Scents of Place

Marcel Proust knew it, and so do we: scent has the power to instantly transport you through time to a place, evoking both memory and landscape in exceptional detail. PRIOR asked five world-renowned perfumers to respond to a single question: what’s the single smell that most instantly and totally takes you someplace?

Saskia Havekes founded her Sydney flower shop, Grandiflora, in 1995; today it’s known the world over, and Havekes is an author of several books and a creator of fragrances.

For me, the most evocative note in the entire world is petrichor. It transports me to the Australia of my childhood; the scent of hot sandstone surrounded by Angophora trees just before a storm breaks, a storm often so desperately needed. A truly elating scent, one that is released naturally by rocks and soil after a dry spell. Our ancestors associated the scent of petrichor with survival, which is perhaps why it is particularly redolent.

Marina Sersale and her husband, Sebastian Alvarez Murena, are the force behind the Eau d’Italie (@eauditalie) and Altaia fragrance lines, which tell the stories of places through scent.

The earthy, mineral note of terracotta. It instantly transports me to Positano—where my family owns and runs Le Sirenuse, the hotel where I spent my summers—and to utterly carefree childhood times there. Our favourite game was racing barefoot across the hotel’s terrace, its green tiles scorching hot from the sun. That’s the smell of the swims and waves and hot pebbles, the sunburn on my nose and the warm taste of sea salt on my tanned skin. That terracotta note brings that purest happiness rushing back to me.

Carlos Huber (@arquistecarlos) has created fragrances for St Regis hotels and Cire Trudon; Arquiste, his own collection, draws on his background as an architect to ‘construct olfactive experiences of time and place.’

The tropical white flowers of Pott’s Point in Sydney. The first time I went, years ago, it was April, and the magnolia grandiflora was in full bloom, all around the neighbourhood. The next time, in November, there were gardenia and frangipani. It was a complete revelation—so fragrant, and so powerful. It was the first time I’d been somewhere where the grandiflora in particular blossomed so fully that you could just grab an entire bunch and inhale them. Those, and the jasmine too—they evoke many, many happy memories.

Francis Kurkdjian (@maisonfranciskurkdjian) created scents for Jean-Paul Gaultier and was a ‘nose’ with Quest International before opening his eponymous Maison in Paris.

The spicy florals of the Balearic brush, specifically on Formentera, an island that’s dear to me and is my retreat, shared with my closest friends. It takes me back to riding around the island on an old motorbike—the air on my face deliciously cool, and the sun intensifying the fragrances of the nature around me.

Julien Pruvost is the creative director and celebrated ‘nose’ at Cire Trudon (@trudon), the 377-year-old French house known for its scented votives.

It would have to be the mandarins around Reggio di Calabria, in southern Italy. The region around the city is known for its citrus fruits and among them mandarin, which is little used in perfumery. Mandarin is a comforting fruit. It fits in your hands, and naturally perfumes them. It quenches your thirst. When delicately crushed, its skin exhales its oil. It’s a slightly regressive scent for me, because mandarin also reminds me of the moments spent with my grandmother, in her house in Vallauris, France, where there were many citrus trees.

PRIOR Team

The PRIOR editorial team, overseen by David Prior, works together to write and produce stories that inspire curiosity about, and the desire to connect to, places and people across the world.

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