Liya Kebede Says Scents Are Like an Identity

The model, mother, and advocate is the new face of Eternity Air Calvin Klein.

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It’s so important to know who you are, even when it comes to your beauty aesthetic. With my look, I have this sense of individuality and self-assurance—it’s never cut-and-paste. I know what works on me, whether it’s eye makeup, mascara, or lipstick. I use all of these tools to enhance the features that I already have.

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At first, the fragrance is light, fresh, and floral. But I love how it wears down on my skin throughout the day—it softens and feels more sexy.” ETERNITY AIR CALVIN KLEIN Eau de Parfum, $79.

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I take a similar approach to fragrance. Scents are like an identity. Think about when you first meet someone: A person’s smell leaves an imprint and impression of who they are. To this day, the smell of Calvin Klein Eternity for Men takes me back to when I was in high school, because I had a big crush on a guy who used to wear it. It was so masculine and iconic.

Or I think of my mother, who introduced me to perfumes when I was little. There was this moment every morning when she would decide what scent she was in the mood for that day. I would watch her pick one—whether it was Opium by YSL or Organza by Givenchy—and spray it all over herself. I always hoped she’d spritz a little on me, too. When she did, it was so special. Now, I’ve picked up on the habit. I don’t always have to wear makeup, but I have to wear perfume.

I think many women enjoy owning a lot of different fragrances, much like my mom. In a way, it mirrors how varied and diverse our lives can be: I’m a model, advocate for maternal health, founder of the brand Lemlem [a female-driven, sustainability-focused clothing and lifestyle line] and the Lemlem Foundation, and mother of two children. I’m proud of all of these parts of myself.

Take, for example, my advocacy work. I say the cause chose me: I was born and raised in Ethiopia, but when I had my son in New York City, it made me realize how large of a gap there was between my experience and that of the women from my home—it’s almost not even measurable. Women in many parts of Africa don’t have access to hospitals, doctors, or education, and it puts them at great risk. So back when the World Health Organization asked me to be a goodwill ambassador, I knew I wanted to be part of the discussion. I thought, This is going to be the thing I was meant to work on. Sometimes the world can feel overwhelming—there’s so much to be done! But that’s when I remind myself that even little things can make a difference in someone’s life.