Recently I was interviewed on the BBC about a new study on the attraction of smells we consider unpleasant. The research undertaken by a group of Scottish and Czech scientists revealed that women prefer the sweat of men who had eaten garlic. I was somewhat skeptical about the study and especially the explanations, but I find nothing surprising about the appeal of so-called bad odors. Our noses are more precise and interesting than we think, and it only takes a walk through a fragrance lab to discover what kind of unpleasant materials are essential for the most beautiful of perfumes.
This topic is the subject of my Financial Times Magazine column. I explain why bad smells are important in perfumery and even take you to a special place in the lab where pungent ingredients are mixed.
“One of the paradoxes of perfumery is that to create a good smell, you need a bit of funk. A strawberry accord won’t smell convincing without a sulphurous accent. Recreating a dewy white blossom requires the same substances that are present in horse sweat. There is even a space in every perfume lab devoted to materials with strong, reeking odours, and it’s appropriately called ‘the stinky room’. Next to the roses and vanillas in a perfumer’s palette, notes reminiscent of dirty hair, musty fur, burnt toast or decaying fruit have their place of honour – costus, musks, civet, pyrazines and many other pungent ingredients. They may be used in small quantities, but they’re important enhancers, giving vibrancy, texture and spice to an otherwise conventional fragrance.” To continue, please click here.
Photography by Bois de Jasmin