We’ve all been transported back in time by scent. Whether it’s a spritz of perfume that takes you to teenage days, the fragrance of freesia reminding you of a favourite holiday or a whiff of an ex-lover’s cologne on the tube, our sense of smell has the power to trigger emotional memories and unlock defining moments. With this in mind, we asked Brit model Poppy Okotcha to take us on a journey through her life in scent…
Modelling is a cacophony of scents: I started modelling at eighteen and I’ll never forget the smell of my first portfolio. I didn’t have any direction in my life then suddenly, a host of unexpected opportunities appeared. It was a liberating new chapter.
My first fashion week smelt of a blend of hairspray, nail varnish and burning tongs – I can still smell it now. Being backstage as a model is an exhilarating yet exhausting experience and the smells are always overpowering.
Success smells like a great curry: Forget walking in a show; my greatest achievement is making a delicious meal. My father is Nigerian and my mum lived in Italy so I’ve been influenced by a rich mix of cuisines and love cooking Indian and Thai dishes. With such a concoction of ingredients, I never taste the food while I’m cooking; I just use the smells to guide me.
My boat smells like campfires: I live on a canal boat with my boyfriend [designer-and-architect Toby Burgess] in Ladbroke Grove. We heat up the boat with a log burner, which fills the space with the smell of an open fire. It means home to me.
My first smell memory is boiled chicken feet: I lived in South Africa for six years until I was twelve years old and it was an incredible experience. A local lady from Johannesburg stayed with us and would sit on the porch, chew on chicken feet then spit out the nails. It sounds gross, but it’s such a positive memory for me. She was like a grandmother and I was fascinated by African culture after moving there from England. It’s a smell I’ll never forget.
Peace smells like frankincense: My dad would burn frankincense in our house and mum uses a lavender diffuser so I always turn to those scents to relax. Smell has such an incredible link with emotions so if I get nervous when travelling, I’ll roll essential oils onto my pressure points to distract me and bring me that calm.
The scent of love is earthy: To me, love isn’t soft and innocent like the smell of lilacs. It’s more tactile and human, like an old jumper. There’s a real heaviness and depth to the scent of love. I want to wrap myself in it.
There’s nothing better than the smell of books: It’s so thrilling to buy old books from a charity shop, especially when you find notes inside them from the original owner. One time, I found a newspaper clipping from years ago and it just added to the joy of the story. And that’s why I could never use a Kindle!
The scent of happiness is blooming florals: Happiness for me is a bright fuchsia plant with a vivid scent. The smell of jasmine lifts my mood too – it’s rich yet fresh and invigorating – and I choose perfumes with musky, amber and vanilla scents. I worked at a florist for a while so learnt the smells of different flowers. Ironically, I can’t stand the smell of poppies, but tuberose is my forever favourite.
Source: My Life In Scent: Poppy Okotcha