“For people could close their eyes to greatness, to horrors, to beauty, and their ears to melodies or deceiving words. But they couldn’t escape scent. For scent was a brother of breath. Together with breath it entered human beings, who couldn’t defend themselves against it, not if they wanted to live. And scent entered into their very core, went directly to their hearts, and decided for good and all between affection and contempt, disgust and lust, love and hate. He who ruled scent ruled the hearts of men.”
― Patrick Süskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
For me, time travel doesn’t involve a magic potion or Dr Who-style tardis; instead it’s catching a familiar scent that stirs up distant memories. One whiff of eggnog at Christmas time sends me back years; my mum used to make one every week before our regular Sunday night phone call to my grandparents on the South coast. My grandpa was partial to an eggnog; so much so that we called it a Grandpa Special – we still do, in fact! A hint of Kouros and the scene is very different; I’m transported to the nightclubs of Leeds, dancing the night away.
We all have our own versions of these scent and memory connections, positive and negative (and I’d love to hear yours – share away in the comments) Sometimes smells even manage to dredge up moments we have absolutely no memory of; things we’d completely wiped from our brains. After a year, our sense of smell has a 65% accuracy rate whereas visual recall is limited to 50%. And smell is the sense most linked to our emotions – hence perfume companies spend millions of pounds creating and trialling fragrances designed to convey a huge range of different feelings in order to appeal to customers.
Have you ever wondered why smells are so evocative? Well, it’s not a myth – it’s science. Smells are routed through the olfactory bulb in the brain; a section closely connected with the amygdala and hippocampus which oversee – yes, you’ve guessed it – memory and emotion. We smell more in the Spring and Summer when the air contains more moisture and our sense of smell peaks in our teens – maybe that’s why I remember the smells associated with those long hot summers of my teenage years so vividly and so positively? A strong sense of smell brings an experience to life – did you know that at The Jorvik Viking Centre in York an artificial stench is pumped into the museum so visitors can really get a sense of what life was like in a 10th century city? On the other hand, when people develop conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimers, losing one’s sense of smell is often the first physical symptom. With Alzheimer’s, it’s as if the loss signals the closing off of the first pathway to memory.
Humans are pretty much universally agreed that some smells are repugnant – rotten meat, for example, or smoke – because they’re closely associated in our minds with danger. Others, though, are more subjective. One person might find a particular perfume heady or intoxicating, whereas another might find it overpowering and nausea-inducing. The reason for the difference? Our associations with the scent from our memories. Person A might associate the fragrance with a glamorous aunty or a first love, whereas Person B might connect it with a loathed grandparent or a feared teacher. Memory and emotion rules all – scent is simply the trigger.
Launching The Little Yorkshire Candle Company seemed a natural step for a woman who has loved scent from being a little girl (you can read more about my story here). I’m still obsessed with different scents – my favourite is mimosa – and I’m fascinated by the process of building a distinct fragrance from different notes. Of course, I set myself the additional challenge of all of my fragrances being 100% natural, and I try to evoke the wild beauty of Yorkshire in our range. Our CREATE, BLISS, SERENITY, SENSUAL and SLEEP candles are born of botanics and created with essential oils and plant extracts and no – we repeat NO – hidden nasties. Whether your aim is to unwind or invigorate your senses, your perfect match is waiting to be discovered.
Do share your most powerful scent memories in the comments or on social media – I’d love to hear about the smells that take you back in time.
pic credit Annie Spratt