Scent Survey: Lacey Pipkin

Writer, translator and amateur gardener.

Only a rare few have heard the introductory chords to Jack White’s Seven Nation Army live as many times as Mexico City-based creative, Lacey Pipkin. Having coordinated Kanye West’s performances at Coachella, SXSW, and Lollapolooza Chile in 2011, she kept Jack White and crew on track for the 2012 world tour for his debut solo album, Blunderbuss. These days, however, Lacey stays home, working on freelance editorial and translation projects as well as her own writing work. She keeps a garden at her house in Coyoacan, Mexico City, filled with philodendrons, towering bougainvilleas and all that thrives in the Valley of Mexico.

What did your childhood smell like?
The spring-fed natural swimming holes around central Texas, where I grew up. The water filters through layers and layers of limestone and comes out clean and clear, but it takes a green tone from the plant life that grows with the sunlight. It smells cold and fresh and alive, but the only way to really get the scent is to dive in and let it get in your head. Then it stays with you long after you’re dry.

What scent has the power to stop you in your tracks and immediately transport you to a memory/moment/feeling?
Oddly enough, car exhaust fumes. They send me back to the summer I turned 16, when I spent a month in a small town in central Mexico studying Spanish. The cobblestone streets lined with colonial walls tended to trap the exhaust from passing traffic, and I walked up and down those streets in love with the unknown-ness of it all. Even though car exhaust was far from the most pleasant smell from that summer, I get one whiff and suddenly I’m a teenager giddy with discovery, freedom and Mexico’s particular blend of magic.

What does/did your grandmother/mother/father smell like?
In my mind my mother smells like the perfume she used when I was a child: Ralph Lauren Safari. She wears something else these days.

My dad smells like scotch and cigars, unless he’s been out doing controlled burns on the ranch. Then he smells of smoke from grass, mesquite, and cedar.

What does your kitchen smell like?
The kitchen often smells like vegetable broth simmering on the stove. But since my kitchen has a garden door that stays open all the time, in the early morning before the coffee gets started the room smells like dew drying off the lavender plants just outside.

What does happy smell like?
Fresh herbs. My mom used to root herb cuttings on the kitchen windowsill, and to me it seemed like the most marvelous feat that those cut stems could sprout roots from nothing. Well, not from nothing, but water and sunlight didn’t seem that miraculous to me at the time. Propagating plants still gives me utter delight, and I start almost every day among the herbs in my garden to let them wake up my senses. The scent of rue and wormwood always helps me get back to a peaceful, positive place if I’m tired or sad.

What does your favourite place in the world smell like?
The gate to my family’s ranch house in Texas has two giant rosemary bushes that are nearly as tall as I am. Every time I pass them, coming and going, I pull off a sprig to crush and smell. It never fails to make me feel present and grateful. I haven’t always appreciated that place; when I was a teenager aching to feel like a part of the rest of the world, that ranch house in the country seemed isolated and far from the action I wanted in on. Lucky for me, life has a sense of humor, and these days there’s no place I’d rather be. Lately, when I’m there with my two-year-old nephew, I grab an extra sprig of rosemary for him to smell, too. He always says, “Mmmm,” and leans in close for a quick cuddle.

What is your least favourite smell?
Heavily scented cleaning products, which are impossible to escape in Mexico.

What does love smell like?
A fire burning in a fireplace. The smell of breakfast cooking that wakes you up from a night’s sleep. A perfectly ripe peach right before you cut into it.