Technology and perfume

For many years now, I have had a passion for perfumery. The perfume industry is a strange one because it is up and coming and not many people know more than very basic information about perfumes.

It is a nieche world inhabited by rich philanthropists and freaks and artists of various and obscure nature, who all join to study and appreciate the relatively unknown effects of scent on the human experience. It is a sort of underground world, which is going places under our noses. (Pun intended). I am here to tell you where it is going.

Although I am not a perfume maker, nor a chemist, I got extremely close to taking up an industrial chemistry degree at the Hogeschool before deciding I was more interested in Middle Eastern politics. Furthermore, I have been to many snobby evenings with said artsy philanthropists to talk about the (somewhat underrated) role of perfume in our society.

What I have learned is that smell is a very primitive yet advanced sense, which we have often failed to correctly understand in the past. In ancient times, specifically in ancient Rome, it was highly considered as it was seen as an invisible yet powerful way to make offerings to the Gods: woods, oils and plants were burned in sacrificial rites and they were thought to arrive to the Gods via fumes, of “per fumum”, hence the modern name.

In Hellenic society, on the other hand, it was seen as a superficial and vapid way to adorn oneself, because the expensive perfumes sold “disappeared” only a few hours after you wore them. Many thought there was no point in spending money on something that was bound to go away quickly, unlike clothes or jewellery.

Nowadays, perfume and technology have been found to go hand in hand: neuroscientific discoveries of recent years would suggest that smell can tap into previously undiscovered parts of the brain and help with, for example, memory loss. Caro Verbeek, a perfume historian and my personal scent mentor, spoke about it here (at the minute 7:00).

So is perfume going to enter the digital world soon? Many certainly seem to think so, as many brilliant scent-related ideas come into circulation.

For example, the tech company Downy has integrated “scent cartridges” into texting, which allow users to send each other a scent to accompany their message. The scent is linked to certain words and help convey the “feeling” of the word. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1676EXbeX8#action=share).

The company Onotes has developed a technology which blends scents into “playlists”, that can be set throughout the day/week to help “wake you up, calm you down or take you away”, much like an upbeat or relaxing music playlist.

Also, to touch upon the gaming industry, perfume can be considered an essential part of the experience and is being integrated into ever-more realistic AI projects. A specific scent can catapult us into a reality we didn’t even know abut: Verbeek speaks about this in her TedTalk, when she mentions historical sceneries being recreated through the use of scent (3:05).

Perfume is about feeling a certain way, may it be for the purpose of luxury, of one’s personal memories or for scientific and historic purposes. The fact that, at the basis of perfume there is chemistry, means that perfume can easily be meddled with in order to create surprising, helpful, but also scary and unchartered results.

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