Embrace Good Smells. In a Museum.

One of my very favorite resolutions is my resolution to Cultivate good smells. I’m obsessed with the delights of the sense of smell.

Loving beautiful fragrances quickly leads to a greater appreciation of perfume, and I’m now a perfume fanatic.

So you can imagine my delight at visiting the Museum of Arts and Design’s exhibit, The Art of Scent 1889-2012. The exhibit present twelve pivotal fragrances in history of scent.

I visited it for the second time last night, and had the chance to hear the brilliant Chandler Burr, organizer of the exhibit, explain why these particular perfumes were chosen. Jicky, Chanel No. 5, Drakkar Noir, Angel, Light Blue, L’Eau D’Issey, Osmanthe Yunnan, Untitled…such intriguing scents.

You might think, “How do you exhibit a perfume?” The room is spare, with a wood floor and white walls. Along the walls are twelve depressions; you lean your head into a depression, and a puff of perfume rises up.

It was such a pleasure to experience these perfumes in a beautiful place, and to learn about them and their histories. It also reminded me (though I don’t really need reminding) to appreciate the fragrances of my ordinary day, as well: the smell of vanilla, cinnamon, clean laundry, hardware store, baby lotion, my husband’s shampoo, rainstorm, flower shop.

What are some of your favorite smells from your ordinary day? Or favorite perfume or cologne?

  • Nena

    Lilacs are a definite favorite for me, as is wood smoke on a cold winter’s day.

  • I love spices, nutmeg, ginger, cloves. So does our cat! After I added a pinch of nutmeg to a recipe, she couldn’t get enough of licking the fingers that had done the pinching. I love the smells of cooking. While cutting onions makes me cry, the smell on my hands, or the smell of garlic on my hands, afterwards is delicious. Then there’s the smells in the garden & yard. The lemon mint will take over if we don’t keep it back, and I love pulling it up, or going over it with the mower, what a delicious smell.

  • Amy

    Clothes after a bonfire, library books, Christmas (what IS that smell?), November, midwestern farms off the instance and the scent of old wood.

  • Aleisha

    One of my favorite smells is the tea olive that grows on a bush by our house. It reminds me of a mild gardenia and makes me think of spring and home. One of most lovely and instantly recognizable scents I’ve ever come across.

  • Byron Katie Fan

    I love the smell of camphor burning; my (small) children’s skin and hair when I hug them; the fresh earth after rain; and fragrant flowers (roses, jasmine, tuberose, gardenia, etc.)

  • mj

    freshly cut clover hay

  • Kate

    Chlorinated pool water drying on a sidewalk in the sun – that smell IS summer to me! Plus real vanilla, anything sauteeing in butter, and the smell that comes from underfoot when hiking in redwoods.

  • Veronique

    Cinnamon, chocolate, the crook of my husband’s neck and the top of my son’s head it smells like sunshine.

  • HEHink

    New box of crayons, freshly sharpened pencil, baking bread, fresh-cut grass, and a just-blown-out match.

  • Barbara

    Gosh, so many GOOD scents! It seems though, that when there’s a bad smell (MUSK! Gak!!!), it weighs heavy over everything else! Daily smells I love include my own pillowcase; my books; plain ol’ fresh air when I walk out the door; cut hay (especially timothy); and, odd as it sounds, my cat’s fur after he’s been in the sun.

  • Alyssa

    Do you know why Light Blue made the list? Curious as it is the perfume I wore on my first date with my husband, and he knows it immediately, though I rarely where it.

    • gretchenrubin

      It is fascinating to hear Burr’s explanations of why he chose these particular perfumes. But I can’t do his explanations justice!

    • Hi Alyssa. The mastery of the medium that the brilliant
      olfactory artist Olivier Cresp shows in Light Blue is that shown by Alexander
      Calder in the creation of his kinetic sculptures, Mobiles. Calder reconceived
      sculpture as a composition of independent parts that, in motion, made up a
      whole, a sort of moving version of what Picasso, with his Cubism, created in
      another medium, paint. Cresp created it in scent. Instead of approaching the
      work traditionally, as a whole, Cresp created three independent works. One is
      an olfactory sculpture of the concept of lemon, the second is a concept of tart
      green apple (it is, he confirmed to me, an entirely synthetic structure,
      beautifully done), the third a cedar concept. As Calder wired together his
      independent sculpted metal forms in an extremely precise balance and
      positioning in physical space, Cresp placed his three components together in a
      way that allows them to move as one experiences the work. The three are
      palpably distinct, but they also form a fourth object, which is the work as a
      whole–an olfactory Mobile.

      • gs

        That is fascinating- I love Calder’s “Ghost”– from now on, I think “Ghost” and “Light Blue” will be fused together in my head!

  • Maureen Anderson

    I wore Ciara cologne in high school. One whiff at Target and I’m right back in drafting class. The aroma of creosote (yep, aroma) when I
    pass a railroad yard whisks me back to the construction crew I worked on after my freshman year in engineering school. And I bet I’m not the only person who’s transported back to her childhood when she opens a storage closet at Mom and Dad’s house and inhales the scent of the World Book Encyclopedia!

  • Sandy

    A towel fresh and warm out of the dryer, the woods while hiking, rain, freshly cut grass on a summer day, my newly acquired “old car” smell which reminds me of my uncle’s ancient car after it had been sitting in the warm sun for a few hours (a reminder of childhood), school rooms, libraries and of course books (reminders of childhood and a lifetime). I also like to smell my Christmas closet (it smells of leftover potpourri scented with pine, cinnamon and oranges) and my friend’s closet at the beach (its scented by lavender sachets — and that’s a truly glorious smell on a summer day). Currently my tea olives are blooming and they smell lovely. In spring and summer, the air surrounding my yard will be infused with the perfume of confederate jasmine and wisteria … I can hardly wait for the divine 🙂

  • on my early morning run I pass the homes of people getting ready for the day and from some there wafts a scent of coffee, others it’s shampoo or soap and sometimes toast- i love this! And some homes have lovely fragrant flowers in their gardens – thank you if that’s you!

  • Jan

    Earl Grey tea, fresh baked breads, foods with curry, a turkey roasting, bags of cinnamon pine cones in stores over the holidays, cocoa bean mulch spread over lawns, patchouli, and lavender are all smells that bring me joy.

  • My favorite smell is toast….I rarely eat it but my husband does everyday, it is so comforting. I also love…this is weird, but the smell of an indoor pool- like at a hotel, I love how warm it always is in those rooms and combined with the smell, its off the charts for me!

  • Debbie

    So many examples of great smells. My favorite smells are natural scents. Every May our lilac bush blooms, and I look forward to going out on the deck and breathing deeply. I enjoy the smell of fresh basil and other fresh spices. I love the smell of spring. Just this week, I really think spring is poking it’s head out from our cold winter months. I hear the birds chirping in morning, and I feel like the birds agree with the “spring” scent is approaching.

  • this exhibit sounds very cool. I need to check it out.
    there’s really nothing like scent, is there, to trigger a memory or a smile? some of my favorite everyday smells are forsythia, both for its lovely fragrance and its promise of warmer weather coming, lilacs (again a seasonal signal), and wood smoke.

  • Donna

    A (maybe) weird one: the smell of books, old or new–love that. Then a couple of obvious ones: bacon cooking. And COFFEE. Sometimes I just take the lid off my container of ground coffee and inhale. Awesome.

  • Ben

    Cool museum, never heard of a smell exhibit before!

    Hmm I love the smell of the sandalwood incense I burn every day. It helps me to get in the zone along with music and to focus on what i’m doing more.


  • Terry Insinga

    I love the smell of my house after I cleaned it and I come in from outdoors and it smells so fresh and clean. Also -the smell of my house when I have stew cooking in the crock pot. I have two unlit candles in my hallway that smell so good every time I pass them-Patchouli and Sage. I also love the smell of peppermint essential oil! And Jasmine/Vanilla Bath and Bodyworks products. My husband finds Jasmine/Vanilla to be a very seductive aroma too!

  • Stephanie Gage

    Crayons! Especially brand new ones. A complete flashback to childhood. I’ll take a whiff of them when my girls are coloring and even open a box in the store and smell them if I see some. My kids love and appreciate their smell too. And just about any homecooked meal cooking is comforting. So simple, but a pot o pinto beans simmering and fried potatoes cooking takes me back home (VA).

  • Jackie

    New books, leather, lavender……

  • cjsbequus

    What an interesting exhibit. I used to hear that one could only sniff 3 scents in a row before scent discernment was greatly diminished. Wondering if you had to wait a certain amount of time between sniffs?! I can smell Old Spice and it is like my dad is hugging me again even though he has been gone for 23 years. I always tell people that I get “high” on the scent of daffodils and the aroma from my leather saddle and bridle! I am always amazed at how scent can transport one’s mind to a former time or place.

  • Linda Davidson

    I love the smell of Freesia! I think it is my favorite flower smell. Gardenias have a nice aroma as well. Certain smells trigger memories. Fresh onions and garlic with fresh basil! I know I should have been Italian!

    Linda Davidson

  • Sonia

    Oh my, how I wish I lived in NY and could have attended this exhibit! Angel remains my most favorite perfume ever and I would have loved to learn more about it. As for everyday smells, the scent of my little son’s face and hair, and the jasmine flowers in my mother’s garden, are so special to me.

  • gs

    It is not only a pleasure to smell perfume, it is also a distinct pleasure to read about perfumes!
    I loved reading Luca Turin’s reviews in his book, Perfume. This is what he says about Angel La Rose, which he describes as a “Godzilla Floral”: “Put this on and tongues of pink flame . . . propel you everywhere. The air roils behind you for hours. A
    half ounce should by my calculations, last you 11,000 years in daily use.” About Angel Violet he writes: “[the idea was] to arrange the rapidly shrinking note of violets and the huge accord of Angel in such a way that both could be perceived at the same time, which is a bit like trying to cover an 18-wheeler with a purple handkerchief. Amazingly, it
    actually works for a few minutes, after which the violets are flattened like floral roadkill.”
    I am wondering which version of Angel was offered up at the museum!

  • gs

    It is interesting how a particular smell will enter your life and your consciousness. A few months back, I had stopped at a gas station in a semi-rural area on a road trip. While walking around and stretching my legs, I stopped all of a sudden, thinking “There must be some horses nearby!” I could smell a sort of horsy, stable-y, pungent odor, and for the first time, I knew that this smell, to me, meant well-being and relaxation and happiness!

  • Jen

    Just this weekend a friend gifted me with body butter she had just crafted. Ingredients: cocoa butter, coconut oil, olive oil, beeswax, water and sesame oil. I am hording it, sparingly rubbing it on the inside of my wrists; wearing it like perfume. The subtle chocolate scent is amazing. When I walk by the jar, I open it and take a lovely whiff. Delish.

  • Shave Records

    ylang ylang, fresh ground coffee beans, freshly cut lawns, stargazers, lavender…

  • Maria

    Newly mown grass, wood smoke from outside of a home, puppy breath, fresh from a bath babies smell heavenly and the scent of fabric softener or dryer sheets as you walk by someone’s house on a fall evening!

  • heidis happy

    Scentsy has the most amazing fragrances~fresh baked apple pie! Blueberry cheesecake! Honestly the best around! You can take a peek here: http://heidishappyscents.scentsy.us