Scent and Memory

Scent and Memory

Creative Living

by Katie Kime

Growing up I played AAU basketball and one summer our national tournament was in Oklahoma. We decided to spend the summer driving from North Carolina to California and back, stopping along the way to site see (including riding a mule for eight hours to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up). Somewhere outside of New Mexico we stopped at a gas station and my sister and I both, separately, used a small, unusually clean restroom. When we were both back outside of it, we said in unison, “That smell!” We both knew that it was buried deeply (and with positive association), within our childhood.

We kept spouting off ideas of what it could be, thumbing through a mental rolodex of memories we shared but we could never find it. We were both stunned at how much the smell impacted us and yet couldn’t find what it was tied to. Dawn Goldworm who works with brands like Nike to establish what she describes as “immediate and memorable connections between brands and consumers,” also explained in a 2020 Harvard study that “smell and emotion are stored as one memory.”

It explains what my sister and I experienced that summer and the way that smell, still, impacts my overall state. To this day if there is certain creative work I know I need to do, I’ll drive to buy a specific candle to light before starting if the old one has burned out. It’s also lead me to a way of buying perfume that I’ve come to love and the fragrances, cherish. And that is during travel or a significant milestone in life, I will buy a new perfume to mark that period in time. While in Paris for a shopping trip tradition with a dear friend. The weekend I found out if we were having a boy or a girl. A landmark event in the business. The scent and that moment in time become intertwined in my mind (despite, according to the science, having already done so in my body), and I use a vintage label maker to describe it on each bottle. I do the same if I’m gifted a fragrance say, for Mother’s Day, always adding the year to each bottle so I can remember.

This weekend my husband and I opted for an Austin staycation downtown to continue celebrating (and reflecting) on my 40th birthday. I walked to Le Labo and then went through an array of new scents at Hermes, thinking I may find “the fragrance of 40” but to no avail. But I know it’s out there and that this year when I smell it, I’ll know it and the click-click of an outdated label-maker will be happily heard again.