Making scents of smell
v Visceral instinct; The least respected of our senses is in fact our most primeval, connecting us to our deepest emotions and memories and creating meanings, feelings and attachments unique to each of us
As human beings, we sometimes tend to lose 'sight' of what's important. But we are always in the mood to 'taste' something new. And when we 'hear' of something sweet, it 'touches' our heart and that warm fuzzy feeling remains with us as a distant but unforgettable memory. Incorporating these senses into our everyday lives is almost effortless. We have never had to be particularly conscious of which sense we are using to understand the world around us. But it is the fifth sense - that of smell - that can most easily be forgotten.
Do we rely on our sense of smell to get us places? And if we were to lose it, would feel handicapped without it? Many believe that if one sense is taken away, all others are heightened. Without sight, we cannot go about our normal way of life. Without hearing, how can we enjoy life's pleasures of music and harmony? Without taste, we would be deprived of the pleasure of one of the most enjoyed pastimes, eating. And without our sense of touch, what are we to make of the world around us?
From an evolutionary perspective, smell is considered the most important of our senses. In fact our sense of smell is sometimes more personal than our other senses, as it can trigger memories of people, places or incidents.
The human nose can detect thousands of different smells. But as modern humans, we often deny our natural instincts. For animals, smell is the most important sense. Dogs will smell their way to find food, reproduce and even communicate with others of their kind.
For us, it can be the smell of freshly made coffee that reminds us of warm childhood memories, or those dreaded long days at the office. To some, the smell of peanut butter or Nutella is a reminder of school days with packed lunches. To me, it's the sweet smell of Bill Blass perfume that immediately signals my mum's presence, or the smell of freshly-made pancakes that indicates a relaxing Sunday.
We can be affected psychologically and physiologically by just a simple whiff. Researchers believe that certain scents trigger particular moods and feelings. For example, lavender is a known mood enhancer and this has helped shape the aromatherapy and fragrance industry.
Certain perfume scents may remind us of a childhood best friend or of our significant other. From the beginning, the beauty industry has used fragrances that can spark feelings of happiness. Some brands have a signature scent which remains a best-seller for years.
So why do we pick a certain scent over another? Have you ever noticed that our scent preferences are sometimes not matched by others? This is all due to our emotional association with it. Our olfactory likes or dislikes towards scents can also change as we grow older and although we make our choices from a very young age - we are learning through association and shaping our own future.
It is our own history with particular odours which gives them meaning, thus making them pleasant or unpleasant to us.
Luxury department stores such as Lane Crawford employ fragrance experts - or 'noses' - to determine what fragrances suit the market best. Its fragrance specialists are trained by world-renowned fragrance expert and FiFi Award-winner Michael Edwards, as well as perfume houses in Hong Kong. According to Edwards, finding the right fragrance should be 'effortless', as he illustrates in his book Fragrances of the World.
Choosing the right fragrance is very subjective. According to Eternal Optical & Perfumery perfumer trainer Yoyo Kwan, it all depends on our different experiences and lifestyles and the effect of smell as a taste. When we taste something we enjoy, endorphins are sent from the brain which creates that feeling of happiness. For some, they may feel an opposite effect.
When selecting an appropriate fragrance, never focus on the trend or take a friend's opinion - you must find the scent that is personal to you. When recalling a specific memory from a smell - it is an emotional attachment we build from the heart.
As some may say, 'living in the moment' is favoured; but it's nice to know our sense of smell allows us to live in the past, present and the future.