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.
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?
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
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…
‘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
‘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
‘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
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