Friday, March 19, 2010

Comfort Scents For Uncomfortable Times

I'll be honest- this winter hasn't been the harshest or the longest one I remember. After all, today is March 19th and the temperatures are firmly in the upper 60s-lower 70s. In my back yard there are signs  of life everywhere (and I'm not even talking about the fornicating squirrels that provide nonstop entertainment for my cats). But just last weekend we had a major storm that plowed throughout the NY Metro area knocking down trees and leaving major destruction in its wake. Two people were killed not far from here. In my town there's a lot of damage to people's houses. Businesses on our main street are still without power and the cable company has no idea when they will be able to resume service. And here I am whining about having a cold and using a slower internet connection.

We all have our ways to deal with uncomfortable times. For people who are led by their nose, it usually means seeking solace in scent. Certain aromas speak to us about better days or create an instant comfort zone because of a special memory. And some simply taste good...

Ayala Sender, natural perfumer and author of Smelly Blog, organized a group of perfume-friendly bloggers for  this project: Comfort Scents For Uncomfortable Times. Here is my list:

1. I want my mommy. When I feel like this I have to go and sniff a little of the original Chloe (the 1970s version by Karl Lagerfeld). Chloe has been my mother's signature scent for nearly 30 years. It goes to show you that given the right circumstances, even a loud white floral can provide comfort.

2. Speaking of my mother, there's absolutely nothing like the aroma of a fresh baked bread or butter cookies. Nothing bad can happen in a house that smells of yeast and dough.

3. Chaos by Donna Karan has an interesting blend of chamomile at the top and an incense body. Ever since I got my bottle of the reissue I've found myself wearing it when I want to feel calm and centered. Instant poise in a bottle.

4. Tea. The entire ceremony that starts with choosing the perfect one, measuring the leaves into the filter, brewing, pouring and sometimes adding milk is very relaxing. Once you smell the tea itself, be it chamomile, Earl Grey or my guilty pleasure of vanilla or chocolate flavored black tea, the world starts making a little more sense.

5. Lavender. You can soak your troubles and aches away in a lavender-scented bath (oils, Dead Sea salt or some good bubbles). I love the bath and body products from L'Occitane that are also enriched with shea butter, and topping it off with a lavender perfume. From the pedestrian Lavande by Molinard I use to scent my bed to the artisan creations of Ayala Moriel (Lovender- herbal over a vanilla base) and Vero Kern (Kiki- French lavender, fruit and praline-filled pastry), it is as good as it gets.

6. Cat. If you've ever had pets you know what I mean. Burying my face in their silky fur and inhaling that sweet spot behind their ears. The crazy cat lady has spoken.

7. Fresh oranges, preferably cold. Is it the promise of vitamin C or childhood memories of my mother peeling them for me? It's a happy smell, for sure, full of promise of sunshine and warmer days to come.

8. Lei by the Italian house Mazzolari is the perfume equivalent of snuggling with a soft blanket while drinking hot cocoa top with tiny marshmallows (the good, barely sweet kind they sell at Whole Foods). It's sweet and powdery with a touch of bitter cocoa.

9. The smell of books, old and new. I started reading very early and ever since then books have been my comfort and escape route. Mean girls? Mean boys? It doesn't matter, I'll be here in the corner with my true friends Elizabeth Bennet, David Copperfield, Moomintroll and Dr. Susan Calvin. They smell like old paper, glue and musty wood. I always sniff the air at used book stores looking for that special aroma.

10. Home. Several perfumes mixed together, something green from the reed diffuser, zucchini and eggplant roasting in the oven, root vegetable broth, lavender and powdery amber from the bedroom, furniture polish. And, yes, cats. It smells like us, it smells like home, and nothing is more comforting than that.

What are your comfort scents? Please share them and don't forget to visit my fellow bloggers who  have compiled their own personal lists:


Roxana's Illuminated Journal

BitterGrace Notes

Perfume Shrine

Notes from the Ledge

Scent Hive

Perfume in Progress

Katie Puckrik Smells

A Rose Beyond the Thames

I Smell Therefore I Am


All I Am A Redhead 

Savvy Thinker

Top image by Ayala Sender.
Lizzy- both cat and photo- all mine.


  1. From one orange eating, tea drinking, perfume wearing crazy cat lover to another, I love your list! One of my kitties has such a beautiful and powerful purr and I find it very comforting. I swear that sound releases serotonin or some or chemical that makes people feel better.

    I also find curling up on the sofa (with purring kitty) with a bowl of homemade popcorn and a movie, preferably an old classic or possibly a good Disney flick.

    Calling an old friend and having a long chat on the phone is always comforting and if you're feeling a bit low, it's bound to make you feel loved. It has the upside of making your friend feel better as well.

    Cook a big pot of chili with some homemade cornbread... just like baking those butter cookies... the house smells good and comfort food always makes you feel better.

    Knitting always makes me feel better. There's something about the repetitive movements that keep your hands busy and the feel of a nice soft yarn between your fingers that is very soothing.

    I've also loved scents since I was a little girl. My Mom gave me my first perfumes, Shalimar and L'air du temps. I find that warm vanilla scents are perfect when you need a fragrance hug. Try the newer Shalimar if you don't want a scent quite as strong as the original. I like to wear Laura Mercier's Vanilla Gourmande to bed. Annick Goutal's Songes has ylang ylang, jasmine and vanilla and it's like wrapping yourself up in a cashmere throw...yum!

    Spring has sprung in the city I live in and I find it very comforting to just sit on a bench and people watch while soaking up the vitamin D. The sun's been hiding so much lately and it's a great free activity.

    Thanks for all of your helpful and comforting ideas!

  2. Freshly baked bread - vanilla pod just cut open - Ta'if by O.J. - Dzonghka by L'Artisan - the lavender destillary in Nyons (Provence, France, etc., etc.

  3. Oh yes, the smell of books is always a comfort.

  4. You are so right about the comforting smell of cat head. My Maine Coon's head smells like roses and sunshine, and as I inhale I always marvel that a 20 lb indoor couch potato can smell so wonderful.

    Loved your list, esp the mother references. My mother's scent is L'Air du Temps; one whiff and I instantly feel better.

  5. the 'i want my mommy' really struck a chord. I forgot that I occasionally seek out La Perfume de Therese specifically for this. It is actually a "fantasy mom" smell- the smell of the mom i wish i had. Who, when I smell this, looks like Ingrid Bergman wearing a camel cashmere turtleneck and wool tweed slacks. Or kind of like this:

    i have cats, too, and totally feel the same way.

    loved your post.

  6. Oh, bread. Oh, books. Mmmmmmmmm.

    I like that yeasty bread smell in perfume, too; the one some get from Apres L'Ondee, for example. I think that one of the reasons I like "playdough accord" is because it has bready connotations for me. Hmm.

    Cat comfort. Many forms, but the one I appreciate is cat on chest keeping you warm in the cold, when you have a cold, and even when maybe it's a bit uncomfortably warm in temperature but you still appreciate the cat wanting to be close. :)

    You have officially introduced me to Lei. I will have to look it up. Nose-wise.

  7. Well I had a very difficult and potentially contentious meeting this morning and decided to wear CdG Kyoto..The meeting went well. Maybe the Kyoto calmed everyone in the room.

  8. Hi Gaia,
    I love your list-(and as a kitty lover, totally get burying one's nose in kitty fur).

    My other fave comfort scents are oranges with clove studs, my cats fur, both smell completely different.

    Black Tea, The Republic of Tea has a holiday scent called Tea of Good Tidings, with spices, black currant, vanilla and almond, that is amazing on a cold rainy day.

    I love the scent of the ocean and cliff-side walks, I live right on the Pacific. Walks are filled with the scent of sea spray and evergreens.

    Love the smell of books, my dad was a teacher, so the smell of books and libraries are very comforting too.

    I also enjoy lavender, my grandmother's favorite scent. She always had lavender or rosemary scented linens and soaps. She wore Jicky, I love and wear it too. I go to it when I need a scented "hug".

    And, I love the smell of home made veggie/barley soup or roasted veggies.

    Love your Kitty pic! Lizzy is cute :)

  9. What a delightful post, Gaia. And Nancy, I'm right there with you on the chili and corn bread :-) Although I don't have a kitty to cuddle, I have three huskies to run and play with. They love to play and get their tummies rubbed. They always make me smile. What would we do without good friends and our furry companions!

  10. Okay warning you expect a novel.

    Gingerbread/ gingersnaps were my favorite christmas cookies my mom baked.
    Pumpkin pie
    Fresh brewed coffee is daily serenity.
    Chai tea
    Sandalwood and nag champa incense.
    Ylang- ylang
    Old and new books, word.
    Kid's cereal: apple jacks, fruit loops, lucky charms.

    The smell of thunderstorms, my family would go sit on the porch to watch them.

    My late father was a newspaper pressman,and a volunteer firefighter. So comforting smells that conjure him to me are his English Leather cologne, ink and newspapers, and the smoky smell of a fire.

    The smell of Autumn at dusk, my favorite season, at my house. I can only dream that I could afford to have Christopher Brosius to capture it in a perfume for me one day: Muscadine and scuppernong grapes fermenting on the vine, ripe figs and spicy fig leaves, ripe pears, some lingering honeysuckle, hay, and the subtle earthy smells the ground releases when kissed with dew. A glass of local Dublin scuppernong or muscadine wine helps put me there, especially when I'm wearing CBIHP Revelation, my fav fig fume.

  11. Mmmm... warm kitty fur, vanilla rooibos tea with milk and sugar, a good book, and some vanilla or incense perfume. These are a few of my favorite things. :-)

  12. Gaia,

    Thank you so much for contributing to this joint-blogging project. It is so much fun to have you on board, always!

    I absolutely love your list!

    It's interesting that we both picked the baked bread smell... In Israel you smell it every morning, in the streets or in the grocery stores. Here too many of the breads are plastic-bagged :-(

    And I'm ever so flattered to have found Lovender in your comfort list. Now, I'm dying to smell Kiku though!

    P.s. Your house must smell amazing! There certainly is no place like home...

  13. And I forgot one of my favorite scents of all-horses. Sweet feed, horses, and hay. Such a lovely comfort scent!

  14. My favorite part of this piece is that gorgeous photo of your sweet kitty! Love :-)

  15. Elizabeth, I love the smell of horses too! I take my daughter horseback riding every Friday and no matter what the weather or our mood is like, it always makes us both happy, calm and energetic. Something about the animals, the fresh air and the cedar chips... I think the only smell I don't like there is when they replace the horseshoes. It smells like burnt hair and it's terrible...

  16. Crazy cat lady over here agrees totally with your vote for the good kitteh smell :)

  17. i am very fond of your blog. there are always beautiful essay and pictures. peaceful and fantastic!!

  18. As always we have several similar tastes there (and not only scents either).
    Mom is the prime reference for comfort, isn't she? Wish mine was still here...
    As to your cats, they're all beauties. That pose is delightfully Venus-like, seems like it was lifted out of a Raphael.

  19. Your list made me think of smells long forgotten... The smell of lemon, grapes and night-jasmin flowers from my great-grandmother's home in Karpathos during the summer, the smell of Earl Grey tea as a university student in Scotland (my love for Bergamont started there, but I can't use any scents with it on my skin due to bad contact dermatitis) and the smell of Blood orange tea that I drink now.

    For me, comfort is a mug of coffee, a bar of ION almond chocolate to dip in the coffee and friends chatting. Comfort also is a meeting with those friends or my mother for coffee while watching the sea during the winter. (I need to find a fragrance with coffee notes!)
    Thank you for sharing your list, I have a warm and fuzzy feeling now...

  20. Kitty furrrrrrrrr...yeah! Ooh, I love that you included the original Chloe, Gaia. I used to love that one as a young 'un. Has the formulation stayed pretty true, do you think?

  21. books and tea are doing well aren't they! I completely agree with many of yours- especially lavender- it's like there's a little bit of magic in there. The oranges are very sweet- reminds of a scene in the Cranford programme where they take so much time over eating an orange because then they were such an exotic treat


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