When my husband proposed to me on the banks of the Seine, I had recently begun to wear Chloe perfume. How do I remember this? I’ve remained loyal to the scent since, and every morning when I spritz it on, I’m transported for the briefest of seconds back to that April afternoon—the sun dappling the water, the quiet of the Ile Saint-Louis quay, the jet lag disappearing as he got down on one knee.
Chloe’s notes include some of my favorite flowers—pink peony, roses—and amber. This last element happens to have a strong Indianapolis connection: It’s the common ingredient in Ambre Blends, a crazy-popular local natural-oil company profiled this month by Trisha Brand in “Perfect Chemistry.” Ambre Crockett’s creations sparked a cult-like devotion and a soon-to-be million-dollar business, and her story reminded me of my own small obsession with the power of scent.
Clustered under my bathroom sink on a wooden tray are a handful of empty perfume bottles, pink and blue, square and round. I keep them because they’re a sharp reminder of yesteryear, perhaps even more potent in that regard than the matchbooks and embarrassing diaries I’ve squirreled away over the decades.
It’s not surprising, then, to learn that, of the senses, smell seems to form the strongest link to our pasts. Scientists suggest that the olfactory lobe’s position near the hippocampus, that seahorse-shaped center for memory-making, has something to do with it. Perhaps that’s why all it takes is one whiff of Gap Dream to make me think of ninth-grade sleepovers after football games.
Who knows—maybe that connection will come in handy one day. A company called Givaudan, which develops department-store fragrances, recently helped create “Smell a Memory” kits for dementia patients in Singapore. Essentially, the team bottled aromas aimed at evoking memories, whether the scents were from spices used in traditional cooking or incense lit in prayer. “Listless” patients at one nursing home, the team claims, became “excited and lively” after using the therapy and re-engaged with their families.
Sure, my drained perfumes are taking up room, collecting dust. But one day I might need my own tether to who I am—and who I was. And there the bottles will sit, my former lives ready to be uncapped and released.
Amanda Heckert is the editor-in-chief of Indianapolis Monthly.
This article appeared in the August 2013 issue.