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
c. 206.890.0621
New York City + Seattle | Tokyo

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4 Responses to Scent and the fragrance of place

  1. Tim Girvin says:

    In reading this, as my own, I found that, too, I needed to expand on this commentary, there’s more to be told.

    And it’s simple, in the gift of one — my lover — a bottle of Frederic Malle’s Vetiver Extraordinaire. Just today. There are dozens of vetiver-infused fragrances on the market; I’ve got most of them; I’ve written on that point referencing Tom Ford’s Grey Vetiver (http://www.girvin.com/blog/?p=3285).

    I’ve written, too, about the concept of scent, the recollection and the package in containment, here: http://www.girvin.com/blog/?p=886. There’s an art to the concept of scenting something — culling the layers of fragrance and the essential breezes of wood, dirt, crushed seeds and nuts, twisted fronds and the spice of what might be coming in that experience. It’s one thing to smell them, it’s another to name them, to be able to sort that concept of sequencing that occurs, as I’d noted in the blog.

    Exploring more, here, then if you can endure it:

    Vétiver Extraordinaire was released by Frederic Malle in 2002. The fragrance was created by nose Dominique Ropion, and includes bergamot, bigarade orange, pink pepper, nutmeg, floralozone (a “fresh air” note), Haitian vetyver, sandalwood, cedarwood, oak moss, myrrh, cashmeran, musketone and tonalide (synthetic musks). It is said to have one of the highest concentrations of vetiver of any fragrance on the market (25%).

    It starts with a brief flash of very dry citrus. It is quickly joined by the spice notes, and for a few minutes, it is extremely diffusive, which I assume is the floralozone talking. After that calms, it smells like damp mossy woods and vetiver, and there is almost no point in trying to dissect it further, as it simply smells like the sum of its parts, and if you love vetiver, it smells very wonderful indeed.

    Frederic Malle has said that it reminds him “of the forests in the north of France where his grandparents lived“, and although I have never been in the forests of the north of France, I would imagine that that is as good a description as any. For a time there is a whisper of wood smoke over the vetiver, after that, it is just about linear, although the vetiver does get deeper and richer over time.”

    The link, to reference: http://www.nstperfume.com/2005/10/05/frederic-malle-vetiver-extraordinaire-fragrance-review/

    scent on: tsg

  2. Two memories, from the ridiculous to the sublime:

    “A Vengeful Longing,” by R.N. Morris, takes place in heat of the St. Petersburg summer of 1868. Ever present is the sewage canal in the middle of the city: “Porfiry held one hand over his nose and mouth as he hurried over Kokushkin Bridge towards Stolyarny Lane, dipping his head into the noxious air of the canal. He felt the foulness against his eyes and blinked away the moisture that sprang to meet it. The rising arch of the bridge seemed to be shaped by a repulsion for what passed beneath.”

    Cut to 1978 when I toured Europe for three months on a motorcycle. Most people traveled by train, but I was able to experience each mile with my nose: cresting a hill down into a valley in Spain full of olive trees, mesquite in Italy, jasmine in France. And quite often my nose would lead me to a bodega where I sampled the local wine. Ah….

  3. Stuart Balcomb says:

    One more: my father studied with master photographer William Mortensen in Laguna Beach during the summer of 1956 (I was five). The family uprooted (from Albuquerque) and moved to a trailer park on the oceanside cliffs south of Laguna. Eucalyptus trees were everywhere, and I cannot smell that scent to this day without immediately being transported back to that magical time.

  4. Pingback: GIRVIN | Strategic Branding Blog | The Scent of Rot

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