(Scent Stories)

Iman On What Falling In Love Smells Like

“To me, love smells like Italy.”

Every scent evokes an emotion. In Scent Stories, TZR asks tastemakers, celebrities, and industry insiders to share the stories behind the smells of their past and present.

Iman describes falling in love like she’s reciting poetry. “Those are heady days, the beginning of love, when everything is heightened,” she recalls, her husky baritone voice crackling across the static of the phone. The Somali-American model, entrepreneur, and humanitarian sounds a tinge wistful as she recounts the Great Love she experienced with late husband, music icon David Bowie, who passed away from liver cancer five years ago. Their love story has been the subject of public fascination for decades — two resplendent beings, equally as radiant, doubly as dazzling in their union. Her newest venture is in honor of him: an amber-wrapped fragrance, aptly named Love Memoir.

“With this scent, I wanted to create a tribute to the memories and special moments I had with my husband for over three decades,” she says. “It smells like the memories we’ve had...it smells like both of us.”

Iman, now 66, has been a trailblazer in the fashion industry and beyond for decades — rising to fame as a model in the late ‘70s, starting her own cosmetics line Iman Cosmetics in 1994, and, more recently, fighting global poverty as CARE’s Global Advocate. But Love Memoir is a different kind of offering — something deeply personal that required her to transport herself years back to access the scent memories of a different time, from falling in love in the Amalfi Coast to honeymooning in Bali. The result is a heady mix of notes that represent both herself and David (floral and fruity for Iman; vetiver greens for David) — an amber potion that she describes as an amalgamation of her emotional process over the past years; of joy, grief, comfort, and healing.

Ahead, get to know Iman Abdulmajid through the scent stories of her life.

The scent of family:

In my childhood country, they would get wood chips to burn as incense — we called it oud. I remember my mom, when I was around the age of 10, would wash our hair, and then as the hair is wet, she'd put a towel on top and then burn this incense and bring it inside the towel — so all the smoke of the oud goes into your wet hair. And you would let your hair dry naturally, so then the whole week you smell like oud. Literally, you walk into a room and you leave a little scent behind. I loved that. Oud is ever-present. Whenever I smell incense now, it brings back the memory of my mom, who passed away.

The scent of love:

I really wanted [notes in my Love Memoir fragrance] that are concentrated in Italy, because the first trip [David and I] took together was to the Amalfi coast, and then we got married in Florence. Florence was a big place for both of us — we loved everything about it. So the scent has bergamot, blackcurrant, and rose from that area. But he loved vetiver, so there’s vetiver in there, too. It's our memories and him, all in a bottle.

The scent of her wedding:

David and I, we both really loved to travel, so traveling brings back so many memories for me.

To me, love smells like Italy. For our wedding, we had this villa in Florence we rented where friends and family stayed together — it was a small wedding, only about 75 people. Everything about Italy feels to me like a hug — Italians know how to love, but they definitely know how to hug. And the way they cooked for us, it was just incredible.

And then we went to Bali for our honeymoon, and spent a month and a half there. What we loved about Bali was the people. They're the sweetest, sweetest people. They also have their daily rituals every morning and night — lighting the incense, and the smell of incense mixed with the frangipani... it’s just lovely.

The scent of grief:

This past year has been very difficult, but also joyful. My husband passed away five years ago, which is when I started wearing his fragrance, Tom Ford Noir Extreme. I've been wearing only that fragrance for the past five years. Before that, I wore [Robert Piguet] Fracas in my twenties for 10 years. I only wore Fracas. I'm one of those girls; I'm very loyal to fragrances, so when something hits my sweet spot, I stay with it for years and years.

I thought that I processed my grief [over the past five years], but actually I had a teenager who had lost her father, so I realized I was helping her and forgot about my own grief. So this past year, at the beginning of 2020, I went to my house upstate, which is a house that David and I built together, with magical sunsets and mountain views — beautiful, magical sunsets. There are white birches all around the property. And I have this beautiful 11th century Mediterranean urn. So at a certain level, when I looked at that urn and the landscape with all these mountains and sunsets, it transported me immediately back to Italy.

But I was supposed to be there for a weekend, and then the whole world shut down. So I was at the house by myself. And all of a sudden, grief hit me heavy and hard. And I realized it was because every corner of the house and everything in it reminded me of my husband. And then on top of it, I was wearing his fragrance. So every room I went into, his scent was there. I went through my grief and processed it and came out of it, with the help of that land and the landscape. Once you just cried it out and just settled in, it was soothing.

The scent of healing:

Somehow, we had the most incredible fall last year. The colors were...you cannot describe. The locals said it hasn't looked like that for 50 years, that kind of color. And they attributed that to the fact that there were less planes flying. There were a lot of critters, bunnies and frogs and others that were out more. The woods also smelled amazing. There are mixtures of smells, from the evergreens and ferns to the lavender we have on the property, so when you go out, you get a whiff of all those scents mixed together.

While I was walking around on my property, I started collecting stones and stacking them. I always loved the idea of stacking stones. It’s a very deliberate act, it's soothing, and feels comforting. It’s also very, very calming — you have to find the right stones to go on top of each other, then you have to balance them slowly on top of each other. So, you are ever present in that; you're nowhere else. And so I Googled, why am I gravitating towards stones every day? What is about stacking stones? And then I found out this ritual is called cairn, and it actually exists in all cultures.

One of the oldest ways it was used was for memorial sites, when somebody passes away. And then as people became more adventurous and started going to countries and places that they've never been, they would leave stacked stones behind in their hikes, so the person behind them would know that they're not lost — that they're on the right track. Other cultures think of it as a sign for infinity, because you can put the three stones together, or you can put twenty on top of each other — it's infinite. I loved that. So, the bottle design for Love Memoir came from that. It's like a stacked stone, and the amber-tinted glass evokes the sunset. And there's a gold hammer top that represents African jewelry, because African jewelry is made of hammered gold.

My husband was a painter and my daughter is a painter, and I have never painted in my life, but I've been witnessing these sunsets every day. So I took it upon myself to do watercolors of the sunset — the carton that houses the bottle actually features one of the watercolors that I did at the property.