But they usually smell horrible …
Whether we think something smells good or stinks is usually learned. For example, if you’re walking along somewhere and a woman passes you and she’s wearing the fragrance your first wife wore, you think, “What the fuck!” It goes directly to your emotional centre.
That is because the region in the brain responsible for memories and smells is the same.
Not quite. The limbic system is a remainder from an old part of our brain. What we smell is more of an emotion than a stimulation subject to only one attribute, such as for example, aubergine colour. There’s nothing to discuss, no one can tell you that it is green. Smells, by contrast, are very subjective. If someone grew up with their grandmother, and she always baked vanilla cake, but thrashed her grandchild, then that person will not have a good memory associated with vanilla cake. But if you always ate the vanilla cake with your grandmother on a park bench, you’d have positive memories associated with it. Subsequently, for the rest of your life, this memory of cake would be positive for you, whereas the other person would start sweating as soon as they’d perceive the smell.
What does that mean for a perfume maker or the industry?
We all have our own olfactory memory. That’s why aromas are very difficult to quantitatively define. It’s not the same for everyone. We all have a lot of smells, but different impressions. And then these different impressions are also associated with different attributes. My father always thought that it was absolutely obvious that Old Spice was the freshest smell there was. Actually, Old Spice is one of the sweetest perfumes. But I can’t explain that to my father, because in the advertising for Old Spice, you always see a sailor, ocean, ocean breeze. That suggests that Old Spice is fresh.
So does that mean that the smell, the fragrance in a store is important, or not?
You probably can’t please everyone with a smell. Many people feel, rightly so, under attack if they come into some place and notice that there is a perfume hanging in the store or restaurant. I also find it disturbing. If I go somewhere to eat, then I don’t want the chick behind me to be wearing Angel or some other heavy perfume that immediately floods the place. She may find it great, but people have different tolerances for fragrances. Basically we all have the same nose, but some noses are better trained than others.
So, you don’t like Angel?
If a woman smells like Angel, she can turn around and go home.
But can I assume that the smell of fresh bread in a store has positive associations for the majority?
It is generally a positive smell because it is always associated with breakfast and teatime. No one would say, “how awful, fresh bread”. Same with the smell of freshly brewed coffee.
Can smells be produced by location? In areas where baked goods are sold, the odour of bread, in another area coffee …?
These smells for bakeries or this crap doesn’t work. You can only bring up the smells with the real thing. Even these weird bakeries that have half-cooked rolls delivered from Poland every morning and then shove them into the oven – even there, the smell is made by the baking. There’s only one thing that is difficult to imitate – physical smells.