Big Time Sensuality: the link between perfume emotions explained.
– Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind
In Patrick Süskind’s seminal novel, the murderous Jean Baptiste Grenouille knows that scents, perhaps more than any other sensual stimulant, arouse emotions and memories otherwise locked away. Like Proust, enjoying his tea-soaked madeleine, we are often shocked by how memories are suddenly brought perfectly to life by smells and fragrances.
As poetic as the shiver of sensual provocation sounds, the reason perfume is so linked to memory is purely biological.
When the olfactory lashes in our nose detect a scent or smell, they send a pulse of information through a nerve to the olfactory bulb, a kind of sensory sorting office, where the information is processed before being sent to the brain for identification and storage.
In the brain, it’s the limbic system – the infinitely complex archive system at the back of the brain which stores short-term memories and emotional reactions – where scents are turned into memories. The limbic system evolved extremely early in the development of the human brain to record and understand senses. The sense of smell is a reptilian sense - an ancient skill developed before reason, conscious or language to prevent harm and find a mate or prey – and that’s why scents can provoke instinctive reactions, triggering feelings and memories instantly.
The olfactory bulb works with the amygdala – that’s the part of the brain that controls emotional responses caused by experiences, as well as the thalamus – the part that links smells to memories.
This magical combination means that smells are timelessly linked to experiences, and no matter where life takes us, those links will always be stored away, ready to be brought back by a fragrance.
All of us create our own links between scents, emotions, and memories, similar but each one perfectly unique and individual, like a fingerprint. That means every reaction to a fragrance is different, and everyone will experience perfumes differently. All the more reason, then, to create your own scents and tell your own story.