Did you know that our sense of smell is the most powerful sense? It is the only sense capable of triggering something else beyond a sensation and the reaction to it: this plate is hot, that noise is loud, this chair is blue, this cake is sweet, this scent is heady AND it takes you back to that exact moment you first fell in love. Sound familiar?
The link to our emotions
The reason why smell triggers emotions and subsequently, memories is mainly anatomical. Our sense of smell is the only one of our five senses biologically linked to our limbic system, the part of our brain that is linked to emotions and memory.
This is what the Proust’s Madeleine phenomenon refers to – when the French author famously described how the smell of madeleine cakes triggered an involuntary memory of his childhood and his aunt baking.
In his bestselling book Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Patrick Suskind also explores the wonderful yet dangerous power that scent can have in setting emotions such as love, hatred, disgust and attraction.
Could our sense of smell be our most “subconscious” sense, in some way, a sixth sense? A lot of scientific studies seem to prove this theory.
The smell of attraction
A growing number of studies show the important role that body odour plays when choosing a sexual partner, some think it has to do with our genes. (Find more theories in this article).
The French expression “je ne peux pas le sentir” which translates to “I can’t smell him/her” is commonly used to express when one can’t stand someone. This phrase suggests the social role that our sense of smell plays in our natural ability to distinguish between the people we get on with from the people we don’t.
This is probably why Smell Dating or the concept of incorporating pheromones in fragrances isn’t such a bad idea after all.
“Odours have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearance, emotions or will.” – Patrick Suskind
The issue is that in order to have real scientific leverage, it’d be much more complicated than a marketing message or the incorporation of one “magical” ingredient.
Pheromones or odours we just love?
When researching for “fragrance with pheromones”, Google lists Escentric Molecules and its famous Molecule 01 fragrance as one of the options. This fragrance brand had the genius idea to use the molecule, Iso E Super, as the main ingredient in the formula.
To be more olfactively precise, Iso E Super has a round, ambery, mineral and velvety woody scent. It is very pleasant but not many people can clearly smell it so it has an elusive power. Ambroxan is another molecule that has a similar woody ambery profile and doesn’t smell much on its own but would make any composition smell divine.
Iso E Super is universally used in perfumery and laundry products. It has a comforting smell that most people love. In fact, we sometimes hear some people describing it as the smell of sex or skin – could this be because your bed sheets release the clean smell of your laundry product when creased?
Play perfumer at home and recreate memories
What could be the future for the scent of attraction?
The simple answer is, it is too soon and science has yet to unlock all the facets of our sense of smell. In order to trigger emotions and memories, a scent has to resonate more deeply than a marketing phrase or a nice smell.
This depends on one’s history, culture and personal experiences. There are only a handful of odours universally regarded as pleasant such as vanilla. We also have to take into account biological factors such as genetics.
The novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer tells the story of Grenouille, a serial killer who triggered an orgy and was subsequently ‘eaten’ by the crowd when wearing the fragrance he created out of the smell of the skin of the women he murdered. Fortunately, the idea remains a fiction but it may not be in the future? Who knows…
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