If you’ve ever wanted to smell like a 19th-century Russian countess, Rosamund Pike’s Gone Girl character, or even something as amorphous as the bridge of a Fleetwood Mac song, Rachel Syme has a scent for you. The New York-based journalist has the rare ability to commit smells to memory. And with her seasonal Twitter feature Perfume Genie, she uses this skill—plus her lifelong love of perfume—to introduce people to their new favorite scents. Her followers will share moods, memories, or photographs, and Syme responds with a specific fragrance. “It’s almost like word association,” she says. First, she’ll identify a place or a note. “Most things come to me and [I’m] like, I need a jasmine, I need a rose, this is definitely an incense scent.” The more specific the request, the better. “When someone’s like, ‘I want to feel happy and confident,’ I don’t know what to tell them,” she says. “But when somebody writes, ‘I want to smell like my grandmother’s beach shack with cotton candy in my hand and lobsters on the stove, and I smell like sunscreen and in the distance there’s a jasmine wind,’ I know exactly what this perfume is.” A few of BUST’s staffers put Syme’s skills to the test. Check out the results below.
Lisa: I want to smell like Winona Ryder in Reality Bites, just before she sleeps with Ethan Hawke (or just after).
“I recommend a classic ’90s scent, Issey Miyake, which relies on calone, an aquatic aromachemical that smells like crushed oyster shells or cold cantaloupe, depending on how it is used. Issey Miyake smells like the part of a cave behind a waterfall where you can do secret things—like kiss Ethan Hawke.”
Callie: I want to smell like defunding the police.
“For this, I would recommend Hi Wildflower’s Lover’s Rock, a sensual, bold scent of tobacco, black pepper, and rosewood. It smells strong and smoky, sweaty and intimate; the way you feel after a glorious day of marching in the streets and feeling one with a cause larger than yourself.”
Emily: I want a scent for someone who feels like Tracy from Hairspray but aspires to be Oprah. A plus-size cult queen ready to live her best life.
“Heeley’s Bubblegum Chic is a perfume that smells at once like blowing gum bubbles in the back of a classroom but also features sophisticated jasmine sambac as a top note. It is bursting with strawberries and musk and makes you feel like you can do the twist.”
Lydia: I want to smell like the extremely cute girl at any given coffee shop who wears a ton of layers and bold lipstick and looks very focused on her work but still always smiles and helps you if you can’t connect to the Wi-Fi.
“I would recommend wearing Atelier Cologne’s Café Tuberosa, a fragrance that has undertones of rich coffee grounds but also a walloping, heady gloss of steamy tuberose on top, so that you smell like you’ve been making lattes all day and walking through a hothouse by night.”
Meredith: I want the freshness of an early summer morning plus the freedom of going fast with wind in your hair and the confidence of someone who could do their own stunts. Like Cate Blanchett driving a speedboat.
“As a person who is also always seeking ‘Blanchett on a boat’ vibes, I’ve given this one much thought—I think neroli, or orange blossom, is the key note here. Profumum Roma’s Neroli is deceptively simple, but it opens up an entire world: warm breezes, hot sand, fluttering white curtains, a balcony overlooking a sea view.”
By Lydia Wang
Illustrated by Joelle Avelino
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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Lydia Wang is a writer, a Pisces, and one of BUST's digital editors. Find her on Twitter or say hi: email@example.com.