Lesley Thornton.
Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Courtesy of KLUR

Scientific studies confirm that, of all the senses, smell offers the best recall. In “Scent Memories,” the Cut asks people about the scents they associate with different times in their lives. Next up is Lesley Thornton, aesthetician, formulator, and founder of skin-care line Klur. After almost a decade of helping loyal clients get their skin so good, Thornton channeled her experience treating diverse skin conditions and skin types into the brown bottles bursting with benefits that are now beloved by beauty insiders. Thornton also built Klur around the credo of “self-care as a preparation for community care,” a philosophy she began to practice while volunteering in New Orleans following the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. While working alongside alternative healers, she was introduced to essential oils, aromatherapy, and a holistic approach to wellness to decompress, elements that inspired the creation of sensorial Klur products like the Elements of Comfort Oil (which “smells like heaven”). “If there was one lesson Katrina taught me, it’s that we aren’t meant to survive life’s storms alone and community is essential to our well-being,” says Thornton. “This is where ‘self-care is preparation for community care’ comes from — because we will need each other, and it’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of ‘when’.” The Cut caught up with Thornton to talk about controversial cilantro, taking a candle break, and which scents make her feel more connected to her customers.

My first scent memory is: Definitely my mom’s perfume. It was called Anais Anais, and I will never forget that smell. It was very floral and very ’80s, like Le Jardin and Imposters perfumes. It was the first thing I could ever remember smelling, aside from food.

Happiness smells like: Any kind of fresh-cut citrus: orange, tangerines, lemons. It always reminds me of summer and that’s so uplifting.

Love smells like: Chocolate. I’m a big dark chocolate fan and I love myself, so I treat myself to dark chocolate every day [laughs]. I do 70 percent or more, and always with almonds; I can’t just have the bitter, I need the crunch. The crunchiness not only offsets the dark chocolate, but that combo smells like Valentine’s Day to me, too.

Heartbreak or loss smells like: Lilies. I know this is so sad, but they’re the funeral-home flower. Smelling lilies always make me a little sad; they remind me of any loss I’ve had in the family.

Friendship smells like: McDonald’s Happy Meals! It reminds me of my best third-grade friend and I going through the drive-thru with my mom, either after school, or when she was going to come over on the weekend. She was my absolute best friend in the world and that scent sparks such a wonderful childhood memory. I would never eat a Happy Meal again, but I’ll tell you, opening that box was the one thing we couldn’t get enough of back in the ’80s.

Regret smells like: Burnt toast.

Success smells like: Petrichor, that smell of fresh air after the rain. To me, that smell signifies that everything’s just washed away and you’re starting off fresh, and something about that reminds me of success.

The worst smell is: New York City trash day, one of the worst smells I’ve ever smelled in my life.

My ideal vacation smells like: French food. Any dish. Just take me to France; I’ll eat anything. I’ve never been!

My home smells like: Right now, that Mojito candle from Malin + Goetz, which I just burned. I normally do aromatherapy through a diffuser, but I’ve been trying to go through my candles just to get them out of the way. I’m probably going to stop using candles for a while because a lot of them are kind of heavy, and they use a lot of unnecessary fragrance. I’m just using my Mojito up and getting my last sniff out of it before I stick to using fresh essential oils in the diffuser.

The first thing I smell in the morning: Besides my breath, coffee [laughs] — the smell of my partner making it. He usually buys whole beans and grinds them, which I’m too lazy to do. I just buy the kind that’s already ground, so I know it’s time to get up when he’s making the coffee.

The last thing I smell at night: I try not to plug any [of my] products but I definitely use my Elements of Comfort before bed all the time. It’s a base of lavender, geranium, and Bulgarian rose, and it was originally just made for decompressing, so it really does work to calm you down; it’s almost an instant stress relief. There’s also a little amber in there, so it’s really grounding as well. I just put some in a small roller,  put it on my wrist, and breathe it in. My bottle is several years old, and it’s still sitting next to my bed. I also try to use it every night because I feel like a lot of founders may not use their own product, and I feel connected with my customers when I use the things that they’re using as well; that’s super important.

A scent or smell I love that others usually don’t: Cilantro. I love the smell of cilantro. Some people smell or taste something metallic or soapy if they breathe in or eat cilantro, and they actually can’t stand it, which I didn’t know, because I’m usually the weird one for loving it. I always hear people who are like “Ew, how can you stand it, it’s so gross!,” and I’m like “What?!” I can’t get enough of it. If you love it, you can actually get cilantro essential oil, and it’s unbelievable. It’s a food-y scent, but I really want to do cilantro shampoo …

I smell like: I took a shower this morning, so I smell like oat and basil soap I got from some lady who was selling it at the farmers’ market [laughs]. I used to love wearing perfumes and fragrances, but now I just use body oils, and my body wash or soaps that smell good. When I’m really fancy, I will wear a fragrance, but never on a daily basis. I like the way nothing smells sometimes. I’m always around products and working with essential oils for aromatherapy things, so I don’t want to have anything on me; it can kind of interfere with my work. It’s out of respect for people, too. You know when you walk by someone in the grocery store and you just get a whiff of them? I just don’t want to be that person.

I think not always smelling something makes my olfactory senses even stronger as well, so when I do smell something, it’s really potent, it’s really strong, and I really, truly enjoy it. But I do have little perfumes that I quite enjoy. I like Diptyque’s little travel ones, and D.S. & Durga’s tiny travel kits. I love travel kits because I’m not willing to commit to a whole bottle of anything; I know I won’t wear it. And some fragrances give me headaches, to be honest. Phthalates give us headaches, and that’s why you see a lot of brands pulling phthalates out. Sometimes, those chemical compounds and synthetic fragrances that are not based on essential oils or plant compounds give us headaches, because they’re really not engineered for us to keep taking in long term. We weren’t designed to smell synthetic perfume all day. Roses smell, oranges smell, all these great scents from nature already smell. I love aromatherapy and I plan to grow Klur’s aromatherapy and use functional aromatics more in the brand, because we don’t have the same reaction to synthetic fragrances as we do to fresh, real smells. Humans are innately meant to smell things from nature.