Wait­ing to In­hale

Scent is the last fron­tier of IRL ex­pe­ri­ences.

Fashion (Canada) - - Beauty Fragrance - By Sarah Daniel

If our reti­nas could talk—in be­tween scan­ning the news, scrolling through im­ages or watch­ing what­ever video, meme or GIF is dom­i­nat­ing our feeds, that is—they’d prob­a­bly com­plain of ex­haus­tion and near burnout just like the bod­ies they in­habit. “The dig­i­tal world is able to take di­rect ad­van­tage of our visual and au­dio pro­cess­ing,” says Dr. Rachel Herz, a neu­ro­sci­en­tist and scent-psychology ex­pert and the au­thor of The Scent of De­sire. Smell, on the other hand, forces us to slow down and con­nect in a way we don’t al­ways have the chance to do in our daily lives. “When we smell some­thing, we are much more in­ti­mately and per­son­ally en­gaged,” ex­plains Herz. “We are more vis­cer­ally in­volved in the ex­pe­ri­ence than we are in pretty much any other sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence.” That’s why, says Herz, “wear­ing or smelling a scent you love is a re­ally ex­cel­lent way of re-ground­ing your­self in your own senses, quite lit­er­ally, and in your own self.” There’s a rea­son why smell is so evoca­tive and emo­tional. When sci­en­tists be­gan in­ves­ti­gat­ing the ol­fac­tory sys­tem, they traced nerve tis­sue in the nose up into the brain, ex­plains Dr. Avery Gil­bert, au­thor of What the Nose Knows: The Science »

of Scent in Every­day Life. “One of the things they no­ticed is that it goes to two places. The first is the amyg­dala, which is an area that does very rapid pro­cess­ing of emo­tional con­tent,” he says. “So even be­fore you rec­og­nize a smell or can name it, you’re [think­ing] ‘I like it’ or ‘That’s bad’—you make that de­ci­sion in lit­er­ally 10 mil­lisec­onds.” The other part of the brain it trav­els to—the hip­pocam­pus—is re­spon­si­ble for new mem­ory for­ma­tion. This ex­plains the mo­ments, places and peo­ple that flood back with 4K clar­ity when we en­counter fra­grances as­so­ci­ated with them, no mat­ter how many years later.

While our eyes are fixed on the screens in front of us, our noses are work­ing 24-7, too—we just don’t re­al­ize it. To use an ana­log anal­ogy, our ol­fac­tory hard­ware is not un­like a boom box mak­ing a mix­tape of our life. “We don’t re­mem­ber try­ing to re­mem­ber smell be­cause our brain is al­ways record­ing,” says Gil­bert. It’s doc­u­ment­ing every­thing from “back­ground noise,” like the cloud of in­dus­trial clean­ing sup­plies in­fil­trat­ing your of­fice lobby, to pos­i­tive scent mem­o­ries, like a loved one’s sham­poo.

The fra­grance in­dus­try does an ex­cel­lent job play­ing up the emo­tional as­pect of scent, de­spite the fact that per­fume ad­ver­tis­ing has the tough task of per­suad­ing con­sumers to pur­chase a bot­tle with­out know­ing what it smells like (the IRL ex­cep­tion be­ing scent strips that run in mag­a­zines). Re­cently, brands like Prada, Serge Lutens and Char­lotte Til­bury have at­tempted to find a way around that ob­sta­cle by launch­ing vir­tual real­ity cam­paigns that of­fer an im­mer­sive and in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence. The idea is that en­list­ing the other senses by us­ing dif­fer­ent tex­tures, sights and sounds will help fill in those fra­grance blanks. And soon, per­haps those very fra­grance brands will take a page from Montreal’s Élixir Mar­ket­ing Ol­fac­tif, an agency that cre­ated bus shel­ter bill­boards that re­lease the aroma of orange trees when sen­sors de­tect commuters are stand­ing in front of its ad for OJ, in the hopes that their sub­con­scious will in­struct them to buy a car­ton the next time they’re at the gro­cery store.

While Sil­i­con Val­ley is hard at work on tech­nolo­gies that will bring scent into the VR world, Herz has doubts that any will be suc­cess­ful “be­cause of a va­ri­ety of ba­sic lo­gis­ti­cal things about how our sense of smell works,” she says. So un­til some­one fig­ures out a way for us to smell through our Kin­dle or cell­phone, our noses could re­main the last bas­tion of ex­pe­ri­ences you need to have IRL.


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