What Synthetic Smells Do You Still Love? (And Which Ones Make You Want to Die?)
Two weeks ago, upon landing at LAX with a couple of friends, I got a text message from Alexandra warning me about something of critical importance to people like us.
The hotel we’d be staying at, the text message read, was scent branded. Her sister had already checked in and the word was out: It totally reeked in the lobby, but not to worry—the rooms weren’t scented.
How bad could it be? I thought. Turns out, really, really bad. The lobby, the hallways on every floor and even the bath products (which I would never use anyway, unless… well, we’ll get to that). The fragrance is probably best described as spicy, toxic coconut. And it was intense—even to people less fussy about such things.
On our second day there, we were chatting up the concierge and I asked him if he liked it. He looked a little sheepish and said “People either love it or hate it,” and left it at that. It got me thinking about two things. First, how lucky I am to work in a field where inhaling chemicals all day is not an occupational hazard. Second, how powerful scent is in affecting, informing and remembering different experiences.
Example: Yesterday someone popped by my office at work smelling terrific. She was wearing a Chanel perfume I used to spritz myself with daily—it’s one of these classic fragrances that’s a little different on everyone, but always smells fantastic. I was struck by how much I liked it, because in my quest to clean out all my products, and forgo perfume altogether, I tend to react pretty badly to synthetic fragrances of all kinds. Like the toxic coconut at that hotel, for example, or the too-close-to-me dude on the train who bathes in Axe.
Smell, we’re told, is our most powerful sense for memory triggers, which is probably why my coworker smelled so good to me, and why it made me really like having her in my office (well that and her lovely disposition, obvs). Because I wore that perfume when I was falling in love years ago, and it reminds me of a really happy time. There are a few smells I still love: Old Spice deodorant on dudes; Tide; my mom’s Hanae Mori perfume, which Alexandra and I also used to wear; J+J baby lotion. What do they all have in common? Very fond memories!
So back to the hotel. On day three I was no longer sharing a room with my friend Anna, who, unlike me, didn’t forget her shampoo and conditioner at home. Day one I used her stash. Day two I didn’t wash my hair. And day three I was out of luck. Needing a wash for a big event that night—oh you know, just ALEXANDRA’S WEDDING—I was left with no choice but to use the hotel’s “signature” stash. Holy crap was that a bad idea. I spent all day complaining about how terrible it smelled; I got a headache; I tried to spray my hair with other things to mask the smell, to no avail. Alexandra’s sister even offered me her shower and her stuff and I declined, against my better judgment. The result? I was really, really mad at the hotel!
But here’s the thing. I loved that hotel. The rooms were massive, the staff was charming and attractive, the outside couch area was an urban oasis and the brussell sprouts at the restaurant were bananas. When I think about being there, I think about happy times. And yet I am fairly certain that if I had to smell that coconut concoction again, it would completely—and negatively—affect my memory of the place.
So we want to know—if you’re already all cleaned up with your cosmetics or even if you aren’t: What synthetic smells do you still love? And are they attached to fond memories?