learning to smell: 2 posts

Learning Scents (or Words) : A Few Tips

Recently I was making a new series of videos on learning languages, and as I was jotting down notes on learning words, I realized that for my studies I use the same memorizing techniques that I had used to learn ingredients in perfumery school. I wonder if my language learning didn’t accelerate during my training. After all, memorizing something intangible like a scent is even harder than memorizing a new word. Either way, I would like to share my tips on retaining smells in your memory, and you can see how you can apply these techniques to memorizing anything else.

If you wish to have a set of oils or spices ready, I recommend starting with no more 3. It might seem like very little, but if you learn to memorize those three scents and learn to pick them out in a blend, you can expand your exercises to a much greater number. Polish your technique with a few scents at a time.

For instance, my recommended smells for learning would be the following three: lemon (you can use the real fruit by scratching the peel), clove (you can use spices that you have at that time), and vanilla (you can use extract). You’re likely to have them already, and they’re used a lot in perfumery. Just because they’re familiar, however, don’t assume that you know all of their facets.

I emphasize the parallels with language studies to help you find your own connections. I’m sure all of you have pursuits that require memorization, so you can rely on the same techniques for learning aromas. Your techniques might differ from mine, but it doesn’t matter as long as they are effective.

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A Classical Experiment : How to Learn to Smell Better

In my September 2018 newsletter, I shared an experiment with three perfume classics. While re-reading the Odyssey (see my fall reading list), I was inspired to turn to another favorite book, Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. I lingered over the scene when the sultry red-haired witch enticed women with the promise of “Guerlain, Chanel No. 5, Mitsouko, Narcisse Noir, evening gowns, cocktail dresses...”  Why not revisit them, I thought?

I decided to devote a few days to each perfume, wearing it every day and studying it closely. I also applied the three perfumes on blotters and kept them within reach to smell as often as I remembered, noting down the changes in scent and its intensity. In my newsletter, I proposed that you also do the experiment with these perfumes, but on reflection, you can repeat it with any fragrance you like. I recommend classics, because they are usually complex and they have elements that you’ll find in modern fragrances. It’s like reading The Odyssey to understand the famous tropes of Western literature.

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