27 SCENTS AND SENSIBILITY
Our sense of smell is closely tied to our memories – and therefore our sense of home. But which aromas will boost your wellbeing? It’s all about the new wave of all-natural products
Since ancient Egypt, when incense concocted from spices and honey was used to purify temples and homes, people have had faith in the link between scent and wellbeing. We still do today, though scientific proof of any tangible physical effects may be scant. ‘There is very little clinical research into the effects of aroma on wellbeing – except for lavender, which has been proven to have a relaxing and sleep-inducing effect,’ says Jo Fairley, co-founder of The Perfume Society. Nevertheless, the psychological pull of scent is strong. ‘The human olfactory centre is linked to the brain’s limbic system, which registers emotion and stores our memories,’ explains Michael Donovan, perfume expert and owner of south-east London lifestyle store Roullier White. ‘For this reason, our noses affect the way we react with our home environment all the time. It’s sensible to make the most of the opportunity.’
How we do this isn’t just about lighting a scented candle. Ask perfume industry insiders how they use fragrance in their homes and you’ll get some original answers. Olivia Chantecaille, creative director of botanical beauty brand Chantecaille, puts a few drops of orange-blossom essential oil on a tissue and places it in a pillowcase at bedtime. ‘Orange blossom is incredibly calming to the central nervous system,’ she explains. Perfumer Lyn Harris, founder of Perfumer H, also chooses to go back to basics: ‘If I go to the countryside I bring back moss, bunches of ivy and pine cones and fill my home with nature,’ she says. She also carries a lump of frankincense, an antiseptic tree resin with a naturally comforting scent, in her pocket if she is feeling under the weather.
Others embrace the power of flowers and greenery. Florist Robbie Honey has geraniums growing by his front door and picks the leaves to crush. ‘The scent is utterly uplifting,’ he says. Victoire de Taillac-touhami, co-founder of French pharmacy Buly 1803, follows the Moroccan custom of growing fragrant jasmine plants outside entrances. ‘On my balcony, I also have a collection of geraniums – my “feel better” scent.’ And Laurent Delafon, CEO of United Perfumes – which produces Cire Trudon and Fornasetti Profumi home scents – adopts the simplest trick of all. ‘I always have a selection of citrus fruits in a bowl. When you peel them, break the leaves and crush the rinds ➤
‘The olfactory centre is linked to the brain’s limbic system, which registers emotion… our noses affect the way we react with our environment all the time’
We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that cleaning products, purporting to smell of ‘fresh breezes’, are the essence of clean; in fact, they’re anything but
SCENTS AND SENSIBILITY
between your fingers they deliver an instant boost of freshness and happiness,’ he says.
If nature’s bounty is enough for the professionals, do we need scented candles, room sprays and diffusers at all? Well, yes and no. Many in the perfume industry use them strategically, like Amanda Morgan, Diptyque’s UK managing director. ‘Candle flames are calming, while room sprays are great refreshers – I always spritz my hallway before I leave home in the mornings, and the first thing I do when I get back at night is light a candle.’ Perfumers are often at the extreme end of the spectrum – there’s nothing like being surrounded by smells all day to make you averse to them when off duty. But if there’s one rule that the experts agree on, it’s this: home fragrance must involve natural ingredients. Skincare guru Liz Earle MBE (read our interview with her on p63) recommends using organic essential oils in a ceramic oil burner or electronic diffuser. ‘Essential oils were the world’s first air fresheners and they are also more ecologically sound than plug-ins or sprays,’ she says. At the other end of the scale, Roja Dove’s scented candles are the haute couture of home fragrance, made using the finest raw materials to mimic Mother Nature. Dove says that by burning two of his candles in unison, you can recreate the most beautiful aroma of a summer garden. ‘Select notes that have something in common, such as serene rose with earthy patchouli, to recreate the authentic scent of a flowerbed.’
Of course, none of that is any use if your housework routine resembles a form of chemical warfare. All the perfume experts we consulted cited harsh supermarket detergents as an arch enemy of wellbeing. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that chemical cleaning products, purporting to smell of things like mint, lemon and ‘fresh breezes’, are the essence of clean; in fact, they’re anything but. ‘There are many studies showing the danger of synthetic fragrances in household products, leading to asthma, skin reactions, headaches, allergies and changes of mood,’ says medical herbalist Dr Mariano Spiezia, founder of organic brand Inlight Beauty. He regularly uses unscented ecological formulas in conjunction with creative touches of his own – a little essential oil added to the washing machine drawer, or on a cloth in the tumble drier.
For tougher tasks, recently launched brand Tincture is an effective natural cleaning range. Using medieval monastic recipes as its starting point, it combines botanicals – such as sage and lavender – with silver, an antimicrobial that’s so effective at disinfecting it’s used in operating theatres. ‘No fragrance has been added and the smell of each product is derived purely from the raw materials,’ says Anastasia Brozler, who founded the brand last year with her sister Angelika Davenport. As Davenport points out, many of the plants that we celebrate for their scent were originally grown for a different purpose – to heal and cleanse. The natural antimicrobial properties of species such as lavender, patchouli and frankincense evolved to protect the plants from predators and disease; to our good fortune, we can benefit from these defence mechanisms, too.
In recent years, we’ve learned to be aware of seasonal food, eco-cottons and organic skincare – next, we should expect a boom in all-natural fragrances, where the provenance and the therapeutic quality of ingredients are key. As educated consumers start to demand the same standards from scent as they do from food providers, this is surely where the future lies.