The Power of Dad’s Cologne: We Honor Father’s Day with Our Favorite Scent Memories
Some of our most potent scent memories can be traced back to childhood events. Whether it’s Mom’s homemade cookies, fresh from the oven—the aroma of vanilla and chocolate still wending its way along the neurotransmitters in our brain—or the smell of a mowed lawn after a spring rainstorm, the fragrant recollection of wet cut grass lingering heavy in our nostrils even now. So when we think of Dad, it’s only natural that we instinctively recall his personal scent at the same time we remember curling into his lap to read a book or pressing into the crook of his neck for a much-needed hug. While not every dad wears cologne, it’s an easy marker to identify—and much easier to package and give to the man on Father’s Day than, say, the formative smells of a tobacco pipe or summer sweat.
Since Father’s Day is June 17, the Nordstrom Fashion Office is celebrating the men who helped raise us by sharing some of our favorite dad cologne memories. Ahead, a tabulation of olfactive flashbacks of our fathers and their fragrances.
Nichole Metcalf, Principal Creative Designer
on Her Dad, Jerry Metcalf
To this day, I can’t smell Calvin Klein Obsession without thinking of my dad. He wore it pretty much every day, so the scent brings back memories of waking up to get ready for school while he got dressed for work. My dad would drive my sister and me to school every morning, which we loved. My dad was pretty stylish—just look at that tie, glasses and ’stache! I think it was when I was in high school that he started adding Ralph Lauren Polo Blue to his scent collection, which also still reminds me of him.
Mimmi Samsel, Art Director
on Her Dad Sven Erik Nilson
I am a child of divorce, but through it I gained two amazing fathers! The first image must have been taken by my mom who never got right the concept of lining up your camera with the horizon. My dad, Sven Erik Nilson, was an illustrator and this bugged him to no end. Sven Erik was a traveling man and wore Old Spice (I think he got it in Denmark on his trips). The second image is also of my biological dad. It was taken in March 1973. I remember it well. He was then divorced and would have weekend visitation with us. This was a special day—it was my birthday and I had just received my first camera, a little Kodak from my mom and stepdad. Sven Erik took me outside to the park and showed me how to use it. He calmly coached me through the f-stops and focus as he smoked his pipe that cold day.
I vividly remember the scent of the pines, Dad’s tobacco and his cologne as my frozen little fingers stumbled around the fabulous little mechanism that would mean so much in my life. My stepdad, Bengt, later helped me develop the image in our bathroom darkroom. My fathers were not friends but they had great respect for each other. They always put their best foot forward. My dads both passed away with Alzheimer’s, but their sense of smell never left either one of them.
Sarah Magbee, Associate Fashion Forecaster
on Her Dad, Chuck Magbee
My dad works as a contractor and does not normally wear cologne. Most of the time he is in head-to-toe Patagonia on a job site in Atlanta. But the smell of Ralph Lauren Polo reminds me of when my dad would clean up and take my family out in Atlanta to celebrate something.
Michelle Lyman, Copyeditor
on Her Dad, Dr. Ronald Hind
Back in the day, English Leather Lime was our go-to gift for my dad. It came in a frosted rectangular bottle with a tall, green wooden cap and the scent is something I still strongly associate with him. Just thinking about it takes me back to Father’s Days, birthdays and our family trips to Cannon Beach, where this photo was taken. I can’t find a bottle of English Leather today—it’s been discontinued for ages—but you can still find us walking on that beach!
Natalie Siderius, Senior Designer
on Her Dad, James Siderius
Calvin Klein Obsession. The memory of that circular bottle and logo alone is absolutely indelible, because I was fascinated with how it seemed so grown-up and cool (like my dad). I’ll always be a little endeared by that scent, since it’s associated with the best childhood memories—like how my dad could carry both my brother and me at the same time across sharp beach rocks and swim hours in the pool with one of us hooked onto his neck. Even though CK Obsession is gone with the ’90s, my dad is still true today to those childhood recollections: kind and strong, with a knack for making us laugh and a spirit of play that seldom tires.
Netter Hansen, Copyeditor
on Her Dad, Arnold Hansen
When I was a kid, my brother and I would always give my dad Old Spice for Father’s Day. It was the old kind, with a brush and a bar of shaving soap. Before he shaved, he would chase me around and rub his stubbly chin on my face and I’d laugh and scream. After he shaved, he’d rub his chin on me again, and it would be smooth and he smelled good, and I’d wrap my arms around my dad and give him a big hug. To this day, I like a man who smells like Old Spice.
Emma Zaratian, Senior Copywriter
on Her Dad, John Zaratian
My father rarely ever wore deodorant, let alone cologne. As an engineer, he worked outside a lot, mostly on construction sites in hot-weather places like Venezuela, Algeria and southern Idaho. After baking in the sun all day, he’d come home in the evenings and read to us in his big La-Z-Boy chair. His smell is strongly seared in my brain as one of sweat. But occasionally, when my parents would go out for a nice dinner date, my mother would insist he dab on the Aramis for Men she’d bought him—so to this day I have two dueling nostalgic associations with Dad’s smell.
Corrie Walters, Senior Designer
on Her Dad, Lawrence Walters
My dad was stylish, cool and loved literature and acting. He would read us Mark Twain and other stories every evening, doing each voice in character, while we listened intently. He was a Marine so my mom and he would dress up and go to the Marine Corps Ball and other parties where he wore his dress blues and she would wear a gown, often one that she made. He wore Aqua Velva when I was young, and I can still smell it when thinking about him. It was a familiar and fresh scent, and I associate it with him being in a good mood and silly with us kids after a refreshing shower and long day at work or after a workout. I tried to buy him Ralph Lauren Polo as a gift once when I was in high school, but I don’t think he ever used it. Now I think he uses Hermès fragrance. If I were to buy him a fragrance today it would be Hermès or Mr. Burberry.