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Mary-louise Parker and her daugh­ter make mem­o­ries (and per­fume) in Paris

Ilove per­fume—the idea of it, the pack­ag­ing of it, the sight of it on a dresser. I love how mys­te­ri­ous it can be. “Very in­ter­est­ing,” mur­murs Olivier Royère, the co-founder of Ex Ni­hilo, a per­fume house in Paris. He is watch­ing my 12-year-old daugh­ter, Aberash, choose a scent from one of the crys­tal fla­cons he has of­fered her. An ap­point­ment with Olivier, com­plete with the cus­tomiza­tion of your own fra­grance, feels like meet­ing with Willy Wonka to de­sign your own choco­late bar. We’ve come to this glim­mer­ing jewel of a shop on rue Saint-hon­oré for a spe­cial fra­grance ses­sion. It’s a ter­ri­bly fancy af­fair, so we made sure to wear our trench­coats.

Olivier in­vites us to the cor­ner of the bou­tique where eight snow-white domes await. They are the vases de sen­teurs from which you se­lect your base scents with­out be­ing plagued by what Olivier de­scribes as “nasal fa­tigue.” I con­sider telling him that I have two chil­dren and a dog and my nose might be more ro­bust than oth­ers’, but Olivier is so chic and im­pec­ca­bly well-man­nered that I find my­self nod­ding in agree­ment to ev­ery­thing he says, whether I un­der­stand it or not. The domes are un­marked so we can’t be in­flu­enced by the names of the scents in­side them. We’re in­structed to “lean in and pro­ceed with deep sniff­ing … but not too deep.”

Af­ter Aberash and I sniff all eight domes, prob­a­bly more times than nec­es­sary, Olivier and his equally chic store man­ager, Stephanie, bring us to an­other smelling sta­tion. They present a bot­tle of some­thing heady and sweet and oddly fa­mil­iar. “That one was de­signed around a mem­ory,” he says. “Me, as a young boy, run­ning through the woods in Swe­den with my mother’s cash­mere scarf around my face.” I pic­ture a tiny Olivier trip­ping over a fallen log in the Tive­den Na­tional Park but re­sist the urge to ask him about it.

The sec­ond phase of the process in­volves blend­ing our se­lec­tions in the Os­mo­logue, a golden ma­chine with a glass front. We watch as my daugh­ter’s base and ad­di­tional notes are fun­neled to­gether in the de­vice, whirling around a brass wheel be­fore be­ing dis­pensed into a crys­tal flask. It’s mes­mer­iz­ing, and we feel com­pletely at home at our cus­tom­fra­grance ren­dezvous, but all the sniff­ing has made us a lit­tle tired. Once on the street with our gor­geously wrapped boxes, we de­cide to hunt down ap­ple tart and mac­arons, which, this be­ing Paris, takes all of about 17 se­conds.

Some weeks later I find Aberash’s fra­grance on her dresser at home in Brook­lyn. It brings back all the mem­o­ries of our sweet-smelling jour­ney and of wan­der­ing into the Paris af­ter­noon in search of pas­tries and post­cards. I won­der if she will open the bot­tle one day and re­mem­ber our trip as fondly as I do. The ol­fac­tory sense is so deeply con­nected to mem­ory that once I even fol­lowed a woman down the street be­cause she was wear­ing my mother’s per­fume (Shal­i­mar, a fa­vorite of hers for over seven decades).

I won­der which days will con­nect to which scents for my daugh­ter. Some­day far in the fu­ture I imag­ine her of­fer­ing her neck up to a spe­cial some­one. She’ll un­der­stand the value of smelling de­light­ful but will have in­ter­nal­ized the greater cur­rency of it be­ing about what pleases her—and any­one else can ( po­litely) take it or leave it. n

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