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Connecting the Intangible to the Tangible

By: Valerie Jacobs
Posted: July 12, 2011, from the July 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

Since the beginning of time, fragrance has played a significant role in the spiritual traditions, healing practices and beauty regimens of humans. Anthropologists have even identified nomadic perfumeries as far back as 7000 B.C., indicating humans were experimenting with fragrance before language.

Today, fragrance continues to fascinate and influence thoughts, behaviors and emotions. The science of scent and its impact on human emotions is consistently revealing implications on brain processes and scent stimuli, and sensory science is generating new applications and delivery systems for scent that could change how we interact and leverage its power in the future. With this in mind, fragrance has emerged as a major area of innovation across many business categories with, of course, significant implications for the future of the beauty industry.

The psychophysics of sensory perception and the emotional effects of scent are relatively new areas of scientific understanding. The human limbic system—the area of the brain where scent is processed—is one of the oldest and most evolved systems in the human body. As scent is interpreted by the brain’s olfactory bulb, messages are sent to the areas of the brain that control emotions, behaviors and thought processes. Research by the Raymond Poincaré University Hospital in France, along with fragrance company IFF and trade organization CEW, found scent can help patients suffering from serious trauma, loss of memory and even speech by exposing them to smells connected to memory.

Science and Art

Recent innovations in scent harvesting highlight new opportunities for enhancing experiences through scent, and scent is being celebrated as an art form at museums and galleries throughout the world, with the public becoming more familiar with both the art and science of perfumery. New York’s Museum of Arts & Design recently added a department of olfactory art, drawing the connection between perfume and other mediums such as painting and music. Its exhibitions rely not on bottles and packaging but minimalist installations designed by architect Toshiko Mori featuring only scent and sound. Also, in March 2010, Parsons (which provides art and design education in New York), IFF, Coty, Seed Media Group and MoMA hosted the HeadSpace: On Scent as Design symposium to celebrate scent design and generate dialogue on how scent stimulates memory, as well as its implications for both designers and architects.

Identity Through Scent

In their 1999 book The Experience Economy, authors Joseph Pine and James Gilmore describe today as an era in which experiences are the economic offering in highest demand. As consumers search for authenticity, they also seek compelling experiences and want to feel emotionally connected to the experience of the purchase.