Memory

Our sense of smell and our emotions are intertwined.

Smell is the only sense directly related to the hypothalamus, the heart of our emotions. More importantly, odours immediately trigger powerful emotions that in turn become emotions that will influence our future behaviour. As a result, we’re transported back to a world filled with memories!

Videos

Testimonials

  • La Madeleine de Proust
    “La Madeleine de Proust” is a French expression that refers to the evocative power of smell, and in particular to odours that can cause far-away, emotionally charged memories to suddenly resurface. It comes from a passage in the novel “Swann's Way” by French author Marcel Proust, in which the main character’s childhood memories and emotions come flooding back when he tastes a madeleine dipped in tea.

    (…) on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. (…) She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. (…) The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom , my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. (…) But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

    Full text : http://www.haverford.edu/psychology/ddavis/p109g/proust.html

    Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past. Swann’s Way, 1913
  • For me, the orange blossom is a flower that has been a real source of inspiration in my career. In Armani Code for women, I used orange blossom as my primary source of inspiration, in association with notes that reminded me of nature in Morocco and of my experiences. I was born in Tangier, so I have a history in Tangier. And there, for instance, we ate petals... caramelized orange blossom petals (...) And later, when I had to make a perfume, I dipped into these sources of inspiration to bring this slightly soft, sweet aspect to a floral perfume.

    Carlos Bénaïm, perfumer Excerpt from an interview that took place during the filming of “The Empire of Scents”
  • Oh, it’s poetic, it’s theatrical, it's emotional. Smell is the hedonistic sense, the sense of pleasures. For me, the sense of smell and after-taste gives meaning to life. Being here on Earth is probably a great gift. They are giving us the opportunity to realize that we can enjoy ourselves and have a good time. But we must remember that in life we come across good and bad smells. Except what is fabulous is that there is no such thing as a bad smell. We all have a smell that reminds us of a particular event. If I smell horse manure, well, that’s a bad smell, you’ll say. Except that if someone remembers riding his horse, or being on a farm with his grandmother, well, then, it becomes a good smell.

    Patty Canac, Olfactory Therapist Excerpt from an interview that took place during the filming of “The Empire of Scents”
  • It was a few weeks until I realized. It was after I emerged from the loopiness of my head injury. And I was at my dad's house, and, with my stepmom and a couple of friends were there, and my stepmom, Cindy, had made an applecrisp, it was one of my favourite deserts, the scent of it reminded me of fall and growing up near an apple orchards, and my own apple pies. And she thought it would make me feel happy, cause I was having a hard time eating, I was in such pain. So she made this applecrisp.

    And I remember sitting in a room with my friend, Becka, one of my best friends, and when this applecrisp came out of the oven she said “Oh, do you smell that? It smells so good.” And I, I sniffed and there was nothing, and I thought maybe I was sitting in the wrong place, or someone was in my way. I didn't really understand how I could not be smelling something that everyone else could.

    But when Cindy, my stepmother, brought the applecrisp, this like piping hot, steaming applecrisp, and held it under my nose and I breathed in, I could feel the heat of the steam. I could feel the different texture of the air in my nose, but there was absolutely no scent. And that's when I realize that something was really wrong.

    ... When I realized that I couldn't smell this applecrisp, I didn't even know it was possible to lose your sense of smell. It took me a long time for the reality of it to sink in. I felt I was dealing with so much, just in terms of my own mobility, and my own reaction to pain, and it was... it kind of felt so unreal, that my sense of smell could be gone. (…) So the tought that that could be gone, and I would have to reassess my entire place, and identity in the world, just blew my mind. I couldn't go there, in that moment.

    Molly Birnbaum, writer Excerpt from an interview that took place during the filming of “The Empire of Scents”

Photos

  • Filming at Tisslit, a Moroccan village near Taliouine

    Nicolas Fransolet

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  • Filming at Tisslit, a Moroccan village near Taliouine

    Nicolas Fransolet

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  • Filming at Tisslit, a Moroccan village near Taliouine

    Nicolas Fransolet

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  • Filming at Cancale, France, where Olivier Roellinger lives

    Nicolas Fransolet

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  • Filming at Cancale, France, where Olivier Roellinger lives

    Nicolas Fransolet

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  • Filming at Cancale, France, where Olivier Roellinger lives

    Nicolas Fransolet

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  • Filming at Cancale, France, where Olivier Roellinger lives

    Nicolas Fransolet

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  • Filming at Cancale, France, where Olivier Roellinger lives

    Nicolas Fransolet

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  • Filming at Cancale, France, where Olivier Roellinger lives

    Nicolas Fransolet

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  • Filming at Cancale, France, where Olivier Roellinger lives

    Nicolas Fransolet

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  • Filming at Tisslit, a Moroccan village near Taliouine

    Andréanne Chartrand

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  • Filming at Tisslit, a Moroccan village near Taliouine
    Lucie Tremblay, the Producer

    Andréanne Chartrand

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  • Filming at Tisslit, a Moroccan village near Taliouine
    Lucie Tremblay, the Producer

    Andréanne Chartrand

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  • Filming at Tisslit, a Moroccan village near Taliouine

    Andréanne Chartrand

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Experiences

  • Refining your sense of smell

    • Take a walk in the forest, ideally in warm weather when odours are more concentrated and more apparent. You can also try this exercise when practicing a physical activity like cycling or running. The additional moisture that builds up in the nose during physical exercise heightens your sense of smell.

    • Before you leave, decide to pay more attention to smells. This will condition to you focus more on your olfactory perceptions.

    • During your walk, stop near trees, slopes, and flowers, preferably in quiet areas where there won’t be any sudden surprises. Focus your attention on your sense of smell. Describe the different odours out loud, in precise terms. Describing them aloud will strengthen your memory and improve your ability to perceive and identify smells.

  • Practicing aromatherapy at home

    • Pick one of your favourite essential oils: lemon, eucalyptus, vanilla or some other oil whose qualities could be beneficial to you. Inhaling strong aromas every day can lead to the creation of new receptors in your nose and improve your sense of smell.

    • Take a few quick sniffs every day. It is best not to inhale deeply, as this could strain your receptors.

    • You can also perform the same exercise with strong-smelling foods, like coffee, chocolate, or herbs. Simply trap their aromas by placing the food in an airtight jar.

  • Honing your ability to distinguish different foods

    • Start by choosing a variety of foods with very different odours. Ask a friend to have you smell them with your eyes closed.

    • Learn to tell them apart and to identify them accurately out loud. Describing them aloud will strengthen your memory and improve your ability to identify and perceive smells.

    • Over time, add different foods with similar odours, like raspberries, strawberries and blackcurrants, or lemons, limes and grapefruits.

  • Remembering an odour

    • Pour a few drops of essential oil, like eucalyptus, into a diffuser.

    • Blindfold your eyes and make yourself comfortable in seated yoga pose, with the diffuser in front of you.

    • Close your eyes, relax and breathe deeply. Let your spirit and your nose guide you.

Merchandising

  • The Scent of Desire

    The Scent of Desire

    Rachel Herz

    The most neglected of the five senses, our sense of smell is essential to friendships and romantic relationships. Furthermore, without smell, our sense of taste is incomplete. Through stories from her study of the sense of smell, Rachel Herz reminds us how inextricably smell is linked to our emotions and she shows us how to use it to enrich our lives.

    Learn more
  • Scent

    Scent

    Annick Le Guérer

    Attraction or repulsion, these are amongst the vivid reactions that odours have always provoked. Through the history of scents and of their strong mythological and symbolic reach, the author demonstrates their relationship with desire, life, and death. She explains why smell is the unloved of the senses for philosophers, psychiatrists, and other intellectuals.

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  • Hallucinations

    Hallucinations

    Oliver Sacks

    Drawing on cases that he has encountered during his career as a neurologist, Oliver Sacks takes us through the fascinating odyssey of the world of hallucinations. A compelling book that, far outside scientific explanations, strives to demystify hallucinations and their origins, whether these manifestations are understood (psychosis or migraine) or remain unrecognized (phantom scents or tastes).

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  • Remembering Smell

    Remembering Smell

    Bonnie Blodgett

    If you truly dislike a scent that remains on your skin, one way to remove it effectively is with alcohol-free cleansing milk. The greasier the texture, the better it will work.

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  • Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris

    Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris

    Christopher Kemp

    Everything you ever wanted to know about ambergris, the mysterious, rare substance known for its use as a perfume fixative. Christopher Kemp draws us into his story and that of ambergris seekers and collectors, particularly the underground networks of clandestine traders.

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The Olfactory System or Retro-olfaction

Taste and smell are both chemical senses; taste and olfactory sensations are provoked by the stimulation of certain cells in the nervous system, by specific molecules. Discover their pathway to your brain!

  1. 1

    Directly via the nasal passage: The odorant molecules suspended in the air enter the nose, arriving in the nasal cavity and connecting with the olfactory bulb.

  2. 2

    Retro-nasal stimulation: by breathing in through the mouth or by retro-olfaction, which means that volatile molecules liberated during mastication and odorant molecules are transmitted by the internal nares in the rear throat, continuing all the way to the nasal cavity and olfactory bulb.

  3. 3

    At the base of the bulb, located in the superior nasal concha, the odorant molecules become soluble upon contact with the olfactory mucosa (or epithelium), and consequently come into contact with the olfactory receptive cells.

  4. 4

    The olfactory neurons react to odorant molecules, sending an electric type signal all the way to the cortical area of the brain (the primary olfactory cortex) and towards the hypothalamus, stirring emotions or behavioural reactions notably linked to memories.

Nose vocabulary

  • "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare

    The human nose can distinguish more than 2,000 smells! You may be able to differentiate them, but you won’t be able to name them all, because there are some smells we simply have no words for. It is much the same as trying to name all our emotions. For the times when words fail you, here is a glossary to improve and enrich your vocabulary of smell.

    • Nouns

      Aroma, bouquet, effluvium, emanation, essence, exhalation, fragrance, nose, perfume, redolence, reek, scent, smell, stench, stink, whiff

    • Adjectives

      Acrid, aggressive, ammoniacal, aromatic, bad, biting, bitter, camphorated, delicate, delightful, disgusting, divine, elusive, exhilarating, exquisite, fetid, foul, fleeting, fragrant, fresh, heady, hot, insipid, intoxicating, light, lingering, mephitic, mild, musky, nasty, nauseating, noxious, odoriferous, penetrating, peppery, persistent, pervasive, pleasant, putrid, rancid, repellent, repulsive, revolting, rotten, sickening, sensuous, sickly, smelly, smooth, sour, spicy, stifling, stinking, strong, subtle, suffocating, sulphurous, sweet, unpleasant, velvety, warm

    • Verbs

      to breathe, to contaminate, to emanate, to emit, to exhale, to exude, to gulp, to inhale, to be fragrant, to make fragrant, to perfume, to scent, to sense, to smell of, to sniff, to spill, to spread, to sprinkle, to stay, to stink of

  • To refine this vocabulary, here some essential distinctions

    • Smell

      A quality in something that is perceived by the faculty of smell; an odour or scent

    • Odour

      A quality of something that stimulates the olfactory organ (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

      Both “smell” and “odour” imply a more natural, raw emanation than "perfume", for instance.

      • Good smells

      • Aroma

        A distinctive, typically pleasant smell.

        Usually applied to edible substances, or more precisely to retro-olfaction, meaning that they can be sensed by normal olfaction (through the nose) or by retro-olfaction (through the mouth, at the back of the palate).

        An aroma is in principle volatile. So if a foodstuff has no volatile molecules, it won’t have any aroma.

      • Bouquet

        The characteristic scent of a wine or perfume.

      • Fragrance

        A pleasant, sweet smell.

      • Perfume

        A pleasant smell.
        Implies a composition, a creation, a blend of smells.

      • Scent

        A distinctive smell, especially one that is pleasant.

      • Bad smells

      • Stench

        A strong and very unpleasant smell.

      • Mephitis

        A foul smelling or poisonous stench. (Oxford Dictionaries) Mephitis was the Roman goddess of noxious vapours.

      • Effluvium

        An unpleasant or harmful odour or discharge (Oxford Dictionaries).

      • Stink

        A strong, unpleasant smell; a stench.

      • Reek

        A foul smell.

  • General glossary

      • Ageusia

        The loss of taste functions of the tongue, particularly the inability to detect sweetness, sourness, bitterness, or saltiness (Wikipedia)

      • Anosmia

        The inability to perceive odour or a lack of functioning olfaction—the loss of the sense of smell (Wikipedia)

      • Aromacology

        The science that studies the influence of fragrance on mood and behaviour

      • Bouquet

        The characteristic scent of a wine or perfume

      • Dysgeusia

        Distortion of the sense of taste (Wikipedia)

      • Enfleurage

        A specific process that extracts the fragrance of the flowers in contact with a fatty substance. Both sides of a glass plate fixed in a wooden frame are smeared with an animal fatty content and then covered with flowers. The spent flowers are replaced until the fat is saturated with fragrance. The floral essence is separated from the fatty substance by means of a solvant.

      • Fragrance

        A pleasant, sweet smell

      • Hypogeusia

        A reduced ability to taste things (to taste sweet, sour, bitter, or salty substances) (Wikipedia)

      • Hypothalamus

        A section of the brain responsible for the production of many of the body’s essential hormones… The hormones from the hypothalamus govern physiologic functions such as temperature regulation, thirst, hunger, sleep, mood, sex drive, and the release of other hormones within the body. (Healthline) It is particularly the centre of the emotions; smell is the only sense that is in direct contact with the hypothalamus.

      • Odour

        A quality of something that stimulates the olfactory organ (Merriam Webster Dictionary) Both “smell” and “odour” imply a more natural, raw emanation than "perfume", for instance.

      • Olfactometry

        The testing and measurement of the sensitivity of the sense of smell (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

      • Olfactory apparatus or olfactory system

        The whole system that is needed to have a sense of smell

      • Olfactory hallucination (or phantosmia)

        The perception of a smell in the complete absence of any physical odour (Wikipeida)

      • Parosmia

        Olfactive dysfunction that is characterized by the inability of the brain to properly identify an odour’s “natural” smell (Wikipedia)

      • Phantosmia

        Olfactory hallucination lasting longer than a few seconds

      • Reek

        A foul smell

      • Scent

        A distinctive smell, especially one that is pleasant

      • Stench

        A strong and very unpleasant smell

      • Androstenone

        A derivative of testosterone, this hormone is present in the sweat and urine of male mammals and corresponds to a sexual signal. However, this link has not been proven for humans. This hormone is distinctive as it triggers very different chemical reactions depending on the gene structure of the person smelling it.

      • Aroma

        A distinctive, typically pleasant smell Usually applied to edible substances, or more precisely to retro-olfaction, meaning that they can be sensed by normal olfaction (through the nose) or by retro-olfaction (through the mouth, at the back of the palate). An aroma is in principle volatile. So if a foodstuff has no volatile molecules, it won’t have any aroma.

      • Aromatic

        Having a pleasant and distinctive smell (Oxford Dictionaries)

      • Cacosmia

        An unpleasant perception of an odorant due to nasosinusal or pharyngeal infection (Wikipedia)

      • Effluvium

        An unpleasant or harmful odour or discharge (Oxford Dictionaries)

      • Essential oil

        A concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. An oil is "essential" in the sense that it contains the "essence” of the plant's fragrance—the characteristic fragrance of the plant from which it is derived. (Wikipedia) Previously mainly use in the perfume industry, essential oils are now more often used in the cosmetics and aroma industries.

      • Hyperosmia

        An increased olfactory acuity (heightened sense of smell) (Wikipedia)

      • Hyposmia

        A reduced ability to smell and to detect odors (Wikipedia)

      • Mephitis

        A foul smelling or poisonous stench. (Oxford Dictionaries) Mephitis was the Roman goddess of noxious vapours.

      • Olfaction

        The action or capacity of smelling; the sense of smell (Oxford Dictionaries)

      • Olfactory

        Relating to the sense of smell (Oxford Dictionaries)

      • Olfactory bulb

        A neural structure of the vertebrate forebrain involved in olfaction, or the sense of smell (Wikipedia)

      • Olfactory mucous membrane or olfactory epithelium

        A specialized tissue inside the nasal cavity that is involved in smell. (Wikipedia) )

      • Perfume

        A pleasant smell. Implies a composition, a creation, a blend of smells.

      • Phéromone ou phérormone ou phéro-hormone Pheromone

        A chemical substance produced and released into the environment by an animal, especially a mammal or an insect, affecting the behaviour or physiology of others of its species (Oxford Dictionaries)

      • Retro-olfaction

        A term primarily used in the art of tasting: Action in which air is expelled through the nose during tasting in order to better appreciate certain aromas

      • Smell

        A quality in something that is perceived by the faculty of smell; an odour or scent

      • Stink

        A strong, unpleasant smell; a stench

What does smell mean to you?

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