Aromatics were highly prized in the ancient world, when scent was a powerful force in ritual, medicine, myth and conquest. Throughout the millennia, scent has helped people to pray, to heal, to make love and war, to create. To inspire, after all, is literally “to breathe in.” Despite such a fragrant history, smell is today the most neglected of our senses. We seek visual beauty in art and nature and indulge our ears with music. We sample new and exotic cuisines and pamper our sense of touch with cashmeres and silks. Rarely though, do we think about the cultivation or enrichment of our sense of smell.
That for us is where our story starts…
Design In Scent was founded by Gemma Hopkins in 2014, having evolved from a multi-sensory events company to focus solely on the aromatic. Meghan Fay joined the team at the end of 2016 as Partner and Managing Director and has without doubt become the yang of Gemma’s yin, bringing an even greater Design In Scent vision into being.
“What I love about scent is how unpredictable it is. It embodies the trixster. You can be in the middle of something when bam, a few molecules have wafted up your nose and you’re in tears or you’re comforted or you’re sat on the school playing field age 7 making daisy chains. It’s little wonder, back in the 19th century, that smell was considered ‘dangerous’ by society’s leading elite and relegated to the bottom of the sensory pile. What a privilege to raise it back to where it belongs! In this overly rational, mechanical, too-fast world, fragrance can help us slow down and soften, coming back to ourselves, to our feelings, to our intuition and to our extraordinary creativity.”
“I love scent because of its ability to transport you to another place and time in an instant. Maybe it’s decorating your Christmas tree as a child, a holiday location that captured your heart, or even your walk down the aisle. Scent is actually a chance to bottle a memory, a feeling, and the fleeting moments of life we cherish so much.”
Our vision is to…
Challenge the way that we as society value our sensory experience of the world and even how we perceive reality.
Raise awareness of our sense of smell so we feel deeply and become more emotionally connected to the world around us.
Revive some of the extravagant applications of fragrance because unapologetic beauty is a life-affirming gift that should not just be seen or heard.
Show how scent can soothe the psyche, heal the body and exhilarate the spirit. Sing to your mind, body and soul.
Throw open the doors of possibility and plug people right into the source of their creativity.
Capture the imagination and utter delight of children, who we have discovered never really grow up…
There’s something about the invisible world of scent – a magic – which is difficult to put your finger on or find quite the right words for. Perhaps that’s the magic… It’s certainly what inspires us to do what we do.
Starting with the First Breath
The first thing we do when we’re born is breathe in and the first sense to develop is that of smell. Everything seemingly solid vibrates – plants, furniture, even us – and vibrations that are released into the air as odour molecules carry rich information that our exceptional nasal receptors can detect. We can distinguish what is edible, people we know, danger and even fear amongst countless other things. With every breath we’re literally breathing in the world around us. And the more we tune in, the more we can discern.
Blurring into Quantum Physics
Fragrance governs us in ways we don’t fully understand. Smell is the only sense directly linked to the brain’s limbic system, the oldest part of the brain responsible for our instincts, memories and emotions. When we smell a scent for the first time, we permanently link it to the details, the sounds, the people and the feelings that we are experiencing at the time. When we encounter the smell again, the link is already there, ready to instantly elicit the connected memory or a mood. Sometimes we don’t even know what the scent is, but we’re deeply moved by it and it carries us to another place in time.
Dancing with Language
The difficulty with smell is that we don’t have a common language in the West with which to describe our experience. We can use words that try and paint a picture, like it’s very green or it reminds me of such and such, but we often struggle to convey to another the essence that we perceive. Other cultures past and present have incredibly vivid ways of referring to scent, so for them smell is not the subjective experience that it is for us in the West. Perhaps that will change as we deepen our perception of this rich sense.
Weaving through Culture
Scent truly has been in the spotlight in various places around the globe throughout human history. Ancient civilisations sent thoughts and prayers up to spiritual dimensions in the fragrant smoke of incense, while Cleopatra soaked the sails of her ship in perfume to signal her approach (our favourite anecdote). Countless reflection gardens were cultivated not just for their visual appeal but for their glorious fragrance, which was taken a few steps further by France’s King Louis XV who perfumed his fountains. Magic will happen. The magic which the poet George Herbert spoke of when he wrote of his pomander of ambergris as “a speaking sweet”. Or, as Leontes describes fragrance in A Winter’s Tale, “If this be magic, let it be an art/Lawful as eating.” What did they know that we have forgotten in our haste…?