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Harry Styles for Gucci Memoire

Exclusive: Harry Styles tells all on Gucci’s new fragrance, Memoire

TextBunny Kinney

“It smells like what I imagine Joan Didion’s house to smell like”

Ever wondered what a whiff of Harry Styles might smell like? Don’t worry; you’re not a total weirdo if you do. And if the online hysteria that trails his every move is anything to go by, you’re probably not alone. Now, you don’t even have to be a part of his global tribe of teenage fans to try and find out for yourself. Because Gucci’s got the answer, and they’ve put it in a green glass bottle.

“I like a fragrance that has some emotion behind it,” says the singer-songwriter and star of Gucci’s new Mémoire d’une Odeur fragrance campaign, as he fiddles with the vintage-looking bottle. “The triggering of memories from smell is really strong for everyone. My mother has always worn the same perfume. It smells like roman candles and jasmine. So like anytime I smell it, I feel like a kid again. I feel like everyone has those.”

Mémoire is the newest addition to the Gucci fragrance family under creative director Alessandro Michele’s radical reimagining of the house, as he continues to evolve and expand the brand’s beauty offerings. Mémoire’s chameleon-like scent is composed of chamomile, alongside notes of jasmine, musk and sandalwood, which blend together to paint a picture that is more impressionistic than photo-real. It’s hazy, a little bit elusive, and when worn, deliciously difficult to describe. The accompanying campaign, released today, marks the pop star’s biggest gig with the Italian luxury label to date, after years of courtship and collaboration. 

And to think, it all started with some flares. Way back in 2015, Harry was in the critical and often difficult-to-navigate twilight period of his babyfaced boy band years, when he turned up to a red carpet with the Second, Third and Fourth Directions in tow during the post-Zayn period that, as any Spice Girls fan could tell you, was sure to spell the end of 1D as we knew it. 

Clad in a Gucci cream floral suit that could rival your nan’s nicest wallpaper, complete with a breezy, belled trouser bottom, Harry – with the help of his stylist, the effervescent Harry Lambert – stood confidently distinct from his slickly besuited bandmates, who looked a little more Beckham than Bowie. In an instant, Harry took his first steps towards freedom, establishing his own individuality and risk-taking sartorial tastes that left both fans and the fashion world gleefully shook. “I had never really done flares before,” says Harry of the outfit. “And it was really fun. I just kind of started wearing more and more of it, and at the same time just becoming a lot more comfortable in myself.”

The suit was typical of Michele’s first few collections for the fashion house, which from the offset showcased his referential, non-binary approach to men’s design, modelled on the runway by willowy boys in Wes Andersonian silhouettes straight from the 70s. The kind of retro get-ups many a modern man might have either preferred to forget, or, like Harry and his core fan base, never experienced at all. 

But as Harry incorporated these then still-offbeat ideas for menswear into his own wardrobe, he said sayonara to the black drainpipes and navel-gazing button-downs that once defined his stage wear and traded Hedi for heady, intoxicating the fashion world with his OTT, gender-bending choices. “I used to wear all black all of the time,” he shrugs. “But I was realising (dressing up) was a part of the show, if you will. Especially when performing. So, I think (for) the people I have always admired and looked up to in music, clothes have always been a big part of the thing. Like Bowie, Elvis Presley. It’s always been part of the thing.” 

Indeed, he soon found himself fully inducted into Gucci’s glittery world, posing for fashion campaigns shot by Glen Luchford and Harmony Korine. In the process, his endorsement helped to validate Michele, with whom he co-hosted the 2019 “Camp”-themed Met Gala, as a truly influential force in men’s fashion. “I love the clothes,” says Harry. “That helps a lot. Just going on stage in a nuts suit with a bunch of sequins makes you feel good, and then you want to play.” 

Harry’s close-knit group of collaborators and comrades has also helped him to transition into this new era of self-confidence and experimentation. “I definitely feel lucky to be in a group of people, working-wise, and friend-wise, where they are very free-thinking. Everyone is open to be themselves and it’s made me feel me feel more comfortable to try different things and have a bit more fun.” 

Perhaps it’s this attitude that has paved the way for his newest role with the brand, as the face of their new, unisex fragrance Mémoire d’une Odeur. The campaign, again shot by Luchford, features a motley crew of artists and models, alongside Harry in what feels like less of a starring role than an equal but essential member of the ensemble. In the short film accompanying the images, the models have their own, albeit slightly less freaky Midsommar moment – chanting and churning and kissing and writhing amongst Roman ruins as the sounds of Roxy Music lure them into an ecstatic, orgiastic bacchanalia. From this side of the screen, it certainly looks like it was a hell of a lot of fun to shoot. 

“It didn’t feel like a typical new fragrance campaign shoot,” Harry smiles. “We spent three days outside of Rome, hanging out. A couple of friends were on it, like Harris (Reed). So that was really fun.” The genderfluid young designer Reed rounds out an eclectic cast including model-musicians Zumi Rosow and Leslie Winer, who together embody the inclusive and ageless new Gucci world dreamed up by Michele, reflective of the changing attitudes and identities of young people around the world. “It transcends gender,” Harry says of Mémoire. “I really like wearing it because it’s (Gucci’s) first universal fragrance.”

The resulting campaign imagery feels nostalgic, like a box of old photos from a summer-long past, or a dream, echoed in both Mémoire’s name and the juice itself, which smells at once comforting and familiar. “It’s really fresh to me. Floral, clean, not heavy,” describes Harry. “It smells like what I imagine Joan Didion’s house to smell like.” 

But does he really wear Mémoire? “All the time,” he says assuredly, before adding slyly: “I sleep in it.” Marilyn, be damned. But there you have it. Harry Styles smells like chamomile and jasmine and musk and Joan Didion. Now there’s an odeur worth remembering.

Gucci Mémoire d’une Odeur Eau de Parfum is available at Selfridges.

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