smelling exercises: 5 posts

Putting Scents Into Words : Smelling Exercises

Describing aromas can be difficult. We’re used to associating a scent with something concrete–an orange, a rose, a steaming bowl of pasta, so when we encounter even a familiar smell disconnected from its source, we are lost for words. Orange smells like an orange, right? Yet, the more one smells, the more one tries to put scents into words, the easier it becomes. In this post, I would like to put together the videos I’ve recorded of basic smelling exercises that teach how to sharpen one’s sense of smell and to put scents into words. I’d like to have everything in one place for reference and also to add extra notes to each demo.

Why does putting scents into words matter? First, by describing a smell to yourself, you memorize it more easily. This scent memory bank, or olfactory vocabulary, if you will, will help you to recognize scents faster and to recall them at will. Second, any sensory experience is enriched when more than one sense is stimulated, and the ability to describe smells will make your olfactory perceptions richer and will heighten your enjoyment overall, be it the enjoyment that comes from savoring a glass of wine, a piece of cake or from taking a walk in the park. So, let’s start!

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Exercises to Sharpen Sense of Smell : Cloves and Roses

Starting one’s morning by smelling consciously is the best and the easiest way to sharpen your sense of smell. I’m sure that many of you who are reading this blog on a regular basis are already using your nose to its full potential, but if you would like to improve your olfactory vocabulary, distinguish scents better and learn to smell with more focus, I would like to share short videos with professional tips. The sense of smell becomes less acute with age, but by introducing such exercises into our routine, we’re ensuring that our noses remain as sensitive as can be possible given our genetic makeup and lifestyle. I’ve already posted a video on the basic principles of smelling in Bois de Jasmin’s YouTube channel, and the next installments will cover different techniques in more detail–smelling in images, looking for nuances in scents, etc.

Today’s video is a typical exercise I use in the morning. I pick anything scented–it can be a box of spices, a packet of coffee or a blotter dipped into an essential oil and think of images it evokes. It’s easier to do this exercise blindly (place spices in unmarked jars and smell with your eyes closed), but even if you know what you’re smelling, try to think only of the smell. What does it evoke? What does it smell of (other than the object you’re smelling)? It helps to write down your impressions, and if you like, you can share them in the comments here.

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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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Scent Diary : Wine and Strawberries

One of my weekly pleasures is a Friday market that takes place on a small square not too far from my apartment building. It starts late in the afternoon to fit the working hours, and by 6 pm, the jagged rectangle surrounded by grey limestone buildings teems with EU workers in suits, moms with strollers, elderly ladies with pulling carts and just about anyone who lives in the area.  I come here as much for the produce as for the smells and also for an occasional glass of wine with a friend; I’ve yet to encounter a Belgian market without a drink stand! The market inspires me to experiment in the kitchen and to write in my scent diary (provided that said wine consumption was kept in check.)

strawberry salad

Many of you have asked me to make Scent Diary a regular feature, a place where we can share the scents we encounter. Being aware of different scents throughout the day is the best way to sharpen your sense of smell, while writing down the recollections improves your aromatic vocabulary and memory.

Whether you write down 1 recollection or 10 matters less than simply reminding yourself to smell. You can add as many comments as you wish. You can comment today or over the course of the week; this thread will always be open. Of course, do share what perfume you’re wearing or what particularly good fragrance you’ve discovered.

I wish my friends in the US a wonderful Memorial Day celebration, and the rest of us a relaxing, sunny weekend! I’m wearing Chanel Beige, and we will have this savory-sweet salad with strawberries, arugula and mozzarella for lunch. The rest of my scent diary will be in the comments.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Smelling Exercise : Perfume Around You

In Workout for the Nose : How to Improve Your Sense of Smell I outlined several exercises that will improve your sense of smell. They are guaranteed to give results if you devote at least some time to smelling consciously. But  as I’ve found in my own training, the best results come from doing these exercises with someone else. Not only do you get more motivated to follow through, but you also learn from the observations of others.

chestnuts

So, let’s devote this week to the most basic–and the most effective–smelling exercise. It involves noting the scents you encounter in your day-to-day life and writing them down at the end of each day this week. We can then comment on each other’s fragrant experiences, share our own, and learn to use our noses more often.

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From the Archives

Latest Comments

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  • Ciara in Summer Cologne for Winter: I have found myself wearing Oyedo by Diptyque lately. The uplifting scent has been very invigorating for the wet, gray days. This scent for me was instantly appealing, but when… January 16, 2022 at 2:06pm

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  • Victoria in Summer Cologne for Winter: I like the idea! I can’t think of any bath oil with a strong galbanum accord, unless Chanel No 19 has bath products. My sense is that it’s best to… January 16, 2022 at 11:22am

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