January 10, 2010

Scent and the fragrance of place

Scent and the fragrance of place
Dawn Clark|photo

Perfume, memory, sentience and wandering; exploring the fume of an experience.

Getting around, wandering, I find myself not infrequently smelling my way through places. Scent is memory; it’s the definition of recollection in experience. You can recall an experience, a place been — and you can name the scent of place. It’s interesting how scent is so subtle, to offer hints and wisps that incessantly shift and waft in, and out, and back in again. Entering any place, aside from sight and touch, I reach to scent. What is the sorting of the flavors of fragrance? It’s interesting how the varying intermingling of geography, light, latitude, culture, income can all play into the exposures of how fragrance fits in the sensation of place.

I recall, in German, the opening pages of Patrick Suskind’s “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” as setting the tone for that book that is, has been, forever unforgettable, set in Paris, the 18th century. The most remarkable plaiting that runs the rhythm of tapestry in that book, of course, is scent, good or bad — here noted, in the openings:

Scent and the fragrance of place

This poetic treatment goes on, literally, for pages. Nearly every early experience for Grenouille, the froggy prince of the protagonist positioning, the monster scent maker, is described (viscerally) in the smell of things.

Walking, yesterday, I had the chance to experience that, from the scenting sequence of being outdoors, exploring.

salted stone
marshy irrigation
wet stone
rotted seaweed
salty decay
seawashed
crushed pine
muddied madrona leaves
rainy salt mist

As a reader, I’m sure that you have a sense about the meaning of each of these for you; and likely, your interpretation will be wholly different than mine. In the perfume trade, there are noses that can define and articulate scents that have been captured — as molecular gatherings. Luca Turin: theoretically, in a TED video overview here. And aesthetically: to be a scenteur, a nose.

Personally, I believe that anyone can become increasingly sensitive. It’s a matter of attention — paying attention to what’s coming into your nose and brain and thoughtfully interpreting it. “What’s that smell?” Rather, “what’s that scent?” A smell, to my take, is undistinguished; it’s literally uninterpreted. Scent is articulated, it’s a thinking, sensate response. and Sometime back, in meeting with the then CEO of Eddie Bauer (not Neil Fiske, who we’ve written about already) Jack Sansolo, we talked about the concept of procession. And scent. What if there was a designed sequence in scenting — and sound – as a person moves into the foyer of place-making design? That was 20 years ago. Our pitch, along with working on later retail design development for Eddie Bauer, was in building stories — brand positions — that created a modeling for new conceptions. Like a return to the craftsman, the home and hand made, the classic sportsman. That became 600 Madison Avenue, Eddie Bauer.

But, in retail, the idea that scent transforms — that it, too, changes and varies in tone and content in the place — and in the experience of the place is less than innovative — it’s not without prescience to note the concept of scent shifting in space, moving from one zonal variation to another, is actually how fragrance works, how it’s interpreted. The nose gathers the scent molecules, they are sequenced in the channels of the cavities of scent sensing, and, in the sequencing noted in the linked lecture by Nobel Laureate, Richard Axel, they pass into interpretation and memory.

Everyone approaches this in a different manner — how they might think, or not think, about the conceptions of scent sequencing and meaning (meaning, mind and memory are all derived from the same prototypical word: men). Which, in a way, was how I began this sequence of ideas. That is, walking, even your office, your home, your street — what’s the scent sequence?

I love that. And I love this:

Scent and the fragrance of place

Jason Logan created this scent wandering, “Scents and the City“, a writer, blogger and illustrator from NYC. Here’s how he’s described his journey: “New York secretes its fullest range of smells in the summer; disgusting or enticing, delicate or overpowering, they are liberated by the heat. So one sweltering weekend, I set out to navigate the city by nose.

Scent and the fragrance of place

An interactive feature, worth checking out, exploring.

Finally, to the notion of the breadth of experience in scent — the words of fragrance — examine this listing of words that are about, that reach to, or reflect the concept of smell. Richly descriptive, beautiful, lustrous, robust, experiential.

What memory, scented, for you?

tsg | decatur island
….
Exploring the concept of brand, scent and experience:

http://www.girvin.com/blog/?cat=10

Tim Girvin | GIRVIN
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New York City + Seattle | Tokyo

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