Like most Gen Zers, Yara Shahidi understands the unbreakable connection between food and fragrance. Before the actor, activist and model became one of the most well-known public figures of her generation, she was a young girl entranced by the scent of home cooking.
"I always have to go with food first," Shahidi tells Fashionista, recalling her earliest scent memory. "I really want there to be a set of garlic home scents. There's nothing more homey to me than a kitchen in use, like butter on a stove, garlic on the stovetop [or] rosemary."
Of course, the actor has a more realistic scent style when it comes to personal fragrance. As the new face of Jean Paul Gaultier's latest perfume, Gaultier Divine, she favors floral notes paired with a cedar-y base to keep things grounded.
Below, we caught up with Shahidi to chat all about her relationship with scents and perfume.
What's your earliest scent memory?
Being Black and Iranian, I feel like food has always been such a big part of my life, and scent through food. But then also, coming from a family where my mother used essential oils, the idea of peppermint to clear your airways, of frankincense on your temples for grounding — scent has always been something that has been very useful in my life. It's always had utility, like even for the Persian New Year, there's the Hyacinth flower that we pull out that represents rebirth, et cetera.
So those kinds of things have always created really positive scent memories. Scent has always been symbolic of something bigger, whether it's being used to celebrate or being used to mediate my own mood to feel grounded or energized.
If your friends and family members were asked to describe your signature scent in one word, what do you think it would be?
It depends on what family member you ask — I feel like my little brother would use that as an opportunity to haze me. But I think what made me resonate with the Gaultier [Divine] scent so much is that I love to pair something really floral with something really grounded and earthy.
My typical thing is I'd either take jasmine or geranium oil and put that on my temple and then put a woody or cedary perfume or cologne over it. I think that's what makes me align with this scent so much: I put basil and rosemary essential oils on myself regularly. I think my goal is to smell a snack, literally and figuratively. I think that is what my family would say, is that I smell like a snack.
What do you consider the most romantic scent or note?
The most romantic scent, if I weren't to say garlic — because somebody's cooking me a good dinner — but just a straight-up scent... I love jasmine. I think partially because growing up, jasmine is never really something people plant, but it just kind of grows in certain parts. And I just have such vivid memories of knowing exactly what that smell was. Going on a walk outside somewhere and being like, 'Oohh, what is that?' There's something so natural and light and beautiful.
Who do you consider your most influential beauty icons?
Just flat out Beyoncé and Solange — there's no competition.
I think what I've loved is that Solange has such a cool particular aesthetic. And when I think of beauty as a form of self-expression, I think she's somebody that's modeled that really early on, of really just being that trendsetter and being so grounded in what her aesthetic is and how her idea of beauty ties into her idea of art, that it's really fun to watch.
I think all of her looks feel so her in a way that it's memorable; whether it's the 40-foot long durag at the Met Gala or photos where she's covered in yarn or a leaf, or that one red dress that connects to her and her dancers... I think what she exemplifies to me is this idea of, 'Okay, if I were to tap into the most authentic [or creative] version of Yara, what would I get?'
What excites you most about being the face of Gaultier Divine?
They truly had the coolest creative team working on this. As a young actress and as a young creative person, to be able to work with François [Rousselet], the director who directed some of my favorite music videos, to work with such an incredible DP [Hoyte Van Hoytema] who took time off of his 'Oppenheimer' tour to come to film this, those are things that are just never not exciting.
This interview has been edited for clarity.