You Smell Nice: Manisha A-S, Writer & Editor
"When I used to get off the plane in Delhi, it immediately smelled like wood smoke. It comes from people burning tiny fires everywhere to keep warm, because they live in the street. And it’s this strong, immediate scent. That’s probably the first distinct scent memory I have. I might romanticize it later, but I don’t now—I still smell it every so often. It’s very distinct and it’s not a great smell—just a very particular, location-based scent that probably has to do with the wood being burnt and all the pollution in the city. When I smell it, I think, I know this smell, I know this place.
When I think of scent memories, I think of immediate, evocative, not necessarily nice scents. My grandfather’s house in the States—I spent a lot of time in the basement and it smelled a little musty, but in a comforting way. That emotion comes first. I don’t often get to the part where I’m like, Why does this smell like? And what might happen if I try to recreate it? Of all the things that a scent memory represents, I don’t think about the smell as much. I feel strongly about them, but I don’t know what the scent has in it that’s drawing me to it.
My dad and my brother are both very sensitive smell people. They can’t handle any scents at all. So in my house, scentless everything was just easier. I didn’t think about smells very much growing up. But now, I am trying to develop a relationship to scent. I think it is a nice way to engage with the world that I want to do more of. It’s a sense I haven’t explored at all, mostly because I have been trained to live a scentless life. Not in a way that is necessarily negative—I didn’t feel like I was missing out on a lot—but now I just want to think about it more.
Being a perfectionist, I want to know how to do it right before I do it. Like if I’m traveling somewhere—as soon as I find out I’m going, I’ll go find every guidebook on it imaginable. Even if I don’t plan on using any of them. I’m just a researcher by nature; I like to know what I’m getting into. I don’t leave a lot of room for experimenting, or going with the flow. I think that’s why I’m so interested in how other people approach scent, because I have no foundation for it.
I gravitate towards smells that have a natural, earthy connection to the world. I really like sharp citrus scents: it’s not too much. There are some scents that are an announcement: I AM WEARING A SCENT, SMELL ME. And I don’t want anyone else to smell me. In general, I’m a person who doesn’t like to pop out too much. So it feels funny—and not in my nature—to make myself do anything more to stand out.
I spend a lot of time, for better or for worse, thinking about how other people feel about things. I like to make sure other people are comfortable, they're having a good time, that I’m taking care of other people. So it’s harder to get back into the mindset of thinking about yourself. In that way perfume is hard for me to justify, because it’s just for yourself. But it’s something I am trying to do more of.
I do put eucalyptus oil in my shower, and I like that a lot. That’s the kind of self-care scent activity that I’ve come to really enjoy, because it seems simple. A little bit of oil you put in steam. And you’re like, OK, this is just a little thing. I didn’t have to do a lot for it to come to fruition. Perfume makes me nervous because it’s so subjective, and I want to be able to do subjective things better. It's a good place to start. What do I like? Let’s think about me. I’m new to taking a subjective interest in myself."
Perfume pairing: Bergamote 22
Favourite smells: Fresh lilies, cut grass, salt.