That Sun-Cream Smell: Why Scent Souvenirs are Worth a Million Photos

That Sun-Cream Smell: Why Scent Souvenirs are Worth a Million Photos

We ask home-fragrance pioneers, Earl of East, how to go about kindling destinations through scent and why a single sucker-punch of a candle is scientifically proven to be more evocative than a million photos on your camera roll.

have apps that saturate sun-baked shores and enhance shadowy
glades in Scandinavian forests; filters that supposedly transport
us to Tokyo, Lagos, Paris and Jakarta; as well as countless tit-tat
lenses that can be snapped on at a moment’s notice. In our
hyper-visual world, we think nothing of plumping our camera rolls
with minute-by-minute, throwaway snaps, but a library of scents?

As travellers, we often talk about “following your nose”, but
what does it really mean? It means more than ducking into a
tasty-smelling trattoria or lusting over a seductively scented
stranger. To follow your nose is to follow your gut; to prioritise
instinct over rationality.

“There’s real science behind it,” says Niko Dafkos, one half of
the duo behind the Hackney-based shop, Earl of East. He
and his partner, Paul Firmin, have been evoking far-off
destinations through meticulously mixed scent profiles since the
early teenies. They launched their shop In 2014 and the rest is

Niko and Paul outside their shop in Hackney |
Photos by Earl of East

“Generally, people underestimate the power of smell, but
whenever you remind people of the scent of sunscreen,” says Niko,
clicking his fingers, “they get it immediately.” Why is it that a
passing sniff of that peachy, chemical smell packs a sucker-punch
like no photograph of an iconic Garnier Ambre Solaire bottle
possibly could?

It’s all to do with the brain’s limbic system, a network of
structures responsible for processing smell, memory and emotion.
It’s this interrelationship that makes smell such a powerful
proponent of mood, and part of the reason why aromatherapy is often
so effective in alleviating anxiety and depression.

For Earl of East, tapping into foggy memories of trips past is
an integral part of the scent-making process. “People think of us
walking the streets of Lisbon, foraging here and there, but we
don’t do that.” For them, a holiday is just that. “We’ve never
travelled based on sightseeing. We’ve always tried to find out
where the locals go for breakfast, where the locals go to the beach
– we always try to pretend we’re living in the place we’re
visiting.” It’s only once they’re back on home shores that the
head-scratching ensues.

“We call it the ‘blind smell test’,” says Niko. “You have the
creative brief in front of you and you smell pre-selected but
seemingly random scents and see what triggers similar emotional
experiences to those that you’ve written down on your piece of
paper. You’re matching it without trying to overcomplicate it or to
be clever about it.”

We’ve never travelled based on sightseeing… We always try to pretend we’re living in the place we’re visiting

Niko Dafkos, Earl of East

Before photography became fully digitalised, it was an indexical
medium. The shutter retracted, light hit the lens and whatever
poor, usually unsmiling subject was sat before it was captured for
posterity – completely unedited.

Paul and Niko are scent sleuths for the digital age. In their
eyes, perfume isn’t about throwing in all of the rinds and herbs
visible or associated with a destination; that’s too clichéd. It’s
about presenting each place through an Earl-of-East filter, one
that considers atmosphere, flavours and impressions as valuable
parts of the equation.

Its Greenhouse scent, inspired by the summers Niko
begrudgingly spent at his grandmother’s house not far from Serres
in northern Greece, is a prime example of the approach. “As a kid
from a Geman city, I didn’t enjoy it. I’m here with my grandma who
I rarely see, and yet we’re supposed to be bezzies?” he jibes.

Northern Greece, the inspiration behind Earl of East’s
Greenhouse scent
| Photos by Niko Dafkos

The resultant candle – a tomatoey, herbaceous fragrance sharply
undercut by lemon – doesn’t conjure misery and teen spirit (in the
bad sense, we mean), but muggy summer evenings spent nibbling on
garden-fresh veg to the thrum of cicadas.

While it’s easy to travel via your stomach, by rustling up
that remarkable meal you once ate in
such-and-such a place, making a scent souvenir feels a tad out of
reach to the common traveller. How can complete amateurs start
their scent journey from home?

First, you need to reflect, says Niko. “Sit down and think about
that day or that moment or that dish.” Then it’s about doing your
research around essential oils. “Experiment with blending
fragrances together – look into how essential oils work and which
mixtures give you the best results.” Pouring a candle is the last
step. You’ll need soy wax, a glass jar, a whisk, a jug, a wick and
a peg, though we’d suggest recruiting Paul and Niko to help with this bit.

A good scent is an intercession to different times and places;
it’s personal; it’s part of our living, breathing reality and it
doesn’t lend itself well to being brandished on Instagram. Short on
candles? Stuck for room sprays? The next time you’re feeling the
call of the open road or you’re simply craving a boost of
serotonin, reach for that crusty-topped bottle of sun cream. We
won’t tell if you don’t, promise.

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