On a recent trip to Bard College to see sculptor and video artist Helen Marten’s solo show (it’s up until September 22; I highly recommend it), I confirmed my life-long suspicion that time travel is very real. Thumbing through Marten's catalogue on my way home, I discovered an essay by designer Kit Grover, who asserts, “Time travel does exist,” explaining that it’s something we all get to do, on a regular basis, via our noses. Grover talks about scent memory as the “olfactory miracle” that collapses “our perception of memory/space/time” and sends us packing down memory lane. Of course, this must be what perfumers have in mind when they name a cologne, say, 1996 or CDG Paris. They're banking on your immediate emotional connection to a time/place (in your life or an imagined one) when/where you felt especially alive, relaxed, happy, in love, etc. Which is exactly what happened the moment I first caught a whiff of CB I Hate Perfume’s At The Beach, 1966.
I have no personal experience with what the 1960s smelled like (Serge Gainsbourg’s pheromones?), but At The Beach’s mysterious combination of notes meant to evoke “Coppertone sunscreen,” “wet sand,” and “driftwood'—a mixture that’s more warm-skin-soaked-with-salt-water-and-zinc than mud-and-seaweed—had me mentally reliving my teenage years as a new California transplant. One spritz, in fact, and it was like I was running to the Pacific Ocean to check the waves, slathering my 16-year-old face with sunscreen. (It doesn’t hurt that it was around that time that I was first learning how to drive/be in love/surf.) It was my first taste of individuality and freedom—it’s probably the scent memory for which I'm most likely to get nostalgic.
In her Top Shelf, Inez van Lamsweerde explains such seminal moments like this: “…The time when [you are] a teenager and finding out who [you are]. I think that is what stays with you, for always, for everyone. It’s when you’re discovering your identity through music, fashion, or hair and makeup. That’s where, at least for me, a lot of inspiration comes from.” She couldn't be more right. Between the beach hair and the glowy bronzed makeup, everything about my current look, I'm realizing, is about channeling that teenage moment of empowerment.
So of course I want to smell like it, too. CB I Hate Perfume's At The Beach made that possible. And, naturally, it doesn’t feel like I’m 'wearing perfume,' because, for one, it smells like sunscreen, but also, it smells like me—me then. It has become, in Grover's words, “skin.” Anyone else have a seminal-moment scent?
Photos by Mathea Millman.