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  • Writer's pictureCarly Silverman

There's a New Way to Smell Like Flower

New perfume lines love a cannabis note. But can the rest of us embrace it, too?

 


Cannabis can smell earthy, woody, green, smoky, and sometimes a bit sour or damp — it can be herbal, and, at times, floral. It can be paired with bergamot, sage, cedar,  or covered up with body spray or Febreze. It’s been known to hang heavy in the air of suburban basements, head shops, and dive bars… or, more recently, on the wrists and necks of the chic and trendy.  


In the last five to ten years, there’s been a steady emergence of perfumes heavily featuring a cannabis note, elevating the scent to something in vogue in the fragrance world. Brands that are known for being hip and cool all seem to be producing a cannabis fragrance. There are, of course, the classics (Malin & Goetz’s Cannabis, Demeter’s Cannabis Flower), as well as the newer scents from both luxury brands and indie darlings — Dries Van Noten’s Voodoo Chile, Maison Margiela’s Music Festival, Thin Wild Mercury’s Laurel Canyon 1966,  Akro’s Haze, Boy Smells’ Cowboy Kush, and many others. This scent profile, while specific, is not so different from other herbal notes and accords — what these cannabis-centric perfumes really offer us is something undeniably transportive.


In 2012, Colorado became the first state in the country to legalize recreational cannabis. Historically, societal attitudes towards cannabis have been negative, with much of its criminalization and demonization in the US tied to racism and xenophobia. Cannabis was associated with the reckless, the lazy, and the underachieving at best — and the criminal and dangerous at worst. But, in the past 12 years, cannabis has undergone a rebrand.  


Since Colorado, 23 other states have legalized recreational usage, and the way we, as a culture, interact with cannabis has changed drastically — going from a subversive gateway drug to something more akin to a glass of wine. Despite the fact that people still sit in prison for cannabis-related crimes,  cities across the country have dispensaries on main drags; paraphernalia is made to be cutesy, stylish, and look like decor; and the smell, once thought of as dirty and something that needed to be hidden, is not just acceptable now, but fashionable.


When it comes to selling these cannabis scents, companies have to tell a story — and the stories tend to look similar. A smoky room with a record player and a guitar, dancing with your hands up at Coachella, silk scarves, flowy fabric, and golden afternoon sunlight. You’re relaxed, you’re carefree, you’re artistic, you’re Daisy Jones & The Six, you’re a part of what Jusbox’s fragrance copy for Green Bubble describes as: “...an earthly paradise, ruled by the original sin: Love. Mankind, folk culture and everyday slow living.” You’re free. These stories may be accompanied by hazy photos featuring beatnik iconography and the cannabis leaf, displayed tastefully, like any other herb or floral.  Perhaps there’s even a note saying this perfume was inspired by some beautiful cosmic event that took place in the ‘60s or the ‘90s. 


These fragrances often have other notes frequently associated with a hippie vibe, like patchouli, clary sage, mate, and wormwood, but are then brightened and sweetened with citrus, ginger, or vanilla, making them more… wearable. While the growing cannabis legalization and market have sanitized the reputation of the drug (it’s sold in storefronts next to Whole Foods), the story of its scent is still told as a bohemian one. We’ve bottled the sensation of youth, music, and counterculture, and can spray it without the fear of getting weird looks at the office. 


Concurrently,  as the availability of cannabis and the attitude towards it have shifted, so has the way we consume it. Vaping and edibles have increased in popularity due to their unobtrusive nature and for being friendlier to our lungs and the environment. Not only is the smell becoming less associated with burnouts, but the smell of real cannabis smoke is less prevalent in general — making the scent (and all its stylistic associations) something beyond simply trendy: it’s nostalgic.


As Don Draper once said, “Nostalgia — it's delicate but potent. It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.” The spiced, sometimes skunky smell of past joints wafts through the annals of my mind back to languid teenage evenings with friends, giggling girls watching stupid movies, and woody parks on summer nights. We romanticize the past until our personal memories become cultural memories. Our recollections blend with media and advertisements. I think of fragrances like Juliette Has A Gun’s Lipstick Fever, or Maison Margiela’s Lipstick On, which both seek to capture the iris/violet/rose-y, waxy scent of classic lipsticks. Most lipsticks don’t smell that way anymore. This vintage make-up smell is associated with an older generation, with glamour, with vanities and powder puffs. The smell conjures memories that are not my own, but rather what media, film, and fragrance have taught me to conjure. 


When selling fragrance, brands turn to storytelling via stunning visuals and evocative copy in an attempt to capture something intangible. Most consumers might not know the exact scent of every flower, but they know what a fresh spring day smells like, and perhaps more importantly, they know how it makes them feel. Fragrance, and the teams that sell it, can work within the landscape of our collective unconscious to trigger an emotional connection to a scent or even create one for the first time. Perfumes featuring cannabis notes are not telling the story of buying pre-rolled joints on your way home from work and decompressing. They’re utilizing modern attitudes on cannabis to embrace narratives from the past in a way that’s endearing, evocative, and romantic.


Perhaps one day the scent of cannabis that was ubiquitous in so many college dorms, street corners, and ex-boyfriend's cars will be rare, making it more enticing. It won’t be known as a smell to be diffused out of a dryer sheet, but rather the signature scent of some cool girl you know. Younger folks will not have memories of it, but will smell it in their perfume bottles and have flashes of things they never lived: Woodstock and free love, Dazed and Confused and rebellion — despite never knowing a world where cannabis was particularly rebellious. 


Is it inevitable to find the scents of a fading world alluring? Will new perfumes boast shoe polish accords? With the rise of electric vehicles, will trendy brands embrace the smell of gasoline (following the footsteps of Snif’s Dead Dinosaurs) and use ad copy about the sexiness of the open road? In our increasingly digital world, will we yearn for the scents of newspaper ink and glossy magazine paper (perhaps in the direction of Diptyque's Papier)


There is something deeply sentimental and fundamentally human about the urge to take the past, take our memories, take hold of the way things once were, and to bottle it — to want to wear our memories on our skin every day (even if it’s a sleek Madison Avenue version of those memories). To use fragrance to signal, however subtly, the way we’d like to be perceived, saying: — I may work a corporate job now, but I was a free spirit once. Can’t you smell the cannabis note? 🌀


 

Carly Silverman is a writer and producer who’s worked in television + digital media. Her passions are film, fragrance, literary fiction, animation, and the New Jersey music scene. You can catch her doing comedy with Young Douglas or here on X.



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