Beauty

Smell and memory: how heartbreak can taint a signature scent

Posted by
Anita Bhagwandas
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Fragrance scent match maker

Anita Bhagwandas prided herself as an expert scent match maker, until she learned a lesson the hardest way imaginable…

The only thing better than receiving the perfect gift, is giving it. That’s not holier than though rhetoric, it’s undeniably true. “I adore it, thank you” he said, unwrapping the elegantly boxed flacon, with its engraved initials and blue leather ribbon before deeply inhaling its intoxicating elixir. 

Talents come in different forms, and one of mine (albeit not hugely useful in the grand scheme of things, compared to, say, being able to change a plug or car tyre) is knowing what people want in a signature scent, pretty much before they do, having now matched my friends, family and several editors with their perfect fragrance. Picking scents for people was my thing and I’d done it again, with aplomb. 

Like so many men, he’d never worn scent before, “I just haven’t found anything I liked,” he reasoned. And I get that. Unless you happen to fall in love with a fragrance, finding any ‘one’ scent that feels like it encapsulates you entirely can be a lifetime’s journey. And even though at this point we’d only been dating a few months, I’d managed to find one that suited him to perfection. 

Hints of weathered oak that smelled like it had been stripped from an old boat, strong leathery notes that were tempered with softer agarwood – just like him, actually. Together they smelled like everything I’d experienced of him: masculine, old fashioned, strong and intoxicating.

Perfume memory scent

After a while it began to merge with the very smell of him. I’d lie on his broad chest at night and those notes felt like an electric blanket, like a veil of reassurance when I was stressed or in need of comfort. To me nothing smelled better - not even my signature scent.

But time can, like the cruelest of mistresses, change everything. “Is it just your jacket left?” YES, I replied in caps. After days of stalling, it was time to complete the ‘swapping of the stuff.’ Possibly the hardest thing after a break-up. And it’s true, the only thing of mine he possessed (aside from my broken heart) were the ‘things’ I’d given him. 

None of that I wanted back- aside from the scent I’d bestowed upon him. I felt like it was such a gargantuan gift and so deeply personal, that the idea of him wearing that scent after me, or with somebody else was devastating. I’d even queried it with my mother. “You need to let it go,” she said. “It was just a gift. Why would you want to have it and be reminded of him?” 

Perfume memory scent

She was right, of course. And while getting that jacket back was a stabbing finality, worse still was knowing that I’d given him something else I couldn’t really take back. It wasn’t that I wanted to smell him and weep into my oat latte every morning – quite the opposite in fact – I never wanted to smell that scent again. But I did want to take that gift away from him, because he didn’t live up to the brilliance that the scent projected. And because I knew he loved it and I knew it would hurt. Him walking away with it felt like he’d won, somehow.

It was then that I realised I wasn’t quite as talented scent-matcher as I’d initially thought. I’d fooled us both. Because it didn’t smell like him after all, it was merely my idea of him. It smelled strong and masculine - the things I thought he was. It smelled elegant and refined, though actions often prove entirely the opposite. Scents, I’ve now realised can be way more aspirational than I’d imagined, and a way of projecting versions of reality that aren’t necessarily true. 

In the end I didn’t ask for it back. I didn’t want a tainted relic of something that had soured. But the lesson was evident and all mine: you can guide, but let other people find their own signature scents so you don’t project characteristics onto people that they don’t possess. And the better realisation? That hallowed scent, the intense, brilliant, strong one I so loved, it’s actually a projection of the person that I truly deserve.

Image: Getty

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Anita Bhagwandas

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