The transporting abilities of scent are often invoked but just as frequently misunderstood. “Smells aren’t better at retrieving memories than other stimuli, like things we see or hear,” says Dr. Pamela Dalton, an experimental psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. “But the memories that smells elicit tend to be more vivid and emotional.” So, as we reckon with our not particularly vivid and still mostly homebound existences, why not use scent to relive the visceral joys of wild nights spent surrounded by friends and strangers at bars and nightclubs? A collection of fragrances from the industry’s top noses claim to help with just that, and contain notes of juniper, leather and tobacco meant to evoke blurry scenes of jostling bodies and neon lights.
Sarah McCartney, the founder of the London-based perfumery 4160 Tuesdays, crafted a scent she called Maxed Out after a New York fan of the brand mentioned that his ideal fragrance would recall the aromas of a former job — as a seller of the finest cannabis. “He wanted a fragrance to capture marijuana cigars, rum cocktails, blackouts and regret,” says McCartney, who opted for notes of tobacco, hemp, leather, rum, cumin (“the odor of yesterday’s shirt”), vanilla and black coffee. “I have never experienced anything resembling the situation he wanted me to create in scent, but it’s like telling a story,” she says. “So I imagined it, and apparently nailed it in one go.”
For Diptyque’s spicy Orphéon fragrance, the perfumer Olivier Pescheux also endeavored to recreate a scene he’d never personally been a part of: that of the now-closed Paris nightclub after which the scent is named, which was beloved by Diptyque’s founders in the early 1960s (and conveniently located next to their first boutique in Saint-Germain-des-Prés). More specifically, Pescheux wanted to capture the smell of velvet, alcohol and tobacco, as well as the aromatic trail left behind by “elegant women and dandies.” With the founders of Diptyque dead and the Orphéon itself closed, it helped him to call on his own memories of the Latin Quarter jazz club Le Caveau de la Huchette, and to the bossa nova music of Luiz Bonfá and Antônio Carlos Jobim. Bal d’Afrique, from Byredo, which was founded by Ben Gorham, reaches to the Folies-Bergère of the 1920s, where Josephine Baker famously danced “La Folie du Jour.” In addition to Baker serving as an inspiration, so, too, did Gorham’s father’s written accounts of his travels through Tanzania and Kenya. Ultimately, Gorham came up with a blend of marigold, bergamot, cedar wood and violet. In a way, he says, it’s “like another page in the diaries.”
Celine’s Nightclubbing, which the brand calls a “perfume for night birds,” was inspired byParis’s late ’70s and early ’80s discos Le Palace and Les Bains Douches. At first whiff, it’s green and musky with an undercurrent of nicotine, but the dry down reveals sweet vanilla and creamy white orris butter, which is derived from the dank roots of bearded irises. A spritz of it might recall a smoke break taken between dances — as does the slightly more floral perfume Jasmin et Cigarette, from the boutique French perfumery Etat Libre d’Orange. The founder Etienne de Swardt also wanted to evoke the allure of bare skin at night, he says, “just a trace of jasmine mingled with the so far neglected smell of a cigarette.”
Finally, Lev Glazman, the co-founder of Fresh Beauty, has curated a fragrance line for the Maker Hotel, which he also co-owns, in Hudson, N.Y. He compares Fire, one of the offerings, which was inspired by the lounge of the hotel, to “a sweet swig of rum,” and the blend of Tahitian vanilla, suede and the now-familiar friends tobacco and leather does indeed make one think of a cocktail sipped fireside. The hope, Glazman says, is that by bringing home Fire — or the property’s signature scent, a ginger and cannabis-flower fragrance emitted via the Spiritus Candle — guests will remain in touch with the selves that they find on vacation, and after dark.