As a perfumer creating fragrances for niche perfumery ORTIR Apothecari, my job is to create an idea or a sensation using a palette made up of individual scents, which when blended together are more than the sum of their parts. This library of fragrant oils and resins is often described as a perfumers’ organ, one of the tools that a perfumer uses to compose their tune.
Like painting, perfumery is an interpretation of an idea which starts with a draft. A preliminary sketch in scent. Over time, the original formula is worked on to harmonise and bring together the various elements necessary for a balanced and beautiful final perfume composition.
But my palette is broader still - I also play on the olfactory organ of every wearer.
It is at this point that the art of perfumery meets science.
Let me introduce you (albeit briefly) to the olfactory system. Different from all our other sensory systems, it is a direct extension of the brain more closely associated with our feelings, emotions and behaviour.
The olfactory system kicks in the minute we sniff, when countless millions of tiny primary sensory neurones busily transmit impulses through the brain. And whilst other senses flow to the thalamus, these nervous impulses take a unique pathway from the olfactory bulb to the limbic system – the bit of your brain concerned with emotion and memory.
This is why perfume is so highly subjective and why the art of the perfumer is to transport the wearer elsewhere – a different place, another time - using fragrance to unlock feelings or memories.
Let me go further, because whilst this explains why fragrance triggers memory it doesn’t necessarily explain the physical effect an aroma can have on our wellbeing. Why it can trigger nostalgia, act like a comfort blanket or make you feel just great.
I give you the hypothalamus – the other receptor for olfactory impulses. It is here that our body is restored to its physiological equilibrium: we feel better, our hormones are balanced as are our blood glucose levels.
And if all this sounds too good to be true let me end on this.
The olfactory organ is the only sensory organ that renews its receptor cells during your lifetime.
So, unlike the senses used to enjoy a beautiful painting or a favourite piece of music which fade with age, perfume can forever transport you to a particular place or moment in time using a sense that will never fail.