I'm working on a fragrance for men. It has passed the first test; several people liked it. So now my job is to refine it so that lots of people like it and many people love it, love it enough to buy it. But that's not my story today.
My story today is about how we smell and what we recognize, or fail to recognize, in an odor. In my new fragrance for men I wanted to add a “fruit” note. This would be an experiment for me. The idea had been suggested by a friend. But I wasn't making a bubble gum perfume for little kids. I wanted a note that would work with adult males and find favor with their wives or lovers.
Going through my inventory of “fruity” aroma materials I found myself rejecting one after another. This was too obvious. That didn't smell quite right. Finally I found one that had promise, an aroma material I had not worked with before.
So what does this note smell like? My own instant reaction was “pineapple.” But when I shared this view with a few others who had smelled my trials they were puzzled by this description. Apparently it didn't say “pineapple” to them.
This gave me pause. Was I smelling pineapple or did the aroma somehow trigger a memory that suggested pineapple? I wasn't sure. So I tried to imagine what a pineapple should smell like. We only buy pineapples a few times a year and working backwards, from the thought of pineapple to the aroma of pineapple didn't work at for me at all. It seems that “pineapple” -- the concept of a pineapple -- didn't trigger any intellectual scent recollections.
Ultimately my curiosity got the better of me and I went to several fragrance house catalogs to see how they described this aroma material. I was startled by what I found. One after another they all described it's odor as “pineapple.”
Now this response I had tells me something of the nature of perfume. Perfume -- aroma -- scent -- can penetrate the brain lightening fast ... faster than the brain can reason. Scientists explain that how scent is one of our most immediate reactions. My “pineapple” note was proof of that to me.
And this reaction -- this way the brain has of seizing on a scent and responding to it without thinking ... flashing “P I N E A P P L E” in big letters for me instantly in a way that I couldn't explain -- shows the power of perfume ... the power to get inside someone's head with scent. The reaction is immediate and unreasoning.
The perfumer's challenge is to find the notes to unlock memories -- memories so strong, so immediate, that before the person can think, the scent says “You want me! You must have me. Buy me now!” It's all that simple.