Fragrant Reads – Smell: A Very Short Introduction

Part of a fantastic series by Oxford University Press, Smell: A Very Short Introduction by Matthew Cobb is an easy to read and very accessible intro to the incredibly nuanced, complicated and still most misunderstood sense…

Small in stature but big on fragrant facts, it’s one of those ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’ type publications, being an overview of ‘the science and physiology of smell and its historical, cultural, and environmental significance,’ in which Cobb reveals exactly what happens in our brains when we smell something, and how our human olfactory processes differ from those of mammals, birds, and insects.

At The Perfume Society we are, of course, fully on-board with how important our sense of smell is; and we suppose seing as you’re here, you agree. But our sense of smell still lags behind – in scientific research and the wider public understanding – in being discussed and even thought about on a daily basis. We wonder, however, if the recent links between Covid-19 and smell loss (and that anosmia being an early indicator of Covid, among many other medical conditions that doctors are still investigating) if smell will be taken more seriously from now on?

After all: ‘The connection between smell and memory is more than a literary conceit’ Cobb shows, ‘with smells proving more effective than images at unlocking memories.’ Cobb does a good job of explaining how ‘The same odour can have different meanings to different people. Smells themselves are often blends, and our reactions to them are influenced by our memories and cultural conditioning,’ as well as asking bigger questions, such as: ‘Is there a link between smell and genetics?’

Although we’ve said it’s accessible, that doesn’t mean it skimps on taking scent seriously, and this book can be read by those interested in smell and fragrance at most levels of understanding – from complete novice to the already well-read. It’s also a great gift for friends and family members who perhaps don’t ‘get’ why we’re so obsessed with smells!

Get it at Oxford University Press

If you’d like some more recommendations to fill your scented bookshelves, do have a look at our ever-expanding list of Fragrant Reads. We’ve reviews of everything from scent-themed romance novels to seriously weighty science books, and stunning coffee-table tomes to a tale of Guerlain’s history told in graphic novel form…

By Suzy Nightingale

 

Spraying Home for Christmas… scents we’re using to evoke loved ones

Christmas is always the most scented season, but this year the perfumes we spray have taken on an extra poignancy – many of us deeply missing mloved ones we cannot be this year because of the continuing pandemic, or who have passed away.

Fragrance can be a great comfort – and a way of connecting us, if only we chose the scent to spray that immediately evokes someone we’re so wishing we could be with right now.

For the Christmas edition of The Scented Letter magazine, we asked a number of our favourite perfumers, journalists and fragrance experts which scents they would be spraying this year, and who they’re missing most. We were so overwhelmed by the lovely – and often very emotional – reponses, that we didn’t have room for them all in the printed pages!

 

 

That’s why we want to share these beautiful scent memories with you, now; and wonder: whom would YOU most love to conjure with a single spritz right now, and what fragrance would you need to spray…?

 

Alice du Parcq – writer for Glamour U.K. / Space NK:
‘This Christmas I’ll be in a fume-cloud of Maison Margiela Replica By The Fireplace. It is the scent of roasting chestnuts on a roaring fire in a Chamonix ski lodge in 1971, so think toasted embers, plumes of silky sooty smoky, wood polish and the creamy, vanilla-spiked, nutty flesh of charred chestnuts. We did this as kids every winter at my parents’ house (which incidentally still looks like a 70s ski chalet) and watched my dad roll those glossy globes around a skillet until they crackled and split. My sister and I had scalded fingertips all season from the impatient peeling of the blackened chestnuts that were still too hot to touch. The fire was wild, ferocious and mesmerising, and the whole house smelt like fireworks and bonfires. I remember it vividly, and since we can’t all be together this year I’ll honour that memory with a daily spray of this magnificent and curious perfume.’

 

Sarah McCartney – perfumer & founder 4160 Tuesdays:
‘Usually we head north to York to see a collection of family and friends, play music and swap presents. I’m always delighted when my nephews put in a request for one of my fragrances at Christmas and their favourite is Invisible Ben. This is a blend of sandalwood, oranges, cognac absolute, musks and Ambrox, so it mingles with the atmosphere, a definite presence but not shouting for attention. It’s just like the lads themselves.’

 

Nicola Bonn – Outspoken Beauty podcast:
‘One of my best friends wears Chanel Chance. Smelling it and her never fails to make me happy. I always meet her at this time of year for drinks and celebrations and not being with her is so very sad. I’ll spritz this and have a virtual cocktail with her.’

 

Marcus Jaye, beauty & fragrance blogger / author a.k.a The Chic Geek:
‘This will date my childhood, but mine is Giorgio Beverly Hills. This is pure Pretty Woman, back-combed mum of the 1980s. Chuck in a soupçon of Elnett and I’m there.’

 

 

Olivia Jezler – fragrance innovation & technical design specialist, Future of Smell:
‘Both my parents always change their perfumes so its less about their signature scent… but the scent in their home over Christmas is always the NEST Holiday candle. I love it and for me that’s the smell of Christmas…combined with the pine of the Christmas tree!’

 

Professor Charles Spence – experimental psychologist / head of Crossmodal Research Group, Oxford University:
‘It would have to be smell of nardo – the flower that my (now) wife would always bring to airport when I arrived in Colombia… Which the web says is “Polianthes means “many flowers” in Greek. In Mexican Spanish, the flower is called nardo or vara de San José, which means “St. Joseph’s staff”. This plant is called as rajanigandha in India, which means ‘fragrant at night’. I didn’t realise it was a night-blooming one, but have since become very interested in night-flowering scented plants, so night flowering jasmine, which would have to be my second choice.’

Whomever you are missing, and whatever their favourite fragrance was, we hope you’ll be able to find great comfort and bring them home with your own personal scent memories, whenever you need them most…

By Suzy Nightingale

Smell, Love & Memory: do male & female brains react differently?

Sometimes we love to get super geeky and take a deep dive in to the world of smell – the work on our sense of smell, memory and emotional responses triggered by smelling certain things is constantly revealing further insights into this ‘fallen angel of the senses’, as Hellen Keller once desribed it.

The 2019 Francis Crick medal was awarded to Dr Gregory Jefferis for his fundamental discoveries concerning the development and functional logic of sensory information processing, and he recently gave an utterly fascinating lecture at The Royal Society explaining his work, asking: how does the genome encode behaviour through the development of the nervous system? What makes male and female brains different? What is different about brain circuits for learned and unlearned behaviour?

Luckily for those of us who weren’t able to make it there, The Royal Society recorded the entire lecture and have uploaded the video to watch online – just click below to have your mind blown…

Ignored for years as our least important sense (and often the one people say they’d give up first), thanks to modern technology, scientists are only now beginning to uncover smell as a possible super power, and the impact that smell can have on our every day lives. The more we learn, the more we hunger to know, and although we can’t pretend to have understood all of the information, lectures like this simply set that fuse smouldering.

By Suzy Nightingale

How artist Paul Schütze began his journey from paper to perfume

Before photographer, artist and musician Paul Schütze even dreamed of designing fragrances and launching his own line, his obsession with the oft-overlooked sense of smell was already apparent the moment you stepped in to the gallery…
In 2014 Schütze exhibited Silent Surface – a collection of photographs comprising books on fire and with missing words – within the fitting surroundings of an antiquarian bookshop. A central piece of a blackened book resting atop a plinth wafted an other-worldly aroma he’d sprayed the pages with and, under the lights the fragrance diffused to fill the space. The piece was called IN LIBRO DE TENERIS, and the majority of visitors asked if they could buy this inky, woody, book-ish scent (they couldn’t, it hadn’t been created to wear on skin, just as a one-off aroma to enhance the experience of the show) but from that moment, his fragrant fate was sealed.
From then, Paul went on to immerse himself in the world of perfume, working to design his very own trio of fragrances, all borne from olfactory memories of his extensive travels and the inherent artistic sense he has of interpreting the world around him.
Cirebon is a glowing citrus swathed in Tunisian orange blossom, inspired by Paul’s memory of a ‘… Night on the island of Java: by the edge of a lake; the perfumed sounds of a court gamelan orchestra drift across the water, hovering in the air like a constellation of shimmering insects,’ while Tears of Eros is an incense like no other, weaving a scent trail that takes you to ‘…The artist’s studio: Winter; incense from Kyoto’s Sanju Sangendo, a bowl of discarded clementine peel and a night blooming hyacinth; moonlit air from the open windows: these fragrances coalesce into a narcotic, heady, living incense.’ The last of the three so far – Behind the Rain – expands the beauty of mineralic petrichor (the smell that follows a downpour) with a trip to  ‘…An island in the Aegean: a sudden violent rainstorm: as the storm ends, the warmth of the emerging sun on bruised foliage coaxes waves of resinous fragrance that wash down onto our place of shelter under a stand of conifer trees.’

Fascinated to learn more of Paul’s fragrant travels, we asked him to guide us through the most evocative, his personal favourites, and the scents that always inspire him…
What is your first ‘scent memory’?
Chlorine: I have loved swimming in pools since I can remember. I do my best thinking while plowing up and down the lanes letting the world slip away. The huge pleasure of it is inextricably bound to the smell of chlorine. The faintest whiff and I’m transported
When did you decide you wanted to design your own perfume?
I’d always wanted to but it was only four years ago that I realised it might be possible.
What are your five favourite smells in the world?
Well, chlorine – obviously, the interior of the Sanju Sangendo in Kyoto, the flesh of a perfect white peach, our dog Gilbert’s head smells delicious and finally the epicenter of Queen Mary’s Rose Garden (Regent’s Park) in the middle of Summer: the most dizzying, hallucinatory storm of perfumes imaginable.
What’s the worst thing you ever smelled. (Honestly!)
Red Bull: utterly nauseating! I have moved decks on the bus to avoid it.
What is the fragrance you wish you’d created?
Sycomore from Chanel’s Les Exclusives series
Do you feel (like us) that this is one of the most exciting times in fragrance history, because of the creativity being expressed by perfumers? Why do you think that is?
I think we are in a time of intense activity both in commercial perfumery and in the outer edges of experiment (Sisal Tolas and Peter De Cupere). Also because people are realizing that the classical way is not the only way. I think there are parallels with the birth of contemporary music and with visual abstraction.
If you could have created a fragrance for a historical figure, who would it be?
If I might be allowed a fictional historical figure then Des Esseintes the protagonist in Huysmans À rebours.
What’s the first fragrance you bought. And the first bought for you…?
The very first fragrance I bought was Grey Flannel. The first bought for me was Tabac Blonde.
Do you have a favourite bottle design?

I recently made a unique, triple strength version of Cirebon for my partner Chris’s 50th Birthday. I gave it to him in a very beautiful antique, stoppered bottle with a hinged gold cap. It sits in a leather sarcophagus-like case (see photo, below.)


How many perfumes might you be working on, at one time?
Depends, I prefer to work on only one but if I have commissions then it can be three or four at a time.
Does your nose ever ‘switch off’?
It does. Then I know to turn my attentions elsewhere. You can’t force things.
How long, roughly, does it take to create one of your fragrances?
The fastest was a single day the longest so far has been a little over a year.
Is designing a fragrance ‘visual’ for you, as well as something that happens in the nose/brain of the perfumer? If so, in what way…? Is a mood-board helpful?
No, barely visual at all. Very musical though. I often find myself confusing sounds and smells. I listen to music while I work and it is chosen with infinite care. I find time spent in certain architectural spaces hugely helpful in getting a bead on the “right” feel for a fragrance.
What can each of us do to enhance our appreciation of fragrance?
Smell everything. Stop deciding how things smell by merely looking at them. Grab things and burry your face in them. That goes for people too!
What is your best tip for improving a person’s sense of smell?
Again, just smell things: never buy food without taking the time to smell it extravagantly. Never begin to eat until you have savored the aromas of your food. If you find yourself in a lift, close your eyes and imagine the other people from the aromas surrounding you. Open windows and inhale. Never walk past plants, flowering or otherwise without taking the time to sniff them. Never, never worry about how nuts all this makes you seem!
If you had one fragrance note that you love above all others, what would that be?
Vetiver.
We couldn’t leave it there, because we particularly wanted to know about two unusual notes used in the fragrances, and so Paul explained why they are used.

  • Green Incense: I’m obsessed with incense both as a ritual item and as a family of smells. I love the idea of an incense which is living, green, not-yet-burnt.
  • Tamarind: Wonderful aroma which hits you in the taste buds as much as the nose. I can’t smell it without my mouth watering. It has a phenomenological impact on the body which I find really seductive.

With such instantly evocative and unique fragrances to launch the range, we can’t wait to see (and sniff) where Paul Schütze will take us next…
Paul Schütze parfums £135 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy them at Liberty
Written by Suzy Nightingale

The Library of Fragrance launch two scented siblings to the worldwide success of Baby Powder Cologne…

Whenever people are asked what their favourite smells are, along with ‘bread baking ‘, ‘freshly cut grass’ and (oddly) ‘petrol’/gasoline’ we most often find that the smell of their loved one is key. Top of that list is, for many, the smell of their children – and of course here poetic license must come in to play… When those people close their eyes and fondly imgine the scent of their beloved offspring, they are possibly skipping over the inevitable secretions, spillages and lumps of baby food slowly drying on wallpaper and instead focusing on the clean, warm, softly powdered babe in arms.
Renowned for their brilliant lifelike bottling of weird and wonderful smells inspired by life – from Dirt and Thunderstorm to Gin & Tonic – happily, The Library of Fragrance have captured the essence of these smells in a triplet of scents. New Baby, Baby Powder and Baby Shampoo are the spriz-able evocations of blissful, comforting memories. Their Baby Powder cologne was already on the market and proved such a phenomenal success they’ve launched it in a jumbo size of 120ml (compared to their usual 30ml bottles) and with two new scented siblings to join the 109 already in the family.
And for this new launch, The Library of Fragrance have really put in the hours (well, years) of research, as the New Baby cologne was hotly anticipated. As they explain: ‘It’s quite a relief for us to finally launch this fragrance – one that a customer asks for each and every week – after no less than 15 years of development…’
As we learned at the IFRA Fragrance Forum recently, it really does seem as though smells from our childhood have a particularly strong influence over our scent preferences in later life, and this was something The Library of Fragrance took very seriously while reserching and developing these fragrances, consulting with Dr. Rachel Herz, the internationally acclaimed leading expert in scent psychology and author of best- seller, The Scent of Desire.
Explains Rachel, ‘Our olfactory system is the very first sense to develop and we actually have a fully functioning sense of smell by the time we are twelve weeks in the womb. This means that even before we are born we are learning about the important scents in our environment, such as what our mother eats, and by the time we are born we are fully able to learn how to make sense of the world through our nose and to remember important associations. For example, studies have now shown that babies can distinguish the scent of their own mothers, from other mothers, only hours after birth.

Odour is indelibly embedded into the infant’s world in a way that other senses are not. Our visual system, in stark contrast, takes several years after we are born to mature to a point that visual experiences can be fully processed, stored and recalled. The sight of a bottle of Baby Powder won’t mean anything to an infant, but the smell of Baby Powder – if it was used on us as babies – will immediately elicit feelings that are associated with being cared for, soothed and cradled.’
Among the myriad highly complex and sophisticated perfumes available on the market, it’s interesting to note that when we seek comfort in these often distressing times – it’s those simple pleasures we reach for time and again to cosset and soothe with happy scent memories…

baby-powder-30_grande
‘Inspired by the iconic talc from Johnson & Johnson, this scent really triggers strong emotional links. Advancing scientific research is showing us that scent is processed deep within a part of our brains that also manages emotion and memories. It’s not likely that many of us have tangible memories of being a baby, but it’s very likely that the scent of our Baby Powder fragrance subliminally takes us right back to feeling soothed, cradled and cared for. And who doesn’t want to feel like that at least some of the time?’
The Library of Fragrance Baby Powder £30 for 120ml Cologne
new-baby-30_grande‘Powdery, creamy and enveloping, its soothing, hushed tones balance the nostalgic aromas of baby talc and shampoo with a blend of musks that somehow capture the scents of warm skin and clean, soft laundry, taking us right back to those very earliest of days.’

The Library of Fragrance New Baby £15 for 30ml Cologne
baby_shampoo_lof_30ml_hero_grande‘Inspired by the nostalgic scent of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, this is one of the freshest, cleanest, happiest smells on earth. It somehow makes us feel as we imagine we did then, splashing around and giggling from under bubbly beards.’
The Library of Fragrance Baby Shampoo £15 for 30ml
Buy them at thelibraryoffragrance.com
Written by Suzy Nightingale