For the grooming journalist in a hurry, it’s easy to default to the truism that scents are a passage into memory. Simply stir in some science – ideally by alluding to smell’s status as the earliest sense, developed when we were but bacteria swimming around in chemical ooze – then top with an example: that whiff of an ex-lover’s perfume wafting past you in the street, that rushes you away from your commute to stolen kisses on the school playing fields. Print, send, invoice.
So thanks to Maison Margiela’s Replica range for sabotaging that tactic. Launched in 2012, the 10-strong collection is designed to evoke an existing – and very specific – memory. Getting a shave and haircut at a barbers in Madrid in 1992, say. Or indulging in an Old Fashioned and a panatela cigar at a New York jazz club in 2013.
It’s an approach slightly stymied by the fact that these aren’t your memories, so don’t produce that Proustian rush as slumbering synapses click into gear. It’s more like a kind of fragrance Inception, where a spritz takes you into the life of whichever nose attempted to bottle their limbic system.
The latest version, By The Fireplace, takes its cue from a chalet in the Alpine resort of Chamonix back in 1971, on a night that someone spent lounging in front of a log fire, with a pan of chestnuts slowly roasting atop. An experience that you can now enjoy even if a) you’re under 45 and b) you’d rather lose both legs than ever strap them to skis.
There is a difference, of course, between olfactory memory and recreating a smell. It’s a blurry line – and here we risk evaporating in a cloud of heady-scented pretentiousness – but By The Fireplace is that fireside scene as remembered, not as experienced. Which is to say, if you spray it on people won’t reach for fire extinguishers every time you enter a room. But they might imagine partnering you on a flame-lit night at 2,000m.
In fact, those expecting something smoky might recoil at the opening sweetness – more vanilla custard than crackling logs – but it soon dries down into something more mellow. The woodiness is tempered by maple syrup and chestnut notes, which nudges the scent to the unisex side of the fragrance shelf, before late arriving tonka bean and cocoa keep things from getting too festive.
Perhaps not one for the nine-to-five (unless you’re a ski instructor), but as a late-night scent it’s ideal for forging new memories. Just keep a spare bottle handy so you can resurrect them in a decade.
Bottle: Clear glass, with the Replica label outlining the memory that birthed it.
Head notes: Vanilla, chestnut;
Heart notes: Maple syrup, pine;
Base notes: Smoke, woodiness.
Best for: Imagining you’re on a ski holiday, without the broken bones.