Ever had a smell that instantly transports you to a particular time and place? It’s a common experience. Modern neuroscience tells us that the regions of the brain that control memory and emotion are closely tied to the part that processes our sense of smell.
It means that aromas have a powerful impact on us at a subconscious level, which perhaps explains the abiding fascination with fragrances. But it also means that smells work vividly on our imagination, provoking memories that may have lay half-forgotten for memory years, conjuring up people, places, events, and yes, feelings associated with them.
This is something that master perfumers have long understood, and knowledge they often use playfully in their creations. It’s common to see perfumes and colognes labelled with the names of particular places, and be formulated to recreate the sensory impression of that location in smell. Or at least how the ‘nose’ making the perfume remembers/imagines it.
Here are five fragrances that aim to take you on a sensory journey to distant, exotic places.
Tom Ford Mandarino Di Amalfi Acqua
If the world’s greatest designers were to sit down and map out the most aesthetically perfect stretch of coastline, they would be unlikely to better southern Italy’s Amalfi coast. This 50km stretch of UNESCO listed shoreline just to the south of Naples has it all – rugged mountains, dramatic cliffs, idyllic fishing villages perched precariously between land and sea, the rich azure blue of the Mediterranean, all-year-round sunshine.
Like the nearby island of Capri, this has of course made the Amalfi region a luxury tourist destination. Fashion house Tom Ford sets out to transport you there by sense of smell alone with a suitably luxurious fragrance that captures the heady combined scents of hilltop citrus groves and herb gardens. Orange, grapefruit, mint, basil, jasmine, black pepper, coriander and wildflowers vye for your attention, all held together with animalic touches of musk and woody, resinous labdanum that add a sensual depth and presence.
Diptyque Do Son
From one storied coastline to another, this time Ha Long Bay in northeast Vietnam, a place of towering, rainforest topped islands scattered like a giant’s magic pebbles in the shallow green waters of the South China Sea. Another World Heritage site, and hugely popular with divers and climbers alike, the story goes that it was where Diptyque co-founder Yves Coueslant spent summer holidays as a child.
One of Coueslant’s abiding memories of those times was the rich floral smells that would waft in as the sea breeze passed through the blooming gardens of Do Son, a beach-side district of Hai Phong city. This is that memory captured in a fragrance – orange flower, iris, rose and, at the heart of it all, tuberose, a prized and distinctive white floral that mixes honeyed, fruity notes with an unusually intense complexity compared to other flowers.
The idea of wilderness carries a strong hold on the human imagination. It is both a place of fear and trepidation, beyond the comforts and security of civilization and the things we can control. But at the same time, the very fact that it is wild and untamed acts like a magnetic attraction to our sense of adventure. We are, after all, a species of explorers. Every wilderness is an opportunity for discovery. And, perhaps, a chance to commune with a more primal part of ourselves.
Australian fragrance and cosmetics brand Aesop describes Eremia as “suggestive of a forgotten wasteland”. We’d suggest that it’s the kind of wasteland covered by dense, thick, primaeval forest – the kind of imposing, untouched landscape still found across enormous swathes of Canada and Siberia, for example. Places where humanity gets reminded that nature still rules.
Eremia packs all the mossy, earthy, damp greenness of wild virgin forest – intense, woody, earthy galbanum, herbaceous patchouli, resinous, almost tar-like guaiac wood, and uplifting, distinctive scent of green tea. Cutting through these base and heart notes, there’s the citrussy edge of bergamot and grapefruit, the fruity tang of fertile forests in high summer.
L’Artisan Parfumeur Timbuktu
The famed and ancient Malian city of Timbuktu needs no introduction. Its importance as a trading post, particularly for gold, meant it was a renowned name as far back as mediaeval times, although Europeans only began visiting regularly in the 19th century.
One of those who has made the journey into the southern Sahara is Bertrand Duchaufour, master perfumer at L’Artisan. Timbuktu is his tribute to the ancestral tradition of Wusulan, a ritual amongst Malian women which sees mothers mix up an aromatic spell for their daughters to help find a husband.
Nowadays we understand the seductive power of such concoctions is less about magic and more about the powerful effects fragrances have on us. Timbuktu is a perfume every bit as sensual and exotic as its intriguing origin story – complex, heady, rich myrrh, patchouli and vetiver, the jasmine-like floral delicacy of west African shrub karo-karounde, incense, spicy pink pepper and cardamom, fruity mango.
Sultry, spicy, resinous, rich, delicate – a magical fragrance that takes you on a journey through time and space to a place that lingers in the imagination.
Maison Margiela Replica Springtime in a Park
So far we’ve had coastlines, wild forests and a vibrant desert oasis. We’ll finish with one of those places we all sit back and dream about when we need to think calming, happy thoughts – a walk through a park on the first warm day of spring, flowers blooming, trees budding, birds singing, the breath of new life in the air.
With its popular Replica series, Maison Margiela specialises in recreating particular sensory experiences like this. As you might guess, Springtime in a Park is heavy on the florals, particularly the early spring stalwart lily of the valley. But there’s also a fresh, breezy quality to it, a combination of clean white musk and delicately sweet pear, that captures the joy of warming winds and blossoms blooming. If you can’t decide which aromatic adventure you’d most like to go on next, then why choose? With our extensive range of low cost women’s perfume samples, you can collect as many as you like in miniature-sized bottles.