Perfumers and scientists are no longer on a quest for the offbeat, but instead blends that swaddle us in bliss.
In the perfume industry, the word “addiction” is everywhere, but there’s scant mention of pleasure. Yet that’s what it’s all about when spritzing on a fragrance, right? In the 1990s, Estée Lauder seized on the concept with its globally popular scent, Pleasures. Hedonist perfumer Jacques Cavallier, who composed Le Jour se Lève (Louis Vuitton), offers his definition: “I believe in well-balanced proportions that suggest pleasure; in other words, a type of harmony.” Which translates into an ode to the delicate morning light, a simple accord of mandarin and jasmine sambac. This same sparkling perfection is reached in Soleil Piquant (By Terry). Pleasure often comes from a certain simple purity; it lies in fragrances that are “whole,” without frills, that are less abstract or cerebral. “It has to smell good!” adds perfumer Olivier Pescheux. “There’s an aesthetics of pleasure derived from elegance and refinement, an absence of overly dissonant notes. It’s facile to be strange by adding 10 percent of civet to a formula; it’s entirely something else to achieve perfect harmony.” Myrrhe Églantine (Hermès) yields delectable pleasure, with its aniseedy notes of myrrh. Ditto for Elevator Music (Byredo), with its trio of ambrette, bamboo and jasmine mimicking the fresh smell of cotton.
From signs to sillages
Science has shown that perfume’s ability to generate happiness is infinitely greater than that of food. A body immersed in a scented liquid secretes oxytocin (plus dopamine), the hormone of love and happiness. That’s how Swiss manufacturer Givaudan came up with the Delight project. Its perfumers and flavorists joined forces to create new pleasure notes: black olive, maple syrup, green pea, gariguette strawberry. They then invented a methodology to prove the emotional power of these neo-ingredients: dilated pupils and nostrils, frequency of blinking, salivation and vocal modulations are all variables in detecting feelings triggered by a scent. “The emotional body doesn’t lie, it doesn’t have time to,” explains Marina Cavassilas, PhD in Semiotics, who founded Semiopolis. “Non-verbal analysis reveals involuntary emotions that are always expressed physically.” Nose Francis Kurkdjian is convinced that perfumers hold a key to adding that extra touch of happiness in a composition: “I can’t imagine creating a fragrance in a state of dissatisfaction; I am convinced that the formula would retain an unconscious memory of that.”