Elle Fanning Misses the Smells of Childhood: Play-Doh, Polly Pocket and Cotton Candy
The actor and face of Paco Rabanne's latest fragrance shares the scents that have perfumed her life.
What does Elle Fanning consider the perfect fragrance? It's all about nostalgia. She's drawn to throwback aromas that evoke sweet memories of sugar, dolls and more from her childhood.
"I was the girl that wore [scents like] cotton candy, very teen," she tells Fashionista. Fanning recalls wearing Pink Sugar, a beloved mall favorite for many '90s and early-aughts tweens. "I think when you sprayed it, it had glitter in it. Very, very overly sweet."
Of course, the actor has matured since then and is now the new face of Paco Rabanne's latest fragrance, Fame. The scent was created with some of the most memorable female leads in Hollywood — Jane Fonda as "Barbarella" and Audrey Hepburn in "Two for the Road," for example — in mind. For the Rabanne team, Fanning fit the mold perfectly, as they consider her a modern representative of the "Fame" woman.
In the TV spot for the campaign, Fanning can be seen dancing and posing around a typical Parisian apartment rather aptly to "Fame" by David Bowie, "playing with fame and all of the facets of femininity [as she] pays tribute to these iconic Paco Rabanne muses," per a press release from the brand.
When it comes to the scent profile of the new eau, each note has been chosen carefully to blend seamlessly with one another. Per one of the label's senior perfumers, Dora Baghriche, it combines elements of "revolution[ary]" jasmine, a creamy incense blend, a touch of vanilla, sandalwood and an unexpected whiff of pleasing mango.
The jasmine, which Baghriche also noted is "blooming at the heart" of the fragrance, is extracted using a chemical- and solvent-free technique. The flowers are collected at a jasmine farm in Grasse, France, and then the flowers' essential oils are extracted using the water in the flowers themselves: "It's a very pure quality of jasmine. I would say the purest in the industry [...] It's really using what is already inside the plants. It's the most sustainable jasmine you can smell," notes Baghriche.
Fanning is no stranger to building bouquets of smells. The actor calls on a variety of aromas and even specific fragrances to remember specific eras of her life, which she ultimately credits for influencing her perfume preferences today. Fanning told me about all the fragrances that have defined her life, including that of childhood toys, her grandmother's vanity, cotton candy and more. Read on for the highlights of our conversation.
What type of scents are you typically drawn to?
I guess a sweeter, floral scent. I was the girl that wore [perfumes that were like] cotton candy, very teen. [Fanning recalls wearing Pink Sugar, a beloved mall favorite for many '90s and early-aughts tweens.] I think when you sprayed it, it had glitter in it. Very, very overly sweet. But now that I've matured, I really like that kind of floral fresh[ness].
How would you say your scent preference varies for personal scent versus, say, a candle in your home?
I don't want strong, musky [scents at home]. I feel like you should just be kind of fresh, and I do tend to go to the sweet side. There used to be a candle I had in my apartment in London. I think they discontinued it. I don't know what the name of the candle is, but it's green and gold. [Editor's Note: It's the Trudon Abd El Kader Classic Scented Candle, which lists its heart note as jasmine.]
What is your earliest scent memory?
I remember going into my grandmother's bathroom with her vanity and mixing all of the scents that she had. That and Pink Sugar. I would layer all these different perfumes and then come out and my mom would say, "You need to take a bath. It smells so bad."
I thought that I was very mature [for] wearing perfume. I was also saying that when I got to New York, [the smell of the] chocolates [the hotel] had set up brought me back to my first trip in New York — when [the original] FAO Schwarz was still here.
I really like Dylan's Candy Bar and Serendipity and all those places. Scent is such an underrated sense. I feel like it really brings back memories and holds so much. You know, that [feeling of] 'that brought me back.'
Would you say your love for sugar as a child informed your fragrance preferences?
Yeah, it probably did. I also love the smell of bread, I would say over chocolate [...] also, cheese. Stinky cheese doesn't bother me. That's a good smell to me. The stinkier the better.
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You recently chose to dress up as Paris Hilton in "The Simple Life" for a photo shoot and '90s Britney Spears for Halloween. What kind of scents evoke nostalgia in the same way these cultural icons do for you?
I think the smell of Polly Pockets. Like, the rubber clothes that I would chew on. I miss that. [Also] Play-Doh — love that salty smell. We had [a set] where it was a dentist's mouth. My sister and I played with that all the time. That's kind of in the same vein as those icons. Play-Doh is iconic.
You've had so many stunning red-carpet looks and you're clearly very in touch with your style. Is there a favorite that you still love to this day?
The one that sticks out is [my] Dior look [in Cannes]. I just loved wearing that. Cannes is so glamorous, and that red carpet is so crazy. It's so big. You have to pick something that's going to look good from all angles because they're just all around you. And that outfit really stands out for me.
There was also a Gucci dress at the "Maleficent" premiere that paid homage to Sleeping Beauty. [There was] sequined blood on the gloves shooting down. It's a term now [Editor's note: it's called 'method dressing'] when actors dress like their characters on the red carpet. My friend told me Angelina [Jolie] and I were an example [in a TikTok] because on our press tour, she would always wear black and I would always wear the lighter colors. I do like doing that, to pay homage to your character in a way and go with the theme.
Do you have any self-care rituals that you do for yourself after a long day of being in character?
I take a bath every night, regardless. I've always done that since I was little. It definitely decompresses me. I learn my lines in there, I watch shows. Like, I will stay in there for hours.
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Beyond being an award-winning actor, you've also earned yourself the title of Meme Queen, especially on your unnamed TikTok account. What's on your 'For You Page?'
I have a lot of cooking and a lot of 'Get Ready With Me's.' It popped up, but I am kind of fascinated. [Especially with] the girl that puts all that foundation on. [Editor's Note: Fanning is referring to beauty influencer Meredith Duxbury.]
There's also this kid (@BriKramer) that pops up on my TikTok all the time. He smells candles and he has this incredible nose. He'll be like 'No, don't like that. Yeah, I do like that one.' It's like he's a future perfumer.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
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