Red UK

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SCENT

How did your fragrance make you feel when you spritzed it on this morning? Calm; happy; powerful; nostalgic: scent has a potent power to evoke emotions and conjure up memories. For me, it’s nipitella – a herb commonly found in Italy that smells like sun-soaked, lemony mint – that takes me directly to a mental happy place; a relaxed, carefree, optimistic and self-assured state of mind prompted by the memory of joy-filled childhood (and adulthood) holidays in Tuscany. And I’m not the only one who’s moved by fragrance’s ability to affect our feelings.

‘Research* shows us that the right scent can alter our mood, increase our confidence and even improve the way we hold ourselves,’ explains Tim Jacob, emeritus professor of biosciences at Cardiff University.

The ‘how’ is a little more complicated: a combination of physiology and personal experiences that creates emotional associations. Essentially, our olfactory (or smell) receptors have, unlike other senses, a direct line to the limbic system in our brain. This part of the brain deals with motivation, emotion and behaviour, and pleasant aromas, which can travel to it super-swiftly, have been proven to have a positive effect on all three.

Add to this the fact that our limbic system also deals with memory and recall – meaning that scent can quickly set off very personal associations – and it makes smell the most evocative and reactive sense we have. ‘This is called the Proustian effect, in which aromas have more power to elicit vivid and emotional memories than other stimuli,’ explains psychologist Dr Céline Manetta, consumer research scientist at International Flavors & Fragrances.

So it stands to reason that, when selecting a scent, we take all this into consideration and choose fragrances tailored to how we want to feel: smells that can improve our mood, optimise our performance or relax our state of mind. While we each have our own library of smell associations that will bring about very personal and specific feelings, some scents work on a general level. In one study**, for instance, citrus was shown to improve feelings of wellness, while lavender improved mood – and both had a positive impact on taskrelated performances. Other research*** has demonstrated that people who spend time in a fragrant garden full of aromas such as jasmine, rose, iris and peony are likely to see a significant improvement in mood, alertness and calmness.

If it’s a feeling of sensuality that you want to conjure up, there’s only one need-to-know note: musk. ‘At IFF, we have a diagnostic tool that was developed by psychologists to understand the emotional resonance of fragrance ingredients,’ explains Dr Manetta. ‘We’ve found that musk notes are, emotionally speaking, the ones most often associated with sensuality.’

Master perfumer and fragrance historian Roja Dove agrees. ‘Musk has the power to seduce because it is, quite literally, an animalic note close to the smell of our own bodies and pheromones,’ he says. ‘Today it’s synthetically recreated for both ethical and economic reasons, but still enhances the smell of our own skin, which has a subconscious effect on those who inhale it. The primitive part of their sense of smell kicks in and it’s quite the aphrodisiac.’

This affinity with human skin has meant that, for centuries, musk has arguably been perfumery’s most widely used ingredient, appearing in countless fragrances. But in 2004, world renowned perfumers Christine Nagel and Francis Kurkdjian liberated musk from its base-note comfort zone and put it, and all its sensuality, centre stage when they created the original narciso rodriguez for her eau de toilette. Musk featured as a pivotal heart note – to a feverish reception – and made the fragrance a global bestseller. To this day, musk has remained at the heart of all narciso rodriguez fragrances, each of which, in its own way, uses the ingredient to capture feelings of sensuality and duality in women; passionate yet understated, elegant yet modern, intense yet pure.

Musk’s mercurial ability to enhance our natural smell makes it a must-have ingredient for anyone wanting to amplify their sensuality. But its simplicity also means it can be layered with other notes, from fruits to florals, to cleverly combine a sensual feeling with whatever else is required – be it calm on a cosy winter’s night, energy for the festive season or empowerment when the moment requires it.

Since this link between our fragrance choices and an improved state of mind is a matter of science, what more reason do we need to exploit this olfactive alchemy and invest in a wardrobe of fragrances that make us feel our best selves? It would be rude not to…

LAYER UP

To create a perfume that’s personal to you, tailor your scent to your mood with clever combinations of for her pure musc and other narciso rodriguez fragrances. Whether you’re looking to bring energy or a touch of sophistication to your day, layering scents will open up new, unique ways of wearing your wardrobe of fragrance…

Sensual and seductive…

Add the original for her eau de toilette for a giddy-making musk medley

Uplifted and energised…

Blend with the peppy, peachy pops of for her eau de parfum for an invigorating boost

Calm and peaceful…

Mix with the peony and rose notes of for her fleur musc, or keep it simple and wear alone

Fragrances available at johnlewis.com

‘SMELL IS THE MOST EVOCATIVE SENSE WE HAVE’

*NCBI.NLM.NIH.GOV/PUBMED/19134127**ACADEMIC.OUP.COM/CHEMSE/ARTICLE-ABSTRACT/17/1/27/268385***ACADEMIC.OUP.COM/CHEMSE/ARTICLE/33/5/441/411550