Scents and Sensibility
Smell is the most powerful of our senses. It is so primal that French author Victor Hugo remarked, “Nothing awakens a reminiscence like an odor.” And whether it kindles a forgotten romance or signals the beginning of spring, a scent is potent. Every time we breathe, we smell – and we breathe about 23,040 times a day.
According to the book Sensual Home, our sense of smell is heightened in middle age, and women, at any age, possess a greater sensitivity than men. Yet perfume is overlooked, “and it’s our easiest and greatest accessory,” says Jo Malone, famed for creating perfumes, colognes and candles that resonated with interesting mixes.
“Smell triggers instant emotion. It roots us to experience,” says Malone who started selling her popular fragrances in 1994 and then sold her company to Estee Lauder. in 1999. She now runs joloves.com, with a new perfume we love – No. 42 The Flower Shop.
Malone’s talent lies in her ability to translate living moments – the scene of lime blossoms along the Champs-Elysee or mixing Peony with Blush or English Pear and Freesia to convey the mystery and allure of nature – into perfume.
Perfume itself enjoys a long, sensuous history. Reserved only for the gods in Mesopotamia and sprinkled by the Egyptians onto beds, it was also used to scene Louis IV’s boudoirs. It is even believed Cleopatra captured Marc Antony’s heart with her first whiff – she supposedly had the sails of her ship scented with Damascus rose.
Malone employs the same allure as a hotel consultant, tapping natural fragrances to serve as a delicate veil to a guest’s scent. She doubled the business of one hotel by suggesting they use her spray on bed sheets during the turn-down service. Years ago I asked the aromatherapy queen to sniff out the best hotels for a fragrant stay. Here were her selections:
1) Mandarin Oriental Hotel & Spa – Hyde Park, London -Sandlewood incense burns and delicious patchouli, frangipani and jasmine emanate from the spa. The incense, from India, is specially imported and sold at reception. Aromatic candles, with the same fragrance used to scent the spa, can be put in your room on request, along with incense and an incense burner.
2) Hotel Bel-Air, Beverly Hills, California – When you walk in over the bridge, there is the most amazing smell of jasmine and orange blossom, which inspired my orange blossom fragrance. The two are twinned in small bowls of water in the rooms.
3) Wheatleigh Hotel, Lenox, Massachusetts – A tiny bit of Europe in America in the middle of a forest. Rooms sport crisp, clean linen sheets and a huge log fire; both emit a New England air. In the morning, descend downstairs and inhale fresh-baked croissants and French coffee.
4) Hotel La Mamounia, Marrakesh – Recently renovated, this is floral Eden. The tea on a table in the room is fragrant with eau de cologne essences. As the sun sets, people rush through the orange, terra cotta and pink medinas wearing a clean, citrus cologne. It makes for strong, powerful scents.
5) Carlisle Bay, Antigua – A beautiful all-white hotel with villas on the cusp of the beach. Smells change from day to evening. By day, it’s the vines of bougainvillea surrounding the entrance area. At night, a North African candle burns on your bedside table, and you open wooden shutters and inhale seaside, beach and the heady scent of jasmine from the gardens. A vase with fresh-cut white lilies and roses sits next to your pillow. It’s a choir of rich, sensuous smells.
6) Park Hyatt, Tokyo -The smell of ginger tea, which is always brewing, permeates the hotel. In the room, there is a still, clean note: one lily in a vase.
7) Luckham Park, Chippenham, Wiltshire, England – This old English, very traditional hotel used to be a private house. A fire is lit in every room; your pot of tea is brewing, flowers tastefully situated. The smell of county air and crackling log fires mingle with Earl Grey tea, enveloping guests in a cozy embrace.
8) Four Seasons in New York at Christmas – Inhale the gorgeous smell of pine and the eucalyptus leaves in huge bowls. Bits of pine and eucalyptus are left in the room. My son and I were once walking in a forest and he said – his nose is attuned – that the smell reminded him of the hotel in New York and our time there together.