One of my earliest memories is watching my mother get ready for an evening out, while I draped myself in her dresses and put my tiny feet into her high heels and stumbled across her bedroom. I remember the scent that filled the air – my mother wore the iconic Youth Dew fragrance by Estee Lauder, which still transports me back to those happy days. The fact that perfume can transport you back to a place in time, even if in your distant memory, is something that I always find incredible.
This year has certainly been testing, in various ways, and it may not be the case that we want to remember parts (or all) of it! However, memories have been a big topic of conversation for us in the studio since the pandemic and various restrictions began, filling our time thinking back to happy times with loved ones or experiences we can’t wait to relive. It got us thinking about how we remember different places, people or things, and what triggers these memories.
What springs to mind if you think about a grandparent? Or an amazing experience you had – like a wedding, birthday, holiday or festival? I would guess that smells feature strongly in some, if not all, of these. Let’s break down how that works…
It helps to first define our terms: What is a smell? In order for you to smell something, molecules from that thing have to make it to your nose. Everything you can smell is giving off molecules, like your cup of coffee in the morning or a piece of fruit. These molecules are generally light, volatile chemicals (i.e. quick to evaporate) that float through the air into your nose. A piece of steel has no smell because nothing evaporates from it, it’s a non-volatile solid.
Nerves from the nose go into the brain. Odour molecules come in on a sniff and interact with receptor neurons at the top of your nose. When an odour molecule binds with a receptor, the nerve sends a signal back up to the brain.
There are hundreds of receptors, and each one is encoded by a specific gene. This means that we each smell a similar, but at the same time, a completely different world. The seat of our sense of smell is located close to the emotional and learning centres of the brain. So the experience of smelling something carries with it an emotional response and may trigger a particular memory. Smell is responsible for about 80% of taste, and food memories are among the first smell memories we have, like that apple pie of your grandmother’s…
In the fast-paced, technological world we live in, I find it really special that scent can trigger memories in us like nothing else can. That’s why I want to create fragrances that have depth and character, whose ingredients will speak to you and will hit those emotions and memories that are deep inside.
So this Christmas, when you inhale the aroma of that Christmas pudding, remember all the amazing things that are happening in your nose and brain!