Have you ever heard a song that reminds you of a specific moment in time, tasted a chocolate that triggers playground memories, or smelt a scent that you associate with one particular friend? These are all mild forms of synaesthesia, a sensory phenomenon which involves one sense involuntarily triggering another. More extreme versions of this condition can involve people seeing colour when they listen to music or associating certain smells with different textures. In fact, for someone with synaesthesia, they may relate a certain smell to different moments of their life, so they can literally smell their teenage years.
This condition may seem a far cry from the world of fashion and beauty, but delve deeper into the thought processes behind spa treatments and you’ll find that lighting concepts, perfumes, music and massage techniques are all synchronised and blended for optimum relaxation; the senses are used to affect your mood.
With the onslaught of wind and rain we face with the upcoming winter months, it’s certainly an interesting idea that our senses can be used to boost our mood and beat the winter blues.
Open any magazine as November draws near and the likelihood is you’ll be faced with articles on how to “upgrade” your perfume for Winter. Is this an absurd notion? Shoes can come in and out of fashion, but can a scent? On a primary level, these articles do simply play up to the consumer belief that we constantly need new products on our shelves. However, the ability of scents to trigger nostalgia and affect our mood makes for an interesting argument that seasonal perfumes should be more accepted.
One ingredient widely used in fresh, uplifting perfumes is neroli, an oil coming from the small white flower of the bitter orange tree that has a light, green scent. The mild and refreshing scent of neroli lends itself perfectly to summer perfumes. However, it is also scientifically proven to increase the production of serotonin, your brain’s happy chemical, making you feel positive and cheerful. This means if you’re one of the many people that find themselves negatively affected by the dark weather, a neroli-heavy perfume for the colder months may be a way to boost your spirits.
As scents are so closely linked to memory, it’s also possible to trigger the production of serotonin through perfumes that remind you of certain happy memories. Many ‘Winter’ perfumes revolve around a woody base note, often sandalwood or spicy cinnamon, with a sweeter heart note, such as vanilla or tonka bean. In fact, tonka bean is also thought to be an antidepressant, though more studies are needed on this theory. These sweeter perfumes play upon memories of Christmas time: home baking, advent calendars and other festive treats, to illicit feelings of nostalgia and warmth which we associate with the holiday season.
The perfume industry is at saturation point with increasingly farfetched television adverts and packaging all being used to boost perfume sales. After all, how do you sell a perfume without being able to smell it? Just like your sense of taste, everyone has a slightly different sense of smell; some people love the smell of lilies, others find it overly cloying and heavy, and an even smaller number still say it reminds them of funeral parlours and bouquets, another way in which memory affects our perception of scents. This is something the perfume industry draws upon when inventing a new fragrance, but which can lead us to purchase fragrances we don’t really like.
Think of the Thierry Mugler ‘Alien’ advert: a golden woman stands in the centre of an extra-terrestrial landscape as she dances beneath a floating ball of light. Everything about the advert suggests extremes, from the landscape to the woman’s elaborately styled hair and glowing golden dress. You’d expect for a similarly extreme perfume, something unexpected, a blend of contrasting tones, an original scent that turns heads. What you find is a sweet perfume which, though pleasant, is by no means unusual or unique. It would be interesting to see how many people would buy the perfume had they seen an advert which more accurately represents the almost honey-like perfume.
Untangling ourselves from clever marketing tactics is difficult given their pervasive position in our every-day life (you can’t walk through Manchester these days without Johnny Depp brandishing a spade at you under the title ‘Sauvage’). But separating yourself from these sales techniques and enjoying the real scent of a perfume can help when choosing a personal scent.
Top Tips for finding a personal scent:
Try and pick out the 3 layers of the perfume: the top note, the heart note, and the base note. Often, the bottle will highlight the three main layers, but looking at the ingredients list will also allow you to do this. Like wine tasting, these notes blend fruity and spicy, sweet and metallic, in order to create a unique aroma which creates an original product. If you can separate the three and find a perfume where you enjoy each layer equally, you’re well on your way to finding a signature perfume.
Test the perfume on your skin: Your body heat and skin affects the composition of the perfume, which means that the top note of a perfume may smell strong on you, but the base layer may be more noticeable on someone else. Rubbing your wrists together is also said to affect the composition of the perfume, breaking down the chemicals and altering their scent.
Layer them up: mixing complimentary scents adds a complexity to the perfume which makes it personal to you.