Life in Scents


I have been meaning to post about this for a while, given we’re now on edition three and all of the podcast. Oh dear.

So to begin.

One of the most delightful aspects of Scratch+Sniff comes when guests are provoked by some fragrance or other to start sharing memories from their lives; anything from an aftershave that smells very similar to a brand of hairgel worn in the 80s when a guy was at the height of his misspent youth and remembered the chippie he’d habituate after a night on the pull, through to a perfume that is associated with first love, first interview, first job, first anything in fact.

So many of these anecdotes began to surface, that I started to think: ‘You know what? It would be lovely to interview people specifically about their smell memories, kind-of-like Desert Island Disks.’  I’d started having these sorts of conversations in daily life, which is especially excellent when getting a haircut. We now no longer need to talk about holiday plans but can witter on about our favourite Impulse body sprays when at school (for the record, it was the now obsolete o2)

As this idea was being mulling over in my mind, I received an email from a radio producer, Jo Barratt, who had come to the very first Scratch+Sniff event in February 2010. That night, the inimitable James Craven, fragrance archivist at Les Senteurs, had been the guest speaker. Jo thought James was (rightly) fab, and so conducted an interview with him about his memories, which inevitably involved plenty of smells. Jo wrote:

“Thought you might be interested in this Radio Feature I recently made about James. As I’m sure you can imagine I had well over an hour of material, such a shame it had to be cut down to 10 mins. I first became aware of James at the first Scratch and Sniff event, so thanks for that. If you enjoy this please pass it on. It was not made for broadcast so would like it to have as big an audience as possible. Scratch and Sniff Podcast? Do seriously let me know if this idea means anything at all to you because I think it could be really quite exciting.”

A few days later, having met up in London, Jo and I already had our podcast plan sorted. It seemed a bit too simple to be true. We’d go out and interview a different guest every month, preferably people who have achieved a degree of success (or notoriety), who work outside of the fragrance industry and who have one of those niggling interests in smell.  We would talk about their lives but through the lens of scent, edit it into a 20 minute show, and bobs your uncle’s cologne. The beauty of this format is that nearly everyone loves discussing scent memories, even or especially those who don’t like talking about themselves in the traditional sense.

We started by interviewing broadcaster, performer and the infamous alternative culture icon Amy Lamé , a regular Scratch+Sniffer, who shared some beautiful memories about growing up in New Jersey and how she associates her father’s work smell – that of the sewage plant – with positive things: parental love, family, him supporting her financially through college. And we learned how the perfume Anais Anais, every teenager’s aspiring favourite in the 80s, was associated with her first crush on a girl, and in understanding her sexuality.

Next we met the prolific poet, novelist and non-fiction writer Lavinia Greenlaw, who in 2008 had published The Importance of Music for Girls, a memoir of growing up told through the music that was important to her. We wondered whether Lavinia might bring the same creative approach if we asked her about scent. And yes she did, from sharing the smell of punk and jumble sales to becoming a mother, and the odours she feels we are losing as digital technology replaces the analogue: typewriter ink, the photographic dark room, the writer’s pen.

Image from •Nom and Malc via Creative Commons License.

Edition One of Life in Scents went live on itunes this August. So far we’ve published three episodes together with Jo’s original piece on James. Jo and I were staggered when the podcast was chosen as an itunes pick (alongside bloomin’ In Our Time!), upon which I squealed. Loudly. Like a large mouse.

Ever since then we’ve been getting thousands of downloads. We’re very excited for the future of this podcast as it does seem to be reacing out to the many people who are intrigued by scent as story. There does seem to be a synergistic relationship between radio and scent. They seem to belong together somehow.

Now we’re on a roll, Jo and I are interviewing lots more people over the months ahead. Do listen to an episode or two (especially good during a lazy bath): we’d love to hear what you think.

Here’s the link to itunes, which includes the original piece with James Craven, or visit our tumblr to listen live and explore extra content.  Happy listening, sniffing, and remembering.

Copyright Odette Toilette © 2016