The fragrance revolution.
We are in the midst of a scientifically driven olfactory revolution that is providing an extraordinary range of revelations about our noses and the sense of smell. These discoveries promise beneficial lifestyle breakthroughs unimaginable just a few short years ago.
This sensory revolution began in 1982, when the board of directors of The Fragrance Foundation, a nonprofit educational arm of the fragrance industry, voted unanimously to support the creation of the Olfactory Research Fund (formerly the Fragrance Research Fund), a charitable, tax-exempt organization dedicated to the study of the sense of smell and the psychological benefits of fragrance.
The Fund grants scholarships, sponsors scientific research, and promotes the study of the olfactory arts and sciences. In addition, the Fund sponsors meetings, lectures, and symposia and creates programs and exhibits for libraries, art galleries, and museums to promote and stimulate the study and understanding of the sense of smell and fragrance.
Olfactory research, including much of the Fund-supported research that I shall describe here, concentrates on the beneficial behavioral effects of fragrance and demonstrates the growing recognition of the interrelationship between fragrance-technology research and psychology; it has thus come to be called Aroma-Chology.
Several of the research projects recently funded by the Olfactory Research Fund will take us a step further toward understanding how the sense of smell can significantly improve our lives. For example, Gisela Epple, a research scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, was awarded a grant in 1992 to investigate the effects of fragrance on stress responses in autistic and normal children.
According to Epple, children acquire a memory for fragrances that they experience under conditions involving their emotions. The study will show whether or not emotions similar to those associated with an original odor-memory formation can be evoked. Epple theorizes that certain scents, which autistic and normal children have learned to associate with their feelings of security and protection, can effectively reduce anxiety in stressful situations.
At Bowling Green State University, psychologist Pete Badia is studying the effects of fragrance on sleep and dreams. And at the University of Minnesota, psychology professor Mark Snyder is identifying the role of odor perception in social interaction. This research is premised on the widely held view that you can never have a relationship with a person whose smell you don't like.
Another 1992 grant was awarded to Susan Schiffman, a professor of medical psychology at Duke University. Schiffman's research will determine if the daily use of fragrance can elevate mood in women at midlife, which is frequently characterized by fluctuating moods accompanied by unpleasant physiological symptoms. The study is the first of its type in the scientific community and promises to help us understand how fragrance can enhance women's well-being during a difficult stage of life.
For the medical profession, the results of Aroma-Chology research promise new methods of care. For instance, researchers at the prestigious Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York have found that fragrance can be used to reduce the anxiety and distress that patients experience during magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI), a widely used medical procedure. In a preliminary study, conducted by William H. Redd and Sharon Manne of the Center's Psychiatry Service, patients who were exposed to a fragrance while undergoing MRI experienced approximately 63% less overall anxiety. The fragrance used in the study was heliotropin, a sweet, vanilla-like scent.
These and other breakthrough findings in Aroma-Chology are inspiring businesses and entrepreneurs with new ideas. Research verifying that certain fragrances promote relaxation and relieve stress while others stimulate and energize is certain to spawn vast new marketing opportunities. Already, more and more people are buying fragrance to help them sleep and reduce stress, in addition to energizing themselves and improving social relationships.
The fragrance industry has moved in lock step to the romantic lure of fragrance for a millennium. Now, because of the new scientific discoveries, fragrance is being perceived from a much broader perspective and will increasingly find its way into designs for both personal and public environments.
Years ago, movie producer Mike Todd introduced "Smell-a-Vision" into theaters across the country so movie goers would be able to smell what they saw, enhancing the reality of the experience. Though "Smell-a-Vision" wasn't perfected at the time, methods have now been devised to transmit scent to expand our enjoyment of the arts--both in and out of the home--by allowing scent and fragrance to accompany sight and sound.
For instance, the innovation of virtual reality may soon allow you to completely change your living environment, selecting at whim from a variety of light, wind, rainstorm, and fragrance effects. Myron Krueger, president of Artificial Reality, says fragrance has considerable new opportunities in the field of virtual reality.
"If it lives up to its promise," Krueger says, "virtual reality will be applied in almost every area of human endeavor, just as the computer has been. A major use will be entertainment. If these experiences become commonplace, as expected, the sense of place will be greatly enhanced by the display of the appropriate smell. The smell of the sea, a pine forest, or a garden would firmly establish the right ambience. Similarly, odors would make graphic objects, creatures, and simulated human characters seem more real."
Virtual reality could make Todd's "Smell-a-Vision" feasible: Imagine experiencing the aroma of magnolia blossoms or Scarlett O'Hara's perfume as you watch Gone With the Wind, or the stench of burning tires in a car chase in Lethal Weapon. What might the interiors of the futuristic space vehicles in Star Wars and Star Trek smell like?
Fragrance will enter the home environment as well. The home continues to be the centerpiece for working, living, and socializing, and the home environment will increasingly be enhanced by technologies assisting our eternal search for beauty and style.
Technology will make it possible in the very near future to have calming sensory enclosures in every home, complete with relaxing and refreshing fragrance choices, computer-driven interior designs, and paintings with built-in sound, light, and scent systems, which may be changed at the touch to a button. Odors, sounds, and tactile devices will be programmed to re-create nature. Living spaces will be sculptural and mobile. Outer-space colors, shapes, and sounds will be the inspiration for art, music, and fashion.
Fragrancing in Japan
In Japan, people use fragrance for a wide variety of reasons, such as mood enhancement. To reduce stress, for instance, they may use a lavender-chamomile scent. To induce a positive mood, they might use a lemony or cypress scent; for refreshment, basil, peppermint, or clove. Many olfactory innovators will concentrate on using such fragrances to enhance the public environment.
Researchers at the Shimizu Construction Company of Tokyo believe the behavioral-fragrance area is near to attaining a true scientific footing that will stimulate public acceptance. Large-scale fragrancing is already being applied in Japan. A new computerized fragrance-delivery system developed by Shimizu cleans the air and circulates fragrances within homes, office buildings, high-rise condominiums, hotels, hospitals, nursing homes, subways, prisons, and any other environment. Statistics from Shimizu's studies reveal that even the subliminally perceived aromas of environmental fragrancing have positive psycho-physiological effects on the body.
In America, a study by the Good Housekeeping Institute reinforces Shimizu's findings. The Institute has been conducting consumer panel studies to ascertain the effects of peppermint and lavender fragrances on participants while proofreading. Results from the first phase of the study showed that participants indeed performed significantly better when the fragrances were diffused throughout the room compared with no fragrance at all!
The environmental-fragrancing system is intended to be only one component of a total approach to a more pleasant and positive atmosphere in living and working environments. This type of technology could be used to equip homes or offices with computerized olfactory-control centers, which will allow people to program the scents they wish to remove and/or disperse in each room.
Another likely result of Aroma-Chology will be the creation of sensory-fulfillment centers, where men, women, and children can step into environments that bathe them in fragrances, sounds, and sights. People may well want to come to such centers any hour of the day or night. Quarters could be provided for sleeping, bathing, experiencing new techniques in daydreaming, or even communicating by satellite to counterparts around the world and in space. Aroma rooms complete with resident perfumers might be built to hold a varying number of people, from one to a hundred, where you could have your sense of smell analyzed, tested, and stimulated.
Aroma-Chology may even be applied to city planning and urban renewal. In its November-December 1991 issue, THE FUTURIST reported that environmental officials in Munich, Germany, were developing an "odor map" of the city to identify problem areas. Volunteer scent detectives smelled their way through town in an attempt to determine what types of smells the citizens found unpleasant or troubling, where the smells were coming from, and how they could be eliminated. The effort may presage the return of public perfumers of the eighteenth century, whose task was to diagnose and improve the odor quality of life in cities and towns throughout Europe.
The Sensory Revolution
Fragrance is just one aspect of a broader "sensory revolution" under way in a variety of industries. For instance, fashion, like fragrance, will provide psychological as well as physiological satisfaction for the wearer.
Breakthrough textures will do a great deal more than cover up the body and make an eternally changing fashion statement. The fabrics of the future will cool or heat the body. Fragrance enhancers in fabric will provide soothing, sensual, or exhilarating effects, which may be added or subtracted, depending on the mood or situation. One can imagine many possible scenarios, such as a "smart" cocktail dress that senses when its wearer is attracted to someone across the room and begins to emit an alluring scent. Alternatively, the fabric might emit a foul repellant to ward off Mr. Wrong.
Interior design is also being transformed by the sensory revolution, inspired by a group of designers in Milan who are convinced that design has moved beyond form. The greatest influence for the future, they believe, will be sensory. In fact, The Fragrance Foundation sponsored an exhibition in 1992 at the Peter Joseph Galleries in New York to introduce Thomas Hucker's Milan-inspired furniture designs, which are based on sensory interaction incorporating fragrance, sound, temperature, and texture. Hucker worked with International Flavors & Fragrances' breakthrough AromaCote|TM~ technology--TABULAR DATA OMITTED a water-based, nontoxic polymer with control-release systems, which allows fragrances to be "painted" directly onto wood and other compatible materials.
Sense Therapy and Self-Care
Aroma-Chology research has also emerged as a therapeutic force, offering everyone the opportunity to select fragrances and fragrance-enhanced products to achieve a variety of health and psychological benefits.
As life expectancy increases, people will not only be greatly concerned about their outer aging signs, but also about learning the techniques for keeping all of their senses at peak performance. For the next 50 years, top futurists predict, much labor will be replaced by automation, contributing to a growing leisure class TABULAR DATA OMITTED around the world. Meanwhile, life expectancy will rise to nearly 100. If these forecasts do indeed come true, certainly the role of the senses and fragrance will become increasingly important.
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The sense of smell--the least understood and least appreciated of all our senses--may well become the key to unlocking many of the body's and the brain's most-penetrating mysteries. At a recent Fragrance Foundation symposium, Gary Beauchamp, director and president of Monell Chemical Senses Center, remarked, "Literally, you have some of your brain out in the nose, and what's remarkable about this part of the brain is that it regenerates.... If we understood how that worked, it might well be that we could understand ways to make other parts of the brain regenerate, which might be the most fundamental of all biomedical achievements in the twenty-first century."
It is clear that science and technology are transforming all aspects of fragrance and sensory research. Avery Gilbert, vice president of sensory psychology for Givaudan Roure, Inc., noted at an Aroma-Chology symposium sponsored by the Olfactory Research Fund, "The art and commerce of perfumery will never be the same in the future. The practice of perfumery will be inconceivable without computer-aided design and molecular-modeling software. The perfumer's assistant, loyally pouring together ingredients for the master's latest creation, will be as anachronistic as the eye-shaded clerk in a Victorian counting house. Today's fragrances are crafted by perfumers trained in aesthetic traditions of the Renaissance. These artisans who spend years in apprenticeship talk quaintly of amber notes and white floral accords. By the year 2000, perfumers will speak routinely of musk-receptor agonists and the molecular-binding affinities of floral-receptor proteins."
The study of the sense of smell will present future opportunities for fragrance and other sensory innovations that will take us far beyond where we are today.
We have learned that the sense of smell is interrelated with the sense of well-being. And we are now learning that the success of many of the lifestyle breakthroughs that will benefit all of us in the remainder of the 1990s and beyond will depend on how effectively industry and the scientific communities interrelate with each other to master the future and reap the enormous opportunities of the emerging world of fragrances.
About the Author
Annette Green is president of The Fragrance Foundation and vice president of the Olfactory Research Fund, 145 East 32nd Street, New York, New York 10016. She is recognized in the world of fragrance and science as one of the first "olfactory activists"; she coined the term Aroma-Chology, which is a service mark of the Olfactory Research Fund.