Perfume the keeper of our memories

Perfume the keeper of our memories

Of all our senses, our sense of smell is most closely tied to our memory. While many things throughout our daily life can trigger a sense of nostalgia, nothing has the power to make us viscerally relive the past like a fragrance.

The power of perfume can be whittled down to how the human body processes smell. Humans can distinguish anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 scents, which send messages to the limbic system – the seat of emotion, and where memories are formed.

The noses behind some of the worlds most famous scents are often well-travelled, whether it’s to source the finest ingredients or to gain inspiration. "Whether I’m strolling through a lavender field in Grasse, or in the countryside after a summer rainfall, there is inspiration everywhere. I like to produce short, snappy formulas that you can read, like a quote. When I create a perfume, I want it to be round with clear, seductive top notes and at the same time, an immediately discernible base. Finding the perfect harmony between the materials and the accords creates this olfactory music,” says Creative Director of Parfums de Marly Julien Sprecher. "I also love working with orange blossom, as not only is it a reassuring scent - brings back memories of my childhood, but it is also one of those rare ingredients that can be combined with others and is often used when creating modern and elegant fragrances, such as Safanad from our women’s collection,” explains Sprecher.

Memory also plays a part in why perfume is such big business. The Global Fragrance and Market Report (2021) projects that the global fragrance and perfume market is estimated ted to grow at the rate of 6.2% during the forecast period, as consumers are purchasing more perfume and fragrance products to maintain personal style and individuality. Furthermore, the Middle East and Africa will account for 30%. The region has a historic love for fragrance, especially for scents that are rich and bold – think musk, jasmine, rose, saffron and, of course, oud. However, it’s not just any perfume. "We want our customers to experience not only the evocative olfactory qualities of the scents but also their emotional dimension. We want to create an overall experience that reflects surprising associations,” explains Sprecher.

With the limbic system so receptive, smells can take you back to an exact location. The scent of honeysuckle on a hot day, the smell of gasoline on concrete, the scent of someone important to you — they're scents that become entwined into specific moments in time. Spraying on perfume is meant to enrich your own daily life and command more of a place in the lives of others. With scent, we are taking up space in the most ravenous way we know how: in someone's personal space, in their car, in elevators, in their home, in their memory, places we can never escape. Every fragrance is a practice in living larger than our physical presence already commands, by touching upon with every single sense — to experience and be experienced through as many multi-sensory facets as you can imagine.

So next time you buy perfume, remember you are creating memories not just for yourself but for those around you, and these could indeed last a lifetime.

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