The Human Relationship with Fragrance -Linda Harman, Quest International

Posted on Friday 12 September 2008

‘Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived’.

Fragrance – the very word represents indulgence; pleasure; luxury. For centuries we have had a very special relationship with scent, with smell the most elusive of the senses. Helen Keller had an acute sensitivity to smell and touch, deprived as she was of sight and sound. The psychologist Sigmund Freud said that when mankind got together to cultivate the land, build ziggurats and temples, one of the casualties of civilisation was a diminution of the sense of smell. Certainly most of the greatest recent inventions have been linked to the more dominant informative senses of vision or hearing: television, telephone, computers, iPod but when we want to retreat it is to the more emotional senses of smell, touch or taste that we turn.

Why is fragrance so evocative? Simply because of the way we are structured. Smell is the one sense whose exact mechanism remains a mystery – but which we do know is plugged directly into the part of the brain that is responsible for memory and emotion.

Barill’e wrote: ‘The magic of fragrance comes from the relationship between man and nature’.

Despite civilisation, the magic remains today. Fragrance is a sensory pleasure and a vital part of brand communication. Odour surrounds us from the first waft of coffee or burst of citrus in the shower to those indulgent mood-setting candles or soothing bath oils in the evening, whispering messages through associations stored deep in the human subconscious. Whether it be seeking relaxation through the fabled qualities of lavender or camomile, being revived by the bracingly medicinal scent of rosemary, soothed by the luxury of rose, Ylang Ylang, or seduced by the sensuality of sandalwood, scent is an emotional catalyst. In our increasingly pressured society smell is the emotional sense, fragrance the key to managing the, often turbulent, human psyche.

Fragrance is both an art and a science. Bringing the fragrant messages to products today is complex and relies on the craft of both perfumer and chemist. The industry behind fragrance is global and worth 152 Billion USD every year. It is dominated by six international companies who account for 57% of the total market: Givaudan (Swiss), IFF (American), Firmenich (Swiss), Symrise (German), Quest International (Anglo-Dutch), and Takasago (Japanese). The fragrances and flavours created by these companies are incorporated by manufacturers into every aspect of our daily lives, providing a plethora of choice: creamy shampoos and conditioners with soft sensual smell or astringent ones with herbal extract to reassure functional benefits, laundry products with built in freshness designed to cling to clothes, cleaning products that sparkle olfactively as well as functionally and a whole array of personal fragrance products to convey invitations or stay-away messages to others.

Luxury, prestige, indulgence, warmth, reassurance, freshness, clean; fragrance stands for them all. Its role in modern life has however come under question by some elements of society who feel scent is not a necessity. The reader can draw his own conclusion as the psychology and science of scent is explored, the detail of the industry described, the role of natural versus synthetic ingredients investigated, all in the context of the creation of an imaginary scent – Eve. The creation of Eve mimics the process followed by the fragrance industry today, from receipt of the initial brief to the creation, evaluation, toxicology testing and application into product that takes place. Sound science and striking work by chemists is fundamental to the creation of all modern products. Fragrance is no exception.

Taken from “The Chemistry of Fragrances From Perfumer to Consumer” by Charles Sell

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