Our Association With Scent

by Rachel McCormack

Our affinity with scent enriches our life in so many ways. Our sense of smell protects us, for example by allowing us to detect spoiled food, but particular scents also have positive impacts on our emotional, mental, and physical health. These botanicals can help us to fight anxiety, clear our thoughts, and even manage pain. Now, some fragrances are almost universally pleasurable - like freshly cut grass - but it’s our emotions that are most deeply affected by scent. How often do we bury our faces in a beloved's discarded garment when they are far from us or, more tragically, when we are bereaved?

Discovering our individual response to different fragrances is fascinating, and it often reveals both positive and negative associations that have been formed years, or decades, previously. This is because scent is so evocative, it allows us to imagine and story-tell, but it’s also a powerful aid to unlocking memories. In author Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, the narrator's memories are triggered by a recollection of childhood: a madeleine cake dipped in a tisane. Reading Proust's evocative description, we imagine the scent of the tea, the warm perfumed invitation of that little cake, and remember similar sensory pleasures. 

Our society is actually more heavily perfumed today than ever before, often in ways we are unaware of, but we can make active choices in our daily routine to balance this out. Cleaning products are often formulated with generic fragrances that give us a hit of artificial scent that is associated with effectiveness. So, choosing unfragranced cleaning products allows us to fully appreciate the natural aroma of a bowl of fresh tomatoes, or citrus fruit standing on the counter, and even the delicate enticements of herbs growing on a sun-dappled windowsill.

The world of scent provides endless opportunities to be both playful and mindful, exploring your own tastes and desires but recognising the impact of your fragrance choices upon others. Be your own canvas, muse, and artist by discovering which scents will enliven you, and which will console; those which sit so naturally with your own skin chemistry that you barely remember you are wearing fragrance, and those which sit so perfectly that you feel armoured and protected. Fragrance is bountiful, there is always something new to discover, and a new gift to give or receive.

Rachel McCormack is a fashion and beauty writer based in London.

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