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Out of all the thousands of cities in the world, New York would probably be ranked in somewhere in the bottom half of "places you would prefer to smell like." Sure, we've got wonderfully aromatic cheese shops and more artisanal doughnuts than anywhere else on the planet, but the majority of identifiable odors one smells on a typical stroll through the city generally goes like this: garbage, garbage, urine that's hopefully not human but probably is, Subway sandwiches, Halal truck, Halal truck garbage, regular garbage, one glorious second of passing by a bakery, followed by more garbage, and dog shit.
Which is why it's curious that so many perfumers have invented olfactory odes to New York City. Along with Bond No. 9, the locally based fragrance house which has released dozens of scents inspired by different NYC neighborhoods, a slew of other perfume and candle brands have come up with their own. With inspirations as abstract as Central Park, the corner of McKibbin and Bogart Streets in Bushwick, or the entire borough of Queens, we set out to put the scents to the ultimate test: What do they actually smell like?
St. Marks + First 83
What it's supposed to smell like: The intersection of St. Marks Place and First Avenue in the East Village.What's in it: A blend of peach, strawberry, cherry, redwood, incense, suede leather, and pear liquor.Official description: The scent is inspired by "metallic, trash & vaudeville, incense, sweat, concrete, booze, and vintage clothing stores."What it actually smells like: "Vintage clothing store" is definitely there. Also cardboard, which feels fitting.Best for: Reminiscing on how much cooler the East Village was in the '80s.Where to Buy It: $81, Oak
McKibben + Bogart 03
What it's supposed to smell like: The intersection of McKibbin and Bogart Streets in Bushwick. (It's unclear if the misspelling in the candle's name is intentional, but we'll assume that sure, it totally is!)What's in it: "Terpenic notes of drying oil paint on canvases blended with incense, dry cedarwood chips, and dark guaiac wood oil." Official description: It's supposed to smell not like current, condo-fied Bushwick, but the Bush-era Bushwick of the early 2000's. According to Oak, this translates to "wood, oil, paint thinner, incense, booze, dust, ICR vs. Deth Killers of Bushwick, and artist lofts." Sounds about right.What it actually smells like: If the East Village candle smells vaguely like fresh cardboard, then the Bushwick candle smells like the wood that that cardboard came from. Best for: Reminiscing on how much cooler Bushwick was in [insert whatever year you moved here]. Where to Buy It: $81, Oak
What it's supposed to smell like: Central Park.What's in it: Top notes: blood orange, salt meadow grass, and hyacinth leaves. Heart notes: honeyed jasmine, camellia, and jonquille. Dry down: treaty oak, white cedar, and wild musk.
Official description: "Named for the odorless and pseudo-poisonous Foxglove plant that used to cover 19th-century New York City and continues to bloom at Central Park's Conservancy Garden, the perfume imagines its scent as a lingering 'floral green' homage to The City."
What it actually smells like: Imagine you're running through a field—not just any field, but like, a really fancy field, filled with meticulously placed jasmine and fruit-sprouting trees. And then you decide to roll around in that field. This is what you'd smell like right afterwards.
Best for: Rolling around in fields, of course—though in the spirit of the fragrance, we'd recommend Central Park's own Strawberry Fields.Where to Buy It: $30, Joya Studio
BOND NO. 9'S NUITS DE NOHO
What it's supposed to smell like: The neighborhood of Noho, specifically at night.
What's in it: Top notes: bergamot, mandarine, and pineapple leaves. Heart notes: jasmine and rosewood. Base notes: creamy vanilla, sheer patchouli, and grey musk.
Official description: "When darkness falls, Noho lights up ... And in this enclave where energetic insomnia is a way of life, a couple of Noho institutions stay open for business all night: Tower Records, spread among three warehouse-sized buildings, and Crunch, the fitness club, where gymnasts, acrobats, and jugglers come to train at 3am. It's a theatre. It's a scene."
What it actually smells like: Ever so slightly masculine—a little musky, with a vanilla aftertaste.
Best for: 3am whiskey shots downstairs at Acme.
Where to Buy It: $200, Bond No. 9
BOND NO. 9's Park avenue south
What it's supposed to smell like: Park Avenue South.
What's in it: Top notes: green apple and flowers. Heart notes: peach and jasmine. Base notes: musk and dry amber.
Official description: "In recent decades, a forgotten stretch between midtown and the start of downtown, this expansive boulevard is today a frenzied real estate scene, an enclave of creative businesses, happening big box restaurants, chic hotels, and converted condos occupied by hip young careerists ... In other words, on-the-go Park Avenue South—neither as traditionally elegant as the Upper East Side nor as relentlessly hipster-driven as Williamsburg—is an updated slice of quintessential, career-driven New York."
What it actually smells like: DKNY's Be Delicious—"like a tart, complex version of that early aughts apple."
Best for: Those who are prepared for a step up from their go-to 90's fragrance.Where to Buy It: $200, Bond No. 9
Bond no. 9's queens
What it's supposed to smell like: The borough of Queens.What's in it: Top notes: bergamot, cardamom, blackberry. Heart notes: tuberose, champaca flower, osmanthus. Base notes: sandalwood, benzoin resin, musk, and amber.Official description: "Like the borough of Queens, the scent is appropriately inclusive—wearable by males and females, kings and queens, the edgy, the flamboyant, and the buttoned-up, too."What it actually smells like: Straight-up bergamot. Which is nice!Best for: Passionately defending your decision to live in Astoria to a group of smug Brooklynites.Where to Buy It: $200, Bond No. 9
What it's supposed to smell like: The neighborhood of Park Slope.What's in it: Lavender, rose, jasmine and gardenia.Official description: Brooklyn Flavors founder Sophia Sylvester says, "I blended these oils together because the residents are into natural and healthy products. I also thought about Prospect Park which is not far away."What it actually smells like: A pleasant body wash or hand soap that you'd probably find in the bathroom of a posh Park Slope brownstone. Alternate name that maybe should have been considered: Park Soap.Best for: Daydreaming about a glamorous future in which you're a member of the Park Slope Food Co-op, your two beautiful children attend P.S. 321, and your closet is full of shapeless Lauren Moffatt tunics.Where to Buy It: $8, Brooklyn Flavors
What it's supposed to smell like: The neighborhood of Bed-Stuy.
What's in it: Sandalwood, jasmine, cedarwood, and patchouli.
Official description: "I came up with the blend because decades ago a large African American population left Harlem and resided in Bed-Stuy and the surrounding neighborhoods. These trees can be found in north and south Africa."
What it actually smells like: Of all the scents in this list, this one might smell the most like its corresponding neighborhood. You know those earthy, musky candle and incense sellers on the sidewalks of Broadway? It's a bit like that.
Best for: Wanting to smell incense without accidentally setting off the fire alarm.Where to Buy It: $8, Brooklyn Flavors
What it's supposed to smell like: The neighborhood of Crown Heights.
What's in it: Mint leaves and patchouli.
Official description: "I blended those oils together because of the large Jewish and African American and Caribbean American population. The mint leaves was used in Jewish rituals for scenting the synagogue for sanitizing purposes. The Caribbean community use mint for healing purposes."
What it actually smells like: If spearmint toothpaste grew out of a particularly mossy enhanted garden, this is what it would smell like.
Best for: Wondering why more candles don't smell like mint.Where to Buy It: $8, Brooklyn Flavors