Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Nose Knows Part 2

Now Smell This
Part Two (from
by Suzanne Bopp
Below is the conclusion of the article "Now Smell This," from
One study put a floral scent in an area of a casino over a weekend; gamblers there spent 45 percent more money than on other weekends, while the results for unscented areas of the casino remained unchanged. An Iowa State University study showed that introducing a pleasant scent caused shoppers to have more positive attitudes about a selection of sleepwear, as well as a willingness to pay more. But the scent needs to be congruent with the merchandise; a Lily of the Valley fragrance created the positive reaction, but the smell of Sea Mist, though judged to be enjoyable, didn't have the same results with sleepwear sales.

That incongruity probably led to the 2006 backlash against scented ads in San Francisco. As part of a "Got Milk?" campaign, ads in San Francisco bus shelters were imbued with a chocolate-chip-cookie aroma. The idea was to make people crave milk. They didn't. Complaints poured in, and the aromatic milk ads came down after just one day.

Commuters just didn't understand why they would smell baked goods out there, says Rachel Herz, a visiting professor at Brown University and author of
"The Scent of Desire." "They're in a bleak bus stop and they're smelling something that doesn't fit," she says. She warns that people tend to judge unexpected and unfamiliar smells as unpleasant. "Our interpretation typically jumps to the negative," she says, and that's especially true post-9/11, as people are still sensitive to an unusual stimulus of any kind.

Even with all the ongoing olfactory research, much about odor remains mysterious. Chemicals with different structures may smell similar, while those with nearly identical structures can smell completely different. That's a particular challenge to scent manufacturers trying to design the perfect scent. "If you take a novel assortment of odorous molecules, we cannot predict what that will smell like," says Northwestern University neurology professor Jay Gottfried. "If we mix amyl acetate -- a banana smell -- with eugenol -- a clove smell -- there are no rules to say how the mixture will be perceived."

Gender and experience, context and memory determine how an odor molecule is interpreted. When Herz had subjects sniff something identified as Parmesan cheese, they liked the smell. A week later she presented the same odor, telling subjects it was vomit. They found it revolting.

With so much ambiguity and sensitivity surrounding our olfactory systems, scent marketers have considerable responsibilities, Vogt says. They should not put their products in public spaces like bus shelters or spritz consumers without their invitation. And even though reputable scent marketing companies in the U.S. use approved fragrances, Vogt acknowledges safety concerns with foreign products; the Scent Marketing Institute is now establishing industry standards.

Even so, companies know there will be complaints -- Vogt recently received an e-mail with a subject line that read, "You are making us sick." A vocal population considers itself chemically sensitive, and scent marketers have already become a target elsewhere. Halifax, Nova Scotia, has declared itself a completely fragrance-free city. "In some Scandinavian countries, they're legislating against letting vaporous scents into the air," Santandrea says. "We're going to have legislation against us. But if the scent doesn't cling to you, we have a right to do it."

Santandrea insists that scent marketing helps consumers by giving them information. "We're democratizing scent," he says. "Shopping is merely hunting, and in the past when we hunted, we used our noses to inform us of what we were coming to."

At least for now, practical limitations remain. With many different smells mixing in the mall, the results could quickly become unpleasant. After 15 minutes or so, the nose adjusts to a scent and stops perceiving it. And when you go from one scented store into another, the fragrance of the second store may seem distorted to you, or hardly smell at all.

Still, efforts to introduce scent to everything seem irresistible. A few years ago we almost witnessed the release of iSmell, a "personal scent synthesizer" that would have released odors from scented Web sites and e-mails out of your computer. Although the company involved fell victim to the dot-com bust, the technology is available.

Motorola has a "smell-o-phone" in the works (so you can look forward not only to hearing the conversation of the person next to you but to smelling it too.
Scent-a-Vision should be available in the next two or three years, according to Santandrea (editor's note: God help us -- Olfacta) who has invented an appliance that synchronizes scent tracks with movies. Some techno clubs have hired ODO7, an "aroma jockey," who mixes smells onstage to add a "third dimension of entertainment."

Those kinds of applications, Gilbert says, likely hold the key to scent's future. "There will be a breakthrough in a popular culture application -- clubs, concerts, maybe scented artwork," he says. "Maybe then there will be a quiet revolution and scented ads will be no more ominous than billboards in Times Square."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Nose Knows

Below is Part One of an article from about scent-based marketing. O Brave New World!

(Some of the information on olfaction isn't exactly scientific, but you'll get the idea.)

Now Smell This

Savvy consumer marketers are proving that the way to your pocketbook is through your nose.

By Suzanne Bopp

Sept. 17, 2008 In a German movie theater last month, audience members waiting for the feature wondered why they were seeing people lounging on a beach. After 60 seconds of waves and seagulls, a tag line for Nivea sunscreen appeared, and the scent of Nivea wafted into the theater through the air-conditioning vents.

Later, a survey showed that audience recall of the smelly ad was 500 percent higher than for the scent-free version. Whether moviegoers enjoyed the scent of sunscreen with their popcorn was not recorded. But that's a number that advertisers certainly recall -- and one that proponents of scent marketing love to broadcast.
"Scent will soon be a normal part of advertising and entertainment," says Carmine Santandrea, owner of a scent marketing company in Santa Barbara, Calif. After circulating the smell of milk chocolate in the vicinity of a vending machine, he says, he saw a "sales lift of 300 percent for Hershey Kisses. That's never happened in advertising before. Those results can't be ignored."

Neither can an odor. While you can turn a magazine page or change a television channel, you can't avoid inhaling. "That's the good and bad thing about scent -- you can't get away from it," says Harald Vogt, founder of the
Scent Marketing Institute. "In our environment, everything already smells. The question is how you manage the smells."

The idea of scent in advertising is not new. Back in 1965, Santandrea created a scented Coke pavilion at the World's Fair in New York. But science has now given Madison Avenue powerful new tools to fulfill its odorous promise. Today's chemists, for instance, can capture the scent of a strawberry in varying stages of ripeness by taking samples of the air around the berry with a gas chromatograph. The bigger development, according to Avery Gilbert, author of
"What the Nose Knows," is that chemists can develop recipes for any smell, down to a single molecule.

"There's a plant in the Sierra Nevada in the summer that gives off a cooked artichoke smell," Gilbert says. "The Indians knew about it; John Muir noticed it. It's called Sierra Mountain Misery. I took a sprig and sent it to a chemist and found that the smell comes from one molecule that makes up less than 1 percent of the entire formula."

Scent marketing has also become more sophisticated because of what we've learned about olfaction. Smell may be the least lauded of the senses, but it's the one most closely connected to our moods and recollections. (The loss of it, called anosmia, can produce tremendous anxiety and depression.) Memories inspired by fragrance are more emotional than those triggered by sights or sounds. In studies, scent-elicited memories cause subjects to mention more emotions, rate them as more intense, and report more of a feeling of being back in the time and place relevant to a smell. Catching a whiff of the perfume your grandmother wore is likely to bring back stronger memories of her -- and the feelings associated with her -- than seeing her photo.
That can happen before you are even conscious of the scent. That's because an incoming odor proceeds directly to your limbic system, which handles memories and emotions; non-olfactory perception must go to the hypothalamus and then on to the cortex for further analysis. "Scent goes right to your emotions," Santandrea says. "And if I can appeal to your primal senses, I've got you. That is what advertisers do. If you find that offensive, you have a problem with all of advertising."

Scent marketing is not limited to products that have an inherent aroma, like Hershey's Kisses; items such as clothing or stereos have their own universe of "scent abstractions" to brand themselves. Smell for yourself: Walk into the Samsung store on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and you may notice a melon aroma. Westin Hotels envelop guests with their White Tea fragrance. (Now you can buy Westin-scented candles to enjoy the hotel smell at home!)

Extensive research preceded the introduction of those scents. Companies start with a "fragrance brief," describing the scent image they want to project. Fragrance vendors then create scents they imagine fulfill the descriptions. Because Samsung and Westin are global brands, and there is no globally agreed upon pleasant smell, they had to be certain that the scents would not be offensive anywhere.

"To use something 'fruity' and 'light' is the best bet for any scent marketing effort that is not connected to a product," Vogt says. "A good example for a product-related scent is Thomas Pink's 'Line Dried Linen' that smells, well, just like it. If you don't have such a product, you look at your target audience, what they prefer and use, and start from there."

Some people find smell advertising offensive, akin to subliminal advertising. But Gilbert has a quick defense. "If a pizzeria is venting out onto the street, and the smell makes you want pizza, is that somehow mind control?" he asks. "Scent is a weird channel that people don't think about on regular basis. Once it becomes more standardized, people will get over it."

Maybe they'll even like it. Stores like Samsung want to forge a fragrance bond that creates positive feelings, customer loyalty and increased spending. Research gives them hope.

(to be continued…or go to to read the rest)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

What Would Ava Wear?

“After my screen test, the director clapped his hands gleefully and yelled: "She can't talk! She can't act! She's sensational!” – Ava Gardner

Ava Gardner was born with a face that would be her destiny.

Her father was a poor North Carolina tobacco farmer who died early. After his demise, her mother ran a boardinghouse so that she and her daughters could survive. In later interviews, Ava would say that shoes felt odd on her feet for many years, and, until the end of her life, she went without them at every opportunity.

Her discovery is one of those Hollywood legends that are too perfect to be anything but true. Ava’s brother-in-law, who lived in Manhattan, was a photographer. He photographed her while visiting North Carolina, and put the photo in his display window on Fifth Avenue. A friend, who was a clerk at Loew’s but liked to pass himself off as an MGM talent scout, happened by. He told the photographer that he should send the picture to MGM.

The studio brought Ava to Hollywood, and signed her to a standard contract, but she made twenty-one movies – mostly the fill-the-pipeline “product” that Mr. Mayer insisted upon – before she finally hit big in “The Killers” as Kitty Collins, the ultimate film noir heroine, in 1946. In the years before that, she was generally looked upon and laughed at by the town’s A-list crowd of writers, directors and stars as a gorgeous, but ignorant, hayseed. She was alluring enough to capture MGM’s boy-wonder Andy Hardy, Mickey Rooney and, later, the cynical bandleader Artie Shaw, but both marriages failed as her star rose.

Even Ava would say she knew she wasn’t much of an actress in those days. She knew exactly what her currency was. Without much life experience, no schooling of any consequence, no travel except in the cocoon world of movie-making, she ultimately succumbed to the debauchery around her, and spent many years in the company of Frank Sinatra, marrying and divorcing him, trashing hotel suites with him, unable to live without, or with, him. The irony of all this was that she was getting better as an actress, as an artist. The film in which she gave her first fine performance, “Bowhani Junction,” was ultimately seen as schedule-filler by the industry. Gardner played an Anglo-Indian woman torn between loyalties during the revolution for India’s independence. Directed by George Cukor, it was judged to be too long, too difficult for the masses, and was hacked to pieces by the powers-that-be at MGM.

After that, Gardner continued to make films and carry on her tumultuous relationship with Sinatra. She moved to Spain, having fallen in love with its duende (soulful spirit) while making “The Sun Also Rises” there. There are terrible stories about this time in her life, Ava and her bullfighters, but she did nothing her male counterparts weren’t doing, and she lived as she pleased. It is said that her greatest performance, as the libertine hotel-keeper Maxine in “Night of the Iguana,” was simply Ava being Ava.

In 1948, the venerable British perfume house Creed made “Fleurs de The Rose Bulgare” for Ava, and while this may not have been the first celebrity licensing perfume deal, it had to be one of the first in the modern era. But Fleurs de The Rose Bulgare seems very unlike Ava. It’s a clean, lemony rose with lots of other citrus notes.

Now, it’s quite possible that Ava wore this; who wouldn’t wear a perfume created especially for her? But, knowing what we know about her, it is somewhat difficult to believe that she wanted to smell like an English rose garden.

What else do you think Ava wore?

What modern scents would she be wearing now?

Notes for Creed’s “Fleurs de The Rose Bulgare” include rose, green tea, Sicilian mandarin, Italian lemon and Spanish bergamot.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Black Aoud -- A Review in Real Time

I’ve gotta tell ya, there are some things I just don’t get.

Having just applied Montale’s Black Aoud, I’m picturing a third-world hospital, in Turkmenistan maybe, after an earthquake. A room full of cast-iron beds, thin mattresses, nuns tending to the wounded, gauze bandages caked with yellow ointment, an antiseptic miasma hanging in the air.

Why would anyone want to smell like this?

Did somebody say “old wood?” As in, they just found Noah’s Ark, and dug it up?

I had a sample of Steam Aoud. It was supposed to be light. It was, if anything, even more medicinal than this. I swapped it as fast as I could, mostly to get it out of the house. Then I thought, why not try the Black Aoud? How could it be any worse?

Well, it’s not exactly worse, it's just…different.

Time to hit the books; what is this Aoud stuff?

Later: Apparently, Aoud is a resin, made in self-defense by aloewood, a.k.a agarwood, trees. It protects against fungus. Sort of like ear wax.

Among other things, it is thought in much of the Near and Middle East that the scent of Aoud/Oud/Oudh/Aoudh – the spellings differ – has the power to ward off the evil eye.

This is not hard to believe at all.

All right. It’s calming a bit now. I smell patchouli. Like a double-trailer semi bearing down on me on the freeway. And a little rose. Camphor, but that could be the patchouli. Man is this dark. I thought L’Artisan’s Voleur de Rose was Goth, but this? They should sell it in fetish shops.

Maybe this just isn’t a good Aoud. I have been reading here and there that the quality has to be first-rate, and if it isn’t, it can smell a little medicinal. Maybe that’s it. Who knows?

Truth is, it smells a lot better on skin than on blotter paper. (I have to test everything both ways now. Apparently my skin chemistry is really weird, blows thought the top notes immediately, and sweetens everything else to the point where blotter and skin don’t even smell like the same fragrance.) Damn it, I’m going to give this stuff every chance I can think of. Because there are so many who like it, and maybe they know something I don’t.

Now it smells like the Steam Aoud. I give up.

Hey…I have a nearly-full vial of Montale’s Black Aoud available for swap! Get in touch with Olfacta on MUA, y’all!

Notes for Montale’s Black Aoud include Aoud, patchouli, camphor, mandarine, musk and rose.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Moment Supreme

Moment Supreme is difficult.

After years of thinking of “lavender” as the sweetish stuff in hand lotion, I grew some. It took time to flower. When it finally did, the bitter scent of those spikes made me recoil. The beautiful purple fields of Provence smelled like this?

It was a taste I wasn’t ready to acquire.

Moment Supreme is all about lavender, and it, too, brought up associations I wasn’t ready to have until now.

My bottle is old, even for extrait. I think it was bought in 1960. It’s a beautiful bottle, the real thing, engraved Patou logo on a ground glass stopper and curved Art Deco lines. Last night, for the first time, I applied it generously, decanting some to spray onto my clothing.

At first, I thought it had turned. It smelled like hairspray and nail varnish. I knew, though, that this time I had to wait it out. Time passed, and those old lavender notes finally struggled up to the surface.

I was eight, and my parents were going out. My mother had come into my room to kiss me good night. Her full-skirted brocade cocktail dress rustled as she leaned over me. This was her perfume.

We didn’t get along. Both of us were of our times. She came of age in the second world war, landed my dashing fighter-pilot father, and took on the tough life of a not-quite-military not-quite civilian wife and mother, moving every year or two, packing up the house and kids, doing what she signed on for.

I came of age in the late Sixties, and questioned everything. Most of all, I questioned female artifice; the hair, the nails, the stockings, all of it. And I questioned her dogged acceptance of it, the insistence on that flawless presentation to the outside world. I was into honesty. Reality, I thought. For years, I didn’t even shave my legs. She did not approve, and we fought, often.

She died six years ago, surviving my father by less than a year. She took her illness like a Centurion, and she never let herself go, not for a moment, not even in her last moments.

It fell to me to settle their affairs. When going through her things, I found this bottle of Moment Supreme. I couldn’t bring myself to try it then, but now, I finally can. It smells like her, of course; and this is no lush Joy or shrinking violet. It’s dry, deep and tough. Rather than overwhelm his bitter herb with rose, as many perfumers would have done, Henri Almeras chose a peppery geranium and, finally, that real-French-perfume base of dark resins made pungent by a harsh climate.

This is the perfume she chose for herself. Of course. And this is what I finally understand.

A short history of Moment Supreme: Jean Patou, the designer who launched it in 1929, was a real innovator. He brought to market tennis skirts and the first suntan lotion (at a time when tanned skin still meant you were a peasant). He displayed his logo on some of his couture clothing and designed the first knit bathing suits. The perfumer, Henri Almeras, was a Basque; he also created “Joy”.

Notes for Moment Supreme, now discontinued, include lavender, geranium, rose and amber.

Moment Supreme, in EDT strength, was re-released for a short while in the 1980’s as part of Patou’s “Ma” collection.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

And In This Corner...

Musc Ravageur vs. Muscs Koublai Khan

Until recently, I was a musk virgin.

Let me explain. There was a time when musk was, well, trashy. This was in the Seventies, when the drugstore musks appeared. I’m thinking of Jovan Musk, although there were others, musk oils, which were to the disco-down late Seventies as patchouli oils were to the early years. Musk was polyester shirts, flashing lights, sweaty, hairy chests and shiny skintight satin jeans. Musk was cheap speed to the cognoscenti’s cocaine. Musk was what Tony Manero would have worn to 2001 Odyssey in “Saturday Night Fever.” I wanted nothing to do with musk.

So, when I began hearing about the in-your-face bookends Musc Ravageur, and especially Muscs Koublai Khan, I thought, “nah”. But, in the interest of investigative fairness, I ordered a sample of Musc Ravageur, and, predictably, hated it. Here’s what I wrote, back in the dark ages of, oh, last February: “Man does this stuff stink. Is it just musk I can’t stand? I mean, I really can’t stand it. Maybe I can swap it.”

I’m glad I didn’t, because now, guess what, I like it. On my skin, which I only recently realized sweetens everything I put on it, Musc Ravageur not what I wanted then. I was expecting something else. Something more exotic. I found it in Muscs Koublai Khan – the scary one, the one everyone whispers about and almost no one admits to actually wearing beyond their own front door.

Muscs Koublai Khan smells like armpit. More specifically, the armpit of someone who has taken a shower and then had sex. It’s the cumin. Even on my skin, it’s that sweaty cumin. I’ve made chili with less cumin in than I detect in one drop of Muscs Koublai Khan. But, once that recedes, it’s soft, a little bit rosy, and then warm and animalic (as in very).

Musc Ravageur goes on cold; Muscs Koublai Khan goes on hot. The “coldness,” I think, comes from the lavender and clove. Interesting, because in cooking, we think of clove as a warm spice…but is it? Eureka! Not really.

But cumin is hot. No question. It echoes and scents the climates that use it. As both notes begin to dry down, though, the Musc Ravageur begins to warm, and the Muscs Koublai Khan to cool, and it’s at that point where they’re most alike. Then, they diverge onto wildly different paths. Musc Ravageur veers off into rich, dark amber. Muscs Koublai Khan has a minute or two disguised as rose, and then it’s an afternoon at the zoo – but in a good way.

Musc Ravageur is the one that’s still there in the morning. Here’s the question though: do you want it to be? I do. I’m not sure I’d want Muscs Koublai Khan there, though. Like the ideal one-night-stand, it serves its purpose and is gone by the time the sun comes up. Musc Ravageur, though….I kind of like the way it sticks around.

Here the odd thing about perfumistahood; you change. I’ve never encountered anything that has educated me so quickly (well, that’s not exactly true, but, um, I’m not going there. Is it impossible to write about Muscs Koublai Khan and get a G rating? It would appear so). Your olfactory powers change, and your tastes change, and pretty soon there are only a few thousand people in the whole world you can relate to (just kidding.) There was a time I would have shuddered at the idea of musk, but now…

Sometimes trashy is good.

Notes for Frederick Malle “Musc Ravageur” include lavender, bergamot, clove, cinnamon, gaiac wood, cedar, sandalwood, vanilla, tonka and musk.

Notes for Serge Lutens “Muscs Koublai Khan” include cumin, costus root, rose, ambrette seed, patchouli, civet, castoreum, cistus labdanum, ambergris and vanilla.

Painting "Stag at Sharkeys 1909" by George Wesley Bellows, at the Cleveland Museum of Art.


Friday, September 5, 2008

Other Things That Smell Good

One of the best things about loving perfume is the way it opens up the rest of the olfactory world.

I live in the American South. There is a song I used to hear on the radio, and the best line in it was “You can’t buy love or home-grown tomatoes.” (I think it should’ve been home-growed tomatoes, but I guess the record company thought that would be a little too, uh, country.) My city, Atlanta, is now filled with transplants, but there are still a few of us natives around. You can tell, on any street, who we are. We’re the ones with the tomato plants. We grow them in pots on our balconies if we have to.

What is it about home-growed tomatoes that makes them so extraordinary? Even the fancy heirloom kinds you can buy now at upscale markets – the Black Krims, the Brandywines – don’t have that smell. It’s been chilled right out of them, I guess. The scent of a growing tomato is grassy and weedy, but the taste is meaty and sharp/sweet – sugar and acid in just the right balance. When you bite into one, especially if it’s warm from the sun, the flavor bursts like fireworks. It’s everything good about the sensory world.

Even the leaves have a vegetal but incense-like fragrance, and when you work on the plants, the slightest contact releases that pungent scent. (I’ve read that one of the molecules Jean-Claude Ellena used in Un Jardin en Mediterranee was tomato leaf, and I can smell it in those first few notes. They’re fleeting, but it’s good to know they’re in there.)

And lime. It’s so simple. In Mexico, they give you a little plate of quartered limes with every meal. You squeeze the juice into your beer, and then over everything else. When I slice into a lime, and the citrus oils in the peel vaporize, I’m instantly back at Rosarita Beach, or Tulum, or Mismaloya. The juice of a lime, some sliced green onion (“scallions” to Northerners), a couple of big tomatoes, chopped; a clove (one only) of garlic, mashed with salt, a handful of chopped cilantro; some olive oil, a minced jalapeno pepper (coat your hands with olive oil before doing this) and some diced avocado if you have it. Mix. In southern California they call this “salsa cruda” – cruda meaning crude – and it is. You ladle it onto everything; fish, grilled meat, tortillas, black beans -- and drink beer laced with lime juice.

In a couple of months, or after the first frost, it’ll be time to pull the tomato plants up, spread the depleted soil with compost and shredded bark, and mix it in with a pitchfork. We cover that with a layer of newspaper to suppress cold-weather weeds, and then the fragrant pine mulch we use in winter. (Nothing smells more like North Georgia than pine bark and pine needles.)

By then, it will be cold. We’ll load firewood into the shed, and then rest, with some mulled wine (allspice, cloves, cinnamon, ordinary red wine, brown sugar and, my secret ingredient, an ounce or so of nothing-special brandy for each cup. Keep it warm in a crock pot. Imbibe freely, while tending the fire.

Most of our neighbors have switched to gas logs, but I never will. A fire that has no fragrance?

What on earth for?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Winners of the Yatagan/L'air du desert Marocain drawing!

Thanks to everybody for entering the drawing! The two lucky winners (chosen using are:



Send an email to olfactarama at gmail dot com with your postal info and I'll get your samples out posthaste!