The ODORBET is a brand new, open resource for all odophiles – and they want YOUR help…
Conceived by artist and author Catherine Haley Epstein and art and olfactory historian Caro Verbeek, the ODORBET is an online place to collect (and delight in) smell descriptions, with a larger aim ‘…to re-narrate history from a sensory perspective by reconstructing and presenting historical scents and tactile poetry in museums and beyond.’
Thanks to those who have already submitted, they’ve gathered 240 words and phrases so far, from controubutors all over the world, and these are being gradually shared at random, in three-word installations.
So why does it matter? Why can’t we just make do with the same old words we normally use?
Well, as we know all too well at The Perfume Society, describing a smell is actually really challenging. There are very few commonly used words that don ‘t fall back on likening a scent to something else – saying it’s fruity, for example, or likening it to a well-known texture such as velvet. By limiting our vocabulary, we’re restricting the ways in which we can accurately communicate and share our feelings about what we’re smelling, and ultimately, how we connect to those smells emotionally and intellectually.
‘We are compiling this Odorbet to provide more springboards for broader thinking around the landscape of the nose and scent,’ they explain, because we know that ‘…how we think is deeply affected by the words we use. For example, “climate change study” has a vastly different connotation than “imminent disaster planning.” We know there is passive, neutral and aggressive ways of stating things that will inspire correlating behavior.’
What’s more, the descriptions reveal fascinating historical and cultural scent snippets you’ve perhaops never heard of, and will want to nose around finding out more about, as we certainly did!
Let’s have a peek at a few submitted so far, and think about which others we might want to add, ourselves…
In these darker days while we stumble through that twilight zone between the dog end of winter and the strat of spring (and with that, the hope of daylight or anything nice happening ever again), our spirits may need some manual help with lifting – and luckily for us, fragrance is one of the most direct ways of doing this.
For anyone who’s had a terrible day and reached for the bottle – the perfume bottle, that is – the answer is resoundingly in the affirmative. Little wafts of a favourite scent throughout the day can be a perfumed treat for you, or worn as a fragrant shield against the world in general. And now we have some research to back up those beliefs.
When you take a deep breath and inhale aroma molecules, they’re detected by the olfactory receptors in your nose and immediately stimulate some of the deepest, oldest parts of the brain – in ways that we’re only just starting to understand.
‘This process produces nerve impulses which travel to the limbic system, the part of the brain which is most concerned with survival, instincts and emotions. It’s thought by scientists the activity of the nerve signal passing through this region causes mood change by altering brain chemistry,’ says Christina Salcedas, of Aromatherapy Associates London. Our ability to smell ‘…is a window into parts of the brain related to core functions, like pleasure, emotion, and memory,’ agrees Jayant Pinto, MD, author of the study and an otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon at University of Chicago Medicine.
‘Pleasant ambient odors have also been found to enhance vigilance during a tedious task and improve performance on anagram and word completion tests’ reports scientificamerican.com, going on to explain that, conversely, ‘…the presence of a malodor reduced participants subjective judgments and lowered their tolerance for frustration. Participants in these studies also reported concordant mood changes. Thus,’ they conclude, ‘the observed behavioral responses are due to the effect that the ambient odors has on peoples mood’
Scent alters mood, mood increases creativity and productivity: it’s a win-win. But what exactly should you spritz to give yourself an olfactory boost for the spirit? I don’t necessarily want to reach for bottles of perfume I normally associate with winter – you know, those fragrances that seduce you into a state of langorously scented stulification, with rich, velvety florals swathed in spices and cosseted in cashmere. No, it’s time to be gently jolted a little, to kick-start your senses when your spirits are low, or whenever you just need a dose of extra sunshine in your life…
Still going strong since 1792, I’ve heard some wise French grandmothers advised leaving this in the fridge and splashing your breasts with it every morning, to tone and invigorate. Lemon, orange, dewy fresh rose and sandalwood oil combine with some sort of alchemy to take the heat out of a situation and ease the onset of a headache – particularly useful for those of us constantly tied to our computers. Did you know this is the only scent that Holly Golightly wears in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? In the mailbox of her apartment, she keeps her everyday essentials – a mirror, lipstick, and bottle of 4711. Quite right, too.
4711 Eau de Cologne Cool Stick £5.99 for 20ml
Buy it at Boots
A revolutionary fragrance and body treatment that was first launched in 1987, the invigorating aroma was unisex way before the word became trendy, and offers uplifting essences along with the promise of moisturising, firming and toning. Containing essential oils of lemon, patchouli, petit grain, ginseng and white tea, it leaves you feeling like you’ve just bounced out of a spa treatment (while avoiding awkward small-talk and the need to pre-wax your lady garden).
Clarins Eau Dynamisante £50 for 200ml Eau de Cologne
Buy it at clarins.co.uk
Abandon all thoughts of “grenade” in the sense of pulling a pin and hot-footing it in the opposite direction, for pommegrenade in French is what we know as “pomegranate”. An exotic melange of intensely fruity notes for a feeling of exuberant light-heartedness. Orange gets zesty with the mango-like davana, hypnotic neroli flowers fall like confetti on a base of vanilla – a scent now proven to calm startle reflexes and is being used to help patients undergo stressful sessions of chemotherapy in some hospitals. Spritz, breathe and dream, exotically.
Weleda Jardin de Vie Grenade £21.95 for 50ml eau naturelle parfumeé
Buy it at weleda.co.uk
Whisking you to the light-filled royal courtyards of Seville, bitter orange, sun-drenched bergamot and mandarin giggle into neroli and the cardamom-flecked, florist-shop freshness of galbanum; while ylang ylang is (unusually) found in the base, making for a giddily joyous landing. Wrapping cedar with flirty floral tendrils, the musky trail of sunshine-infused happiness surrounds you like a much-needed hug.
Molton Brown Orange & Bergamot £39 for 50ml eau de toilette
Buy it at moltonbrown.co.uk
If you’re anything like me, you spend half your life searching for plug points to charge up whatever electronics you’re lugging around – if only our own batteries were boosted so simply. Consecutive days of not enough sleep and hectic lifestyles can really take it out of you, as can eating your own body-weight in dairy products, I have discovered. Book me in for a barrel-load, then, of crisply revivifying grapefruit, lemon & rosemary to help refresh and re-energise.
Sparkling fresh, this citrus scent with a rich floral heart is ‘perfect for spritzing any time your spirits need a boost,’ as they put it. It’s that sudden throwback to summer memories, a snapshot of yourself laughing while dancing in a garden, the fizz of Champagne bubbles still on your lips, a warm breeze swirling rose petals at your feet. Spray whenever you need reminding that better days will come again.
Liz Earle Botanical Essence No.1 £54 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at uk.lizearle.com
When the heat rises and armpits emerge from beneath layers of jumpers, coats and jackets, commuters hold their breath in anticpation of the inevitable olfactory onslaught. With the premise that our noses eventually become attuned to the scent of our own sweat, Nivea have developed a digitised nose for your phone – an app they say scans areas of men’s bodies particularly prone to funkiness (and we don’t mean dancing to James Brown).
Having analysed the area – based on a specially produced algorithm that previously evaluated the scent of 4,000 other males – the app warns concerned men of their potential whiff-factor, rating their particular smell from ‘it’s okay’, through ‘it’s time’ and the climactic klaxon of ‘it’s urgent’. Nivea’s NOSE has been created by Geoffrey Hantson – a Belgium-based chief creative officer behind the so-called “smellphone” technology. Having been beta-tested in Belgium, worldwide whiffing is soon to commence, with the app then to be launched simultaneously on AppStore and Google Play, and a consumer version hoped to be released shortly afterwards. Watch Nivea’s video below for an insight into how it all works…
Meanwhile, the rather appropriately named Nosang Myung – a UC Riverside professor who’s invented an electronic nose to be used for sniffing out potential dangers to human life – said although the technology is in its ‘most simplistic form’ it could possibly work through only having to detect levels of sweat. On his rather more intricate technology, which he hopes could detect hazards such as dangerous levels of gas in the air we breathe (or even bombs) Professor Myung commented, ‘we developed a nose. A smartphone has an eye, so we just have to put on the legs. So now, I call it an electronic sniffing dog. Places you don’t want to go, instead of sending a dog, you can send this robot.’
Could this digital form of smelling lead to perfumers being replaced by robots? Well, the Noses we know can rest easy for now, as the human olfactory system is so highly complex and nuanced that scientists are still beavering away to understand it fully, let alone reproduce it. Hanston remains optimistic about the future for digital technology in harmony with scent, however, telling Huffington Post that although Nivea to will have to sell the sensors separately – currently the sensory technology is embedded in hard covers for phones – he’s pretty sure the technology will eventually be integrated into the integral structure of an actual phone ‘within a couple of years’.
While parents may be rejoicing at the perfect present for their teenage sons, some might suggest that if one is dithering about whether or not to apply deodorant, perhaps top it up anyway, just to be on the safe side…?