In previous articles, I’ve touched on the power of scent. Smell has such a profound impact on us in ways that often act below the conscious to evoke strong emotions and memories. It’s one of the most under-utilised and poorly understood tools that we can use for branding, including space and experience design.
When I thought about writing an article for Women Unlimited to illustrate the power of scent in business, my immediate thought was of Nicola Pozzani, world expert in scent and mood and founder of SSense.
Nicola is at the forefront of using scent to design spaces and experiences. When you meet him, you’re left in no doubt that he has found his calling in life – to inspire individuals and organisations through the experience of fragrance. Since he possesses such a wealth of knowledge, gift for communicating and completely infectious passion for what he does, I asked if he would be happy to do an interview for Women Unlimited. He accepted with pleasure and I hope you’ll enjoy the interview that follows below.
Nicola, it’s a joy to meet you again and to have the chance to be inspired by more of your insights on scent. Can you start by sharing your story with the Women Unlimited readers about the events that brought you to where you are today?
I had a life-changing encounter about 10 years ago with an artist, a perfumer. His name is Jean-Claude Ellena and he was my perfume teacher. At the time, he was running a perfume science course at Università dell’immagine of Milan, academy of the 5 senses. He taught me how to use perfume as a creative language and as an art form. I worked on all five senses but specialised in perfume because my emotional encounter was so strong.
Jean-Claude Ellena is now the perfumer of Hermes. Those who know his work love it. His understanding of fragrance is a philosophical interpretation of scent. He’s written a few books like “Perfume: The Alchemy Of Scent” and “Diary Of A Nose”, which unveil a bit more about fragrance.
I think a lot of people will view fragrance as something you put on to make yourself smell nice or something you use in interior design as a finishing touch. What is it about scent that makes it so much more than this?
Quite simply, it can make us happier and change our moods.
How does it do this?
It is a physical reason. Our sense of smell is very much connected with our emotions and mood. It’s to do with our limbic system where our memories and emotions are stored. We’ve learnt through recent studies how much influence certain smells have on the brain. They can change the brain waves, they can change the mood.
Are there certain scents then which have a particularly big impact on our moods?
This is difficult to summarise. There are a lot of smells and each has different powers. You need to think of smells like a colour pallet. Imagine how a different colour can influence you. If I say the word yellow what emotions would you think of?
Happy, joyful, energetic
In perfumery we have yellow smells that would convey that type of feeling. And we also have smells that are also more rational, calming.
When I wake up in the morning, I want to feel happy and energised for the day ahead. What scent would you recommend to help me achieve this?
Smell is very personal so what I’m saying now might not apply to everyone. I encourage everyone to find out more about how scent affects them. What a perfume could suggest to me might be different to someone else. However, I would recommend that you use a scent with lighter molecules because they travel very quickly to our nose and have an uplifting effect. A scent with citrus notes could work well, as well as herbs. My personal way to wake up is by having a bottle of essential oil of Rosemary next to my bed. When I wake up, I just open the bottle and smell it.
That’s a lovely simple and inexpensive way to bring scent into everyday life. Are there any other ways in which people can start easily introducing more mood-enhancing smells into their offices and homes?
Up until a few years ago, people had to diffuse scent in a very traditional way just as ancient civilisations did thousands of years ago. In the Middle East and Japan, people would burn fragrance ingredients. This is actually the origin of the word perfume, which means “through smoke.” They believed burning fragrance would be a way of reaching higher powers and divinities.
There are many ways to diffuse scent. You can buy essential oils and burn them in a burner or put just a few drops into a bath so it carries in the vapour. Candles became a trend in the last 10 to 20 years. Nowadays there are technologies that allow people to use and diffuse scent very much like a DJ playing music. In the field of marketing, there is something called scent marketing which has evolved to help convey a message through smell and companies are developing brand scents.
Are there any other ways that scent can be applied to offices?
Absolutely, and in very simple and practical ways. You can create a beautiful atmosphere in a space depending on the mood you want to create. In Japan, there was a study whereby a company burned herbal scents in the office and found that they increased productivity.
That’s truly fascinating! But what about the flip side of scent and dealing with negative smells like pollution, chemical cleaning products and stale air? How can businesses manage this?
You’re right that smell isn’t always positive. Whenever you look at designing with scent it’s a combination of deodorising and scenting. You need to combine clean air with a smell designed for the particular space.
I’m intrigued to hear your thoughts on whether there are any businesses embracing scent well. Have you come across any great examples?
The car industry is a great source of examples. A company like Mercedes has a perfumer as part of its core team when developing a car. Smell has such a big influence on our perception of places, products and experiences. Mercedes needs to know that the smell of the car is a pleasing experience because its customers are going to spend a lot of time in there. In a car the smell is never casual.
Are there any high street examples that we can walk into a see ourselves?
Yes there are and I did in fact write a blog post called “New smells of Oxford Street” recently where I went on a scent expedition. One of the biggest fashion chains, H&M, are using smells but interestingly they are only using smells in the women’s department in the Oxford Street store. It’s a light floral scent.
What impact would “floral” have on mood, what do you think they are trying to achieve?
Well I’m not sure that everyone using smells in a retail environment is aware of what they are doing. Probably, they’re just trying to create a more pleasing environment where you’ll spend a longer period of time. And they’re linking women with soft, fresh, floral scents.
Finally, one of my favourite quotes is by Rudyard Kipling where he says: “the first condition of understanding a country is to smell it.” On that basis, what do you understand about London from how it smells?
For me, the smell of cities is very similar. In a city, you can control smells; they don’t normally come to you. For example, you can go and buy a perfume, put candles in your house or choose to walk around somewhere like Kew Gardens. And there are of course also external smells like pollution which aren’t so nice.
Recently I was in Capri and I was totally amazed on this island in southern Italy. It had been ages since scents had wafted towards me on their own accord. There were scents all around me; the smell of the sea, of plants, of flowers and of pine trees. We don’t really have that as citizens of big cities.
Thank you so much for your time Nicola. I’m sure the readers will be as interested and inspired as I am to find out more. Can you recommend a few good places to start if people want to continue learning about scent?
Well of course I’m available to start with! I train people individually as well teach a course at Kingston University called Design with Scents. It’s a way for people who are into design, retail and architecture to discover how to use scent. And I’m not just saying this because I’m teaching it, but it really is the only course currently available teaching design with scent.
In London there is a lot going on and online there’s a big community of perfume lovers. I really encourage people to find their time to smell, to close their eyes, to meditate with smell, to explore how smells are speaking to our soul, to our personal history and experience. Smells can play a big role in finding out more about ourselves and the world around us.
And on that note, I hope you enjoyed reading the interview with Nicola as much as I enjoyed doing the interview and that you re beginning to think of ways you can use scent in your own business and as part of your larger branding strategy. Nicola’s next Design with Scents course is running from the 8th to the 12th of July at Kingston University. For more details please see the bio box below.
I’d love to hear your comments about using scent in business in the comments below.