Model Natalia Vodianova on Not Being Able to Afford Perfume and What It Means to Her Now

An essay on the power of scent.

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(Image credit: Gilles Bensimon)

I didn't smell perfume for the first time until I was 17. Growing up, I had a very strong sense of smell, but no one in my family could afford perfume. Even if we could have, there was no place in Russia to try it on at the time! But a lot of my childhood memories have to do with smell. 

One of my most vivid memories is of my grandmother's scent: Every morning, she would run in the park and then swim in the lake, even if it
was frozen. She belonged to a club of these women who were crazy enough to jump into 5°C (41°F) water and swim in the middle of winter. And I remember when she got back, she smelled like snow—this mineral, very fresh, cold scent. 

It was beautiful, but of course what I really wanted to smell was perfume, which I had seen in department-store windows. Then, when I was 17, I flew to Paris for the first time for a modeling job. And on the way back, I decided to buy my mom a present. So at the airport, I went shopping and smelled all the perfumes. I really wanted CK One for myself, but I didn't buy it because I was saving my money. Instead, I got my mom Chanel No.14. And then as soon as I could afford it, I got the CK One for myself. 

Since then, I've worked with Calvin Klein on many campaigns, from the launch of Euphoria perfume, in 2005, to the new Euphoria Essence ads. And now I have four children of my own! I'm sure their memories of scents will be very different. If someone asked them in 15 years, they would probably say the fragrance that reminds them of their childhood is pancakes—we cook a lot of pancakes in my house.

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(Image credit: Katja Cho)

1. "We shot the [Euphoria] ad campaign on the beach in Hawaii. It's the perfect setting for the scent, which is floral and tropical but also has this salty, earthy essence." Calvin Klein Euphoria Essence Eau de Parfum Spray, $89

2. "I use this oil when I need more moisture." Huile Secret de Beauté, $66

3. "This has four natural oils and blueberry—my God, the scent is crazy!" Christophe Robin Antioxidant Cleansing Milk, $38

4. "I use Guerlain Super Aqua- Crème. The smell is absolutely magnificent." Guerlain Super Aqua-Créme Day Cream, $128

This article appears in the December issue of Marie Claire, on newsstands now. 

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Jennifer G. Sullivan

Jennifer Goldstein is the former beauty & health director of Marie Claire and co-host of the award-winning beauty podcast Fat Mascara. In her quest to uncover the world's beauty secrets, she’s gotten tattooed in New Zealand, dug up turmeric in India, harvested shea nuts in Ghana, and squeezed enzyme-rich eggs from salmon in Norway. She can pluck eyebrows like a pro and has read the FDA monograph on sunscreen labeling and effectiveness—but she still can’t get liquid eyeliner to look the same on both eyes.