kind of love you’re talking about. But I think real love — not lust, not passion, but just love — smells like fresh lilacs. It’s the most calming, cooling, sweet scent. They smell alive, but also soft, and you just don’t want to be away from it.
Heartbreak or loss smells like: I’m going to be philosophical — I think heartbreak and loss are the same thing as love, so they also smell like lilacs, but a few days later. It’s the other side of it. Heartbreak and loss are painful, but love is painful. When something is beautiful and you love it, or someone, it does cause pain. It’s two sides of the same coin.
Friendship smells like: Friends are the best. Real friendship, where there’s no transaction happening, where it’s just unconditional; what does that smell like? It smells like cherries. It smells like freshly ground coffee beans. It smells like spearmint tea. It smells like all those yummy smells.
Regret smells like: Gardenia. Gardenia has a lot of emotion and weight to it. The smell is bittersweet. Gardenias smell like this summer where you first fell in love and your heart gets broken and you never forget it.
Success smells like: Eucalyptus. I think success smells bracing and energizing and eucalyptus is motivating and fresh. It smells like a fresh success that you’ve just achieved, but I think decades of success smells like Santa Maria Novella potpourri. It smells like old money, and it’s a beautiful, beautiful smell. I have it in every closet.
The worst smell is: My answer is going to be controversial. I don’t like the smell of the ocean. Everybody likes to pretend that the ocean smells good. It doesn’t. It smells like rotting seaweed and dead fish. It looks pretty, but it doesn’t smell pretty.
My ideal vacation smells like: I’m not a beach person, I’m a forest person, so my ideal vacation smells like cypress trees. Italian cypress, Mediterranean cypress; it’s a chic smell. I like green smells: trees, leaves, sap, grass … that’s a vacation to me.
My home smells like: It smells like Ambergris, suede, a little bit like incense, a lily in a vase in the next room, and the slight chemical smell from a freshly cleaned bathroom. That combination is my ideal home scent; it’s delicious.
The first thing I smell in the morning: My sheets, and my sheets smell like rosewater.
The last thing I smell before I go to bed: This body oil I’ve been using before bed on my elbows, my hands, and my heels. It’s Biologique Recherche and it smells a little bit medicinal and I love it, having that relaxing medicinal smell right before bed.
A scent or smell I like that others usually don’t: I like paint fumes. I think they smell kind of sweet. I like permanent markers. I like the smell of shoe polish. They’re all chemical smells and a little bit industrial, but they remind me of some iris perfumes, actually. There’s a through line between the smell of shoe polish and the smell of iris, and I like that.
I smell like: Tuberose. I only wear perfumes made from tuberose, my whole life. I douse myself in different tuberose perfumes. I probably have 100 of them, half of which I’ve made myself, half of which are from other brands that I love. There’s Fracas, for example, which is the original tuberose perfume from the 1940s, that I’ll wear if I want to smell kind of vintage glamorous. Régime des Fleurs has a perfume called Gold Leaves, which has jasmine and tuberose, that I’ll wear if I want to smell elegant. There are some that are more clean, some that are more animal; it’s just dependent on my mood.
What’s funny is that people always think I smell like myself, but I’m actually always wearing different renditions of the same flower. I’ve studied the scent of tuberose my whole life. It’s like a part of me at this point.