Neuroscientists are still exploring the mechanisms that explain why scent is so powerfully linked to our memories, but we all recognize this link in our own lives.
Whether we associate autumn with picking apples, the smell of the forest on a sunny day, or the beautiful, smoky scent of burning leaves, these fragrances can prompt us to recall precious memories with our friends and families.
The Best Fall Candles & Perfumes: Celebrating Autumn With Warm Memories
I love celebrating the beginning of a new season by switching out the candles in my house and the perfumes I wear. Here are a few of my favorites, categorized by happy memory…
Scent Vibe #1: Baking With Apples, Spice & All That’s Nice
One of my favorite places in the world is Wilson’s Apple Orchard outside of my hometown in Iowa. My family used to pick apples at Wilson’s every fall. I love wandering around the orchard, the fermented sweetness of fallen apples perfuming the air. The scent of hay on the tractor you can hop on and ride around the orchard when you get tired of walking. The cool, spiced sweetness of fresh apple cider you can buy in the barn on your way home as you weighed your overflowing baskets of fresh apples.
The best part, though? Mom’s apple crisp. The melt-in-your-mouth combination of oats, brown sugar and butter over the juicy apples is almost impossible to beat.
But translating those beautiful apple scents into fragrance is a challenging task. Although I doused myself in Bath & Body Works Country Apple body mist during much of the ‘90s, I now prefer a subtler apple-inspired scent. Kilian’s Angels Share is my current favorite apple scent. It’s more apple pie than apple the fruit with its notes of cognac, cinnamon and tonka bean. The bottom notes of the fragrance include sandalwood and praline for a substantial and delicious finish on the skin.
If you love apple cider more than you love apple pie, then the Thymes Simmered Cider candle is going to be your jam this fall. This candle pairs cardamom with apple and bourbon to conjure up memories of cupping big mugs of hot cider on a cold night, huddled around a bonfire. I love this candle because it pairs apples with cardamom, which is a little bit more unusual than pairing apples with cinnamon.
Scent Vibe #2: Wandering Sun-Warmed Woods On A Mid-October Afternoon
I love the forest in every season. However, there is something truly special about the autumn light that hits jewel-tone leaves at just the right angle, the tradition of leaf peeping, and the scent of sun-warmed woods. Here in Colorado, there is nothing quite like the precious weeks in the fall when the aspen trees turn color, and nature seems to celebrate another successful turn of the wheel by laying a crown of golden glory over the landscape.
Woody scents are also my favorite category of scent. However, I associate many of these woody scents with wintertime and winter holidays (birch, pine, balsam fir, etc.). Enter: sandalwood. Sandalwood has a creaminess to it and, thus, in my mind, a warmth. Sandalwood blooms when it’s warm, whether on the skin or melted in wax.
Diptyque’s Tam Dao is my absolute favorite sandalwood perfume. The fragrance’s listed notes are relatively simple: sandalwood, cedar, cypress and myrtle. To me, it smells like opening a wooden keepsake chest that’s been sitting in a pool of sunshine all afternoon and drawing out a family quilt to wrap yourself in that carries the scent of the wood. Otherland’s Rattan candle is a beautiful complement to Tam Dao. Muskier and with a layer of amber underneath, this candle conjures up the same visions of late-afternoon sunshine.
Scent Vibe #3: Drinking A Cup Of Piping-Hot Black Tea On A Rainy Day
As much as I love being outside, I also relish rainy days. As a book lover, a rainy day is a wonderful excuse to retreat inside with a novel, snack and cup of hot black tea. Black tea isn’t the most common note in scents, but I love it. Gris Charnel by BDK Parfums is an exceptionally beautiful perfume that pairs black tea with cardamom, iris, sandalwood and tonka bean to create a romantic and unexpected blend. To me, this perfume smells like a steaming cup of Earl Grey tea paired with a cardamom shortbread cookie.
I also love Thé Fantome candle by Boy Smells. This is a much smokier expression of black tea — more inspired by smoky lapsang souchong or Russian caravan tea than the brighter, citrus-infused scent of Earl Grey. This candle is typical of the complex blends Boy Smells loves to create. This blend includes palo santo, eucalyptus, gardenia, cashmeran and papyrus. Light it up, brew a cup of tea, and find a window seat where you can watch the rain fall.
Scent Vibe #4: Picking Pumpkins At The Local Patch
Is there a more powerful symbol of fall than the pumpkin? I’m not actually sure if fall begins the day Starbucks releases its pumpkin-spice latte or on the fall equinox at this point. The hype around pumpkin spice is real!
But my fragrance in the pumpkin category is more pumpkin puree than pumpkin spice. Like This by Etat Libre d’Orange is a perfume created in partnership with actress and model Tilda Swinton. Like Swinton often does in her art, the fragrance offers us something unexpected: pumpkin balanced with ginger, immortelle flower and a squeeze of bright tangerine.
When I first tried this scent on my skin, I was so pleasantly surprised. To me, it’s a skin scent, meaning that it doesn’t have an overpowering throw and develops with the warmth of your skin over time. But many skin scents are a relatively straightforward blend of musk, perhaps with a soapy touch or a layer of vanilla. This perfume is something entirely different. Apparently, Tilda Swinton wanted the fragrance to remind her of a warm afternoon on a Scottish hillside, and perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui nailed that request with this unique perfume.
If pure pumpkin doesn’t do it for you and it’s pumpkin spice you desire, it’s pumpkin spice you shall have with NEST New York’s Pumpkin Chai candle. To be honest, I love the concept but not the execution of most pumpkin-spice products. I like pumpkin, and I love pumpkin-pie spices, but I find a lot of these products are too heavy on the spice for my stomach and nose. NEST’s candle, however, manages to scent my home with its excellent throw yet not overpower me. The notes of this candle are simple: pumpkin, chai spices and cinnamon. No surprises here — just pumpkin spice, pure and simple.
Scent Vibe #5: Sitting By A Crackling, Smoky Fireplace
As a hoarder of books and a lover of Halloween, the couch next to my fireplace is one of my favorite spaces in my home, especially in fall. I love to break out my whodunit novels and paranormal narratives, reading fireside for as long as I can get away with. Maison Margiela’s REPLICA by the Fireplace fragrance is a gourmand interpretation of sitting by the fireplace. This is a “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” type scent, and those chestnuts have been rolled in vanilla bean and clove spice. By the Fireplace is one of my most-worn fall scents, and if you haven’t given it a sniff, I don’t think you’ll regret sampling this perfume.
The Woodsmoke candle by Brooklyn Candle Studio offers us a totally different interpretation of sitting by a fireplace. This candle conjures up pictures of leather-bound books, smoking jackets and green library lamps for me. The notes are cedar, smoke, labdanum, incense and leather — each note contributing to the blend that reminds me of a gentleman’s den. I can think of no better place to camp out with a book during the lengthening nights of autumn. (Nordstrom carries these candles — just not in Woodsmoke.)
Each of these memories is precious to me, and I love to use scent to recall happy memories from years past and open the door to new variations of seasonal traditions in the coming months. I hope these scents trigger the recall of a core memory or two of your own, and if not, perhaps this is the year to start a new tradition.
Happy fall, friends.
Pinners! You’ll love this!