Searching for a 'scents' of normality: Why you might find comfort in florals and fragrance right now

Photo by Matthew Sperzel/Getty Images
Photo by Matthew Sperzel/Getty Images
  • As people have slowly adjusted to a new way of life indoors due to lockdown regulations, they've found digital ways to incorporate the old into the new.
  • Technology, however, has not developed to a point where we can capture smells remotely behind our black mirrors.
  • A loved one's scent, baked goods and coffee from your favourite eatery, and the waft of cinema popcorn at the mall are all active memories for now. 

I recently took a fun Forest app quiz in search of what "flower I am". It was one of many I've taken during the lockdown for my own amusement, but possibly the most wholesome and interactive.

The day before, I had taken one to find out what my soul smells like

Lemons. My soul smells like lemons. 

"Your soul is young and exciting! It's the smell of lemons on your hands after you make fresh lemonade on a hot summer evening. It's the kiss of citrus on your lips and tongue and the ray of golden sunshine that crawls its way through the kitchen window and turns into a mirage of crystal on the tile. When people come in contact with your soul, they can't help but smile," read my gleaming results. 

And according to the Forest app quiz mentioned earlier, I'm a rose - a rather unremarkable result considering some people got more exciting results in the form of maple leaves, starburst bushes, and cat-tail willows. However, the rose fragrance is one of the most referenced and sought-after smells in music, literature, film, and of course, the fragrance field. 

READ MORE: Cultivating beauty - You can't travel, but you can take a trip to Chanel's gardens with us 

An article published by the University of Vermont Extension's Department of Plant and Soil Science, reveals that "roses have been around and are documented longer than most of our garden plants. The earliest record of them seems to be rose leaves found in the Colorado Rockies, dating back 35 to 32 million years to the Paleolithic era. First mention of them, and their appearance in artistic motifs, was in Asia about 3000BC, with mention elsewhere about 2300 BC." 

"Prior to the Victorian era of the late 1800’s, fragrance in flowers was used for functions such as medicinally or to hide odors. This period saw the use of flowers in gardens and homes merely for their pleasing fragrance. This era also saw the first attempts to define and classify scents," it adds.  

Adding a fragrant touch to various parts of your home has therefore since become standard - even mandatory - in the form of scented candles, fragrance diffusers and incense.

We not only adorn our bodies with pricey mist infused with floral extracts, but we also feel it's somewhat necessary to give our bedrooms and TV rooms a signature scent too. And since we can't travel or enjoy local recreational activities, some may be turning to purchasing more scents that remind us of what was once 'la vie est belle'.

READ MORE: Lockdown: If you live away from family you probably miss them - women on scents that 'smell like home'

This is why London based candlemakers Paul Firmin and Niko Dafkos, have launched the project 'Scents of Normality', which captures the smells of places we miss most (and can't reach) during lockdown.  

Collaborating with Uncommon Creative Studio, they have sealed the scent of spaces from cinemas to festivals. Below, they explain the notes of three candles from this project.

The Festival – a bouquet of cut grass, burnt skin, and warm cider tied with a ribbon of sweet cannabis smoke. “We worked with scents like cut grass and hemp, mud and dirt to create a scent that felt like you were sat in a field drinking warm cider watching your favourite band,” say the London-based candlemakers.   

scents of normality

The Cinema – A heady fusion of popcorn, foam bananas and the tang of adolescent boredom enveloped in recirculated air. “We worked with peach and lemon to create this soda pop feel, with vanilla and caramel,” explains Niko Dafkos of Earl of East.  

scents of normality

The Local – A potent blend of spilt beer and urinal block jostled against notes of roasted peanuts and cheap rosé, freckled with cigarette ash. “We paired this with Cade, which is a very smoky essential oil, so when you smell it, it almost brings the visual to life. It smells like a pub, so you buy The Local because you love your local [bar].”  

scents of normailty

The tongue-in-cheek candles will be raising funds for Hospitality Action.   

Images via PA Media

READ MORE:'This Smells Like My Vagina' - what Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop candle reveals about the world's conceptions of lady bits

Similarly, French perfume brand Berdoues Collection Grands Crus, is premised entirely on 'bottling' the scents of major travel destinations around the world. "Each Grand Cru expresses one world’s region and offers a unique interpretation of its olfactory identity," their site explains. "The essence of a country [is captured] through the evocative power of a perfume that stirs the memory or kindles the imagination," the unisex perfume brand adds. 

Their 2020 fragrance - Guaria Morada - comes at a time when our wanderlust unfortunately cannot be tended to, but if you're seeking warmth, you'll find it in this olfactory interpretation of Costa Rica’s exuberant beauty, boasting floral sweetness and fruity delicacy. "Linking the past to the present, it is a symbol of luck and a source of good fortune," is a reassuring description at a time when we're all plagued by so much uncertainty.  

why smells are important to us now
Image supplied by Orleans Cosmetics 

And perhaps it's such descriptions that fuel the habit of fragrance fiends and candle collectors such as myself  - it's the bottled optimism and the melting of memories that fills whatever room you're in. 

Another example is how the new Louis Vuitton perfume, California Dream, "portrays the enchantment of a sunset, a moment that prolongs the happiness of a summer’s day." We may have just exited our summer season, but aren't these words a welcome glimmer of hope?  

why smells are important to us during lockdown
Image supplied by Louis Vuitton 

"California Dream cloaks the skin with all the emotion of a sunset. California Dream holds onto the moment, gently inflames the senses  and illuminates the last moments of daylight," its perfumer Jacques Cavallier Belletrud, further divulges. 

READ MORE: Gert-Johan Coetzee just launched an Eau de Parfum and it genuinely smells like success 

Essentially, smells evoke emotions and memories - from my citrus soul that reminds one of the "smell of lemons on your hands after you make fresh lemonade", to The Festival candle that captures the feeling of sitting in a "field drinking warm cider while watching your favourite band." 

A journal article published in 2012 at the College of St. Benedict / St. John’s University, titled The Influence of Odour and Emotion on Memory, mentions how "past research has suggested that there is a special neural connectivity between the olfactory cortex, amygdala and hippocampus that is related to the connection between smell, emotion and memory."  

According to Psychology Today, "a number of behavioral studies have demonstrated that smells trigger more vivid emotional memories and are better at inducing that feeling of 'being brought back in time' than images."

This is the reason why you may be hit by a very lucid memory when you get a whiff of a particular scent. If ever I encounter someone wearing Elizabeth Arden Red Door; I'm a kid in the '90s again, eagerly awaiting for her parents to return from church, where mom's heels will clack on the wooden floor announcing her arrival while I run up to press my cheeks against her red Methodist Church Women's Manyano blouse. 

It's the reason when I smell burnt toast; I'm an undergrad student again, squandering time in the Fuller dining hall with a group of friends evading their own responsibilities for banter and laughter over cheese/chicken mayo sandwiches and fruit juice concentrate. 

It's the reason the Zadig & Voltaire 'This is Her' fragrance (which I still buy and use today) reminds me of my days as an intern catching the MyCiti bus, and the reason I know my Madame Luna scented candles will remind me of my current apartment when I move out in the not-so-distant future.

And it's the reason hand sanitiser, homemade bread, dog breath, and your home fragrance diffusers will one day remind you of the humdrum of becoming well acquainted with your furniture, dressed in sweatpants and knits, setting up your (often) unreliable WiFi connection for another Zoom or Teams meeting that ends in echoed salutations right up until the last few seconds of "bye, later, bye, cheers, have a good one, bye everybody."  

Because in the same way Oscar de la Renta says "... even after a woman has left the room, her fragrance should reveal she's been there," various smells (good and bad) remind us that we too, were once somewhere significant hours, months or years ago. 

What smells have become an integral part of your lockdown routine? And what memories attached to scent do you miss right now? Tell us here.

Additional information: Louis Vuitton, Berdoues Grands Crus, and Press Association Media.

Follow us on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Sign up for W24's newsletters so you don't miss out on any of our stories and giveaways.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Do you think it's important to get married in this day and age?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yes, it's important in order to create a family unit and for companionship
22% - 527 votes
Not at all. Being single is far more liberating
10% - 227 votes
There is no general answer to this, it's each to their own
48% - 1146 votes
Yes, society still frowns on unmarried people, especially women
1% - 35 votes
It depends on whether you are able to find a compatible partner
18% - 434 votes