I write this piece as I’m sitting in my hotel room in Amsterdam, the home of the Anne Frank house, a thriving Red Light district, legalised cannabis and lots of trams. So many trams. My little mini-break to this city of contrasts (which is just a short hop over the North Sea) and a recent trip to the British seaside got me thinking about the world and its many smells, and I’ve committed myself to snapping these little shots of odour, whether at home or away, on my Instagram account, so whilst I am on my travels you can see and read exactly what Planet Earth really smells like.
But what do other cities smell like? What about Moscow, Paris and Tokyo? In this post, I’ve put together a list of 80 fragrances that smell like a facet of 8 cities around the world (10 for each). Some places I’ve been to and others I haven’t, and for all of them these scent pairings are, for the most part, an abstract idea of what particular elements of these places could smell like, as opposed to being photorealistic cityscapes. So, let’s begin. Make sure your Passport is packed and that you have suitable footwear, as we are going around the world in 80 sprays!
Let’s start our trip in a place close to home – our nation’s Capital, London. The Big Smoke is one of the greatest cities in the world, a clash of wide, beautiful green spaces and urban buildings both old and new. Unlike the planned beauty of Paris, London is wonderfully higgledy-piggledy with modern architecture squashed next to historic buildings. It is a city of juxtapositions.
London smells like…
Ealing Green by 4160 Tuesdays: Freshly mown grass under the summer sun.
Colonia Club by Acqua di Parma: A spot of croquet in Richmond Park. Fresh air alive with greenery and a spot of iced mint tea for refreshment.
7 Billion Hearts by CB I Hate Perfume: Smoky, cuddly vanilla plopped straight into the delicious sponge cakes at a London bakery.
Paul Smith Rose by Paul Smith: The quintessentially English rose; sweet, dewy and citrusy-crisp, encountered in the front gardens of Kensington.
Archives 69 by Etat Libre d’Orange: The smell of brightly coloured graffiti on stone walls.
Daisy by Marc Jacobs: Pale flowers in vast English meadows. The small buds on the leaves of Hyde Park.
Mitsouko by Guerlain: A walk in wet woodlands. The crack of twigs underfoot and the cool, mineral smell of moss in the air. Also, the stiff upper lip of the British.
Wilde by Jardins d’Ecrivains: Cups of tea and fig chutney sandwiches at the Ritz.
Rive Gauche Pour Homme by Yves Saint Laurent: The smell of Saville Row, specifically bespoke suits for elegant gentleman. A fougére of unrivalled sexiness. I bet 007 smells like this.
Wood and Absinth by Mark Buxton: Small glasses of expensive absinth enjoyed in the wood-panelled walls of exclusive gentleman’s clubs. One must know the Green Fairy personally to enter.
Much like London, Tokyo is a city where old meets new, with ancient temples engulfed by a multitude of modern skyscrapers. It is the cleanest and most friendly city, but it’s also one of the most fascinating spots on Earth with a rich culture that showcases ancient traditions and modern exploits.
Tokyo smells like…
Tokyo Spring Blossom by 4160 Tuesdays: The smell of sweet cherry blossom on the wind and freshly made jam sandwiches.
Rosa Nobile by Acqua di Parma: Dewy rose petals with a tranquil air akin to the feeling one gets when visiting the Meiji shrine. A piece of calm away from the urban storm.
L’Ile au Thé by Annick Goutal: Fresh tea leaves rubbed between one’s fingers and a touch of apricot-esque osmanthus flowers in the air.
Idylle by Guerlain: A perfectly crafted garden painstakingly perfected over the years, much like the Japanese arts of Ikebana and Bonsai. Wispy, golden and impossibly light.
2 Man by Comme des Garçons: Hot candle smoke and cold incense at the bustling tourist trap of the Senso-Ji Temple.
Womanity by Thierry Mugler: An ode to Japanese Haute Cuisine, and the clash of salty vs sweet. Molecular fig caviar atop salty shortbread.
L’Eau by Serge Lutens: The smell of the clean cotton on Tokyo-inhabitants who prefer freshly-laundered clothing to the smell of any perfume.
Amazingreen by Comme des Garçons: A pop of sweet, pea-like greenery amongst the grey, urban concrete.
Pop Electric Lil’ Angel by Harajuku Lovers: A trip to Harajuku, the trendy cosplay-capital of Japan, for a bite of a popular crepe filled with strawberries, rose jam and lots, and lots of cream.
Alien by Thierry Mugler: Jasmine syrup and fuzzy woods in neon colours, evoking the nocturnal ambience of Shibuya and Tokyo’s red light district, Kabucichō. The fragrant equivalent to colourful Manga.
What can be said about Paris that hasn’t already been said by great writers? It’s the most beautiful and romantic city on Earth, and there’s food, fashion and fragrance a plenty.
Paris smells like:
Insolence by Guerlain: Is there any scent more French than this? Insolence is the smell of chic Parisian women. Bright pink lipstick, copious amounts of hairspray and the soft suede of Hermès bags.
Paris by Yves Saint Laurent: Pastel coloured flowers (rose, violet and mimosa) in the hazy warm breeze of summer.
La Fille de Berlin by Serge Lutens: A night at the opera. Rich red velvet curtains and seat covers, and the heady smell of rose perfume.
Rive Gauche by Yves Saint Laurent: Exceptional French tailoring rocked by the chic business people of La Défense.
Putain des Palaces by Etat Libre d’Orange: The seedier side of Paris. Courtesans wearing last night’s perfume. Insolence, perhaps?
Poison by Dior: Glamorous old ladies in flea markets.
Antiheros by Etat Libre d’Orange: Herbal, almost minty lavender soaps discreetly liberated from an expensive hotel room.
Lolita Lempicka by Lolita Lempicka: Luxurious desserts flavoured with anise by some of the best chefs in the world.
Tabac Blonde by Caron: Pots of makeup at the theatre. Well worn wigs and costumes.
Le Parfum by Elie Saab: A hot Parisian night with the smell of white flowers in the air, good Champagne fizzing in crystal glasses and the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower.
I have never been to Moscow but I’ve always been fascinated by it. It’s a contradictory city, with enormous wealth and opulence (Russia has the highest number of billionaires in the World) but it also has significant poverty too. The exuberance of Fabergé eggs and the splendour of Saint Basil’s Cathedral show a unique beauty, and those cold Russian nights definitely hold a certain charm.
Moscow smells like:
The Afternoon of a Faun by Etat Libre d’Orange: A long walk in a Russian forest. Damp moss and spicy body odour under thick layers of warm animal hide.
Gold Woman by Amouage: The resplendent smell of Russian wealth. Big jewellery, priceless materials and more glamour than one can handle.
Shalimar by Guerlain: Fur coats and muffs soaked with the luxurious smell of a classic, smoky oriental.
For Him by Narciso Rodriguez: Foraging for mushrooms in the cold forest.
Interlude Woman by Amouage: A multicoloured Faberge egg of a scent with lime-green stained glass and spicy red rubies.
Candy by Prada: The smell of the rich Russian youth. Luxurious and fur-like, much like the old guard, just that little bit sweeter.
Russian Caravan Tea by CB I Hate Perfume: Sips of smoky black tea on a cold night travelling on the Trans-siberian railway.
Pure Poison by Dior: A gloriously opulent white floral with a vodka-like head note. Na Zdorovie!
8 88 by Comme des Garçons: The cold, metallic smell of gold.
Boudoir by Vivienne Westwood: A rich and erotic animalic. Cold nights spent naked by a warm fire.
Few places are more picturesque than Hawaii. Tropical flora and fauna meet volcanic activity here, resulting in a colourful and active landscape that can only be described as lush. Hawaii is the perfect place to escape and dream.
Honolulu smells like:
La Panthère Eau de Parfum Légère by Cartier: A pungent lei made from big gardenia and tiare flowers. The perfect welcome to the island.
Songes by Annick Goutal: The lushest and sunniest white flowers on a sea of vanilla. A floral dessert served at the resort.
Cool Water by Davidoff: Salty skin after a day playing in the surf.
Eau des Jardins by Clarins: Lush, tropical greenery and sweet fruit plucked straight from the tree. Or, Mai Tais by the pool.
Eternal Return (Ocean) by CB I Hate Perfume: A complete picture of the sea with all the lovely and salty marine bits, and the less appealing sea foam.
Guerlain Homme L’Eau Boisée by Guerlain: Liquorice and lime cocktails in the long grass.
Cologne by Thierry Mugler: A tumble in clean sheets with the pool boy.
Truth or Dare by Madonna: White flowers worn by a visiting celebrity-type. Big sunglasses and blonde hair.
Amour by Kenzo: A warm Hawaiian evening where the headiness of the flowers overspills into rich vanilla gourmand-ness.
Charogne by Etat Libre d’Orange: Decaying lilies at the end of the season.
Iceland strikes me as a sensible place. After their economy crashed the Icelandic people recovered quickly by shoving their bankers in prison and letting the banks fail. Sensible-ness aside, Iceland is a wild land of ice and fire, with a warm hearted people who enjoy artistic exploits such as poetry and music
Reykjavik smells like:
Blue Encens by Comme des Garçons: Black volcanic rock bubbling with cinnamon-scented lava.
Narciso by Narciso Rodriguez: Olfactory whiteout. A blizzard of gardenia and musk.
Apres L’Ondee by Guerlain: The wispy violet air of a melancholic landscape. Sparse, yes, but not barren.
Rien by Etat Libre d’Orange: The warm heart of the Icelandic people. Loud music, leather jackets and cigarette smoke.
Interlude Man by Amouage: Smoky vanilla bonfires and animal hides.
2 by Comme des Garçons: The inky iodine smell of ice cold air above the warm, sulphuric waters of the blue lagoon.
L’Eau Froide by Serge Lutens: A forest of leaf-less trees amidst the cool air. Rosemary, mint and icy incense.
Wonderwood by Comme des Carçons: Dark wooden huts with coal fires.
Sexual Healing by Mark Buxton: The warm, carnal and skin-like facets of hot flowers and fruit give the impression of just one of the many ways to keep warm.
Calamity J by Juliette Has a Gun: Fur coats on badass ladies.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai is THE up and coming place. Blistering the sand with impossibly tall sky scrapers and ridiculously expensive hotels, anyone who is anyone wants to go there. Like Moscow, there is a huge amount of wealth in the city, fuelled by a love for the more, shall we say ‘blingy’ things in life.
Dubai smells like:
Bang by Marc Jacobs: Crackling black pepper, hot and metallic with a distinct white-floral aroma, gives the impression of metal and glass skyscrapers rising from the sands.
Midnight Oud by Juliette has a Gun: The smell of expensive rose and oud oils in an vast market.
Epic Woman by Amouage: Opulent hotel ceilings made from imperial jade and golden marble.
Opus VIII by Amouage: Heavy silk fabrics scented with the complex and rich odour of crushed jasmine flowers.
Marni by Marni: The new guard. The spicy, woody and rosy smell of the modern youth.
Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens: A trip off the beaten track to a spice market where precious herbs and amber are sold.
Colonia by Acqua di Parma: A classic cologne on a well-groomed gent and the freshness of the morning before the heat takes over.
Angel by Thierry Mugler: Glamour, glitz and underground drag queens.
Arpège by Lanvin: A spritz of something classic inside the Dubai mall. A reminder that one doesn’t have to drop a huge amount of money to buy something chic.
Gold Man by Amouage: The classic smell of the Middle Eastern man. Rich florals, glorious incense and heavy animalics.
Las Vegas, United States of America
Viva Las Vegas! The city that never sleeps, and if it does, it’s not likely to sleep alone if you catch my drift. Also known as the city of sin. I like to think of it as the city of all-you-can-eat buffets, but that’s because my stomach does rule a lot of my thought processes. Anyway, Las Vegas is the city of bright lights and big casinos. It also has a thing for fakery, boasting its own mini-Venice and Eiffel Tower. I’m not sure how the French feel about that…
Las Vegas smells like…
La Fin du Monde by Etat Libre d’Orange: Caramel popcorn scoffed noisily in the theatre. A reminder that vast consumerism will most likely bring about the end the world
Gucci Rush: Sinful nights in the Vegas clubs. Booze, hairspray, poppers and white floral perfumes. About as much fun as you can have.
Fils de Dieu du Riz et des Agrumes by Etat Libre d’Orange: One of the all-you-can-eat buffets Vegas is famous for except, this one is tastefully Thai with coriander, lime and coconut dishes.
White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor: Hotel guests from Florida arriving in a cloud of aldehydes, purple rinses and white flowers. Drug store realness.
Dior Homme by Dior: The smell of a sharply dressed croupier with perfectly coiffed hair. I’d sit at his table…
Jardins de Bagatelles by Guerlain: Fake flowers spritzed with the scent of oily white floral blooms to give the impression of realism.
Datura Noir by Serge Lutens: Stifling desert heat and cherry cocktails (well, one has to keep hydrated somehow!)
Diva by Emanuel Ungaro: Showgirls the Movie. Big hair, rhinestones, neon-lit swimming pools and an unfortunate tumble down the stairs.
Sweet by Lolita Lempicka: The chocolate fountain at the end of the aforementioned all-you-can eat buffet. Marshmallows and cherries on the side for dipping.
Fate Woman by Amouage: Upmarket candy floss marketed in the Casino lobby. A new spiced orange blossom flavour.
Join the Discussion!
How would you scent your favourite cities?
[Image credit: Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Wikipedia]