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Why some fragrances make us feel festive

<i>Tsuji/iStockphoto/Getty Images</i><br/>The smell of a log fire is a particular favorite in the home fragrance sector around the holiday season.
Tsuji/iStockphoto/Getty Images
The smell of a log fire is a particular favorite in the home fragrance sector around the holiday season.

By Susan Griffin, CNN

(CNN) — Our sense of smell is so powerful that it can alter our mood, transport us to another place or time, or remind us of a particular memory in a flash.

Scent is perhaps never more evocative than during the holiday season, when the air is filled with festive aromas that warm the soul and feed our yearning for nostalgia.

Someone who is famed for capturing Christmas in a scent is Jo Malone, perfumer and founder of her second fragrance brand Jo Loves, established in 2011 after selling her eponymous first fragrance brand Jo Malone to Estée Lauder.

“Scent truly brings the festive season alive,” said Malone, whose range of festive fragrances are based on her own memories — such as Plum Pudding, inspired by a recipe she has made every year since childhood — but still universally significant and appealing.

“The scent of log fires on a crisp winter morning, the sweet and delicious smell of roasted chestnuts, or the scent of a real pine tree floating in the air instantly evoke a feeling of familiarity and excitement,” noted Malone in an interview with CNN.

With its notes of pine, lavender, amber and incense, “Christmas Trees” — a Jo Loves bestseller — is revived annually, along with other classics, but new scents based on traditional aromas are also added to the mix.

“This year we launched the new Gingerbread scent, which brings me back to Christmas morning, baking with my family,” said Malone.

“Spending time with loved ones is the most special part of my Christmas. That is why I always try to capture my favorite festive scents in the form of fragrances, so the memory will forever live on.”

Data research company Statista has projected the global revenue of fragrances will increase to over $64 billion by 2028, with prestige fragrances deemed the most profitable part of the sector.

Why scents are so evocative

Just as a bad odor could prompt you to wince and run away, a beautiful aroma invites you to linger — whether in a shop, restaurant, or at home, which is especially pertinent during the holiday season.

“Festive season scents should be warm and comforting without sacrificing sophistication and quality,” says Azzi Glasser, perfumer designer and founder of The Perfumer’s Story. Glasser co-founded Agent Provocateur fragrance and has designed bespoke scents to for Hollywood stars.

One of her creations is the “Smoked Wood” candle, a mix of vetiver, sandalwood, cedarwood and frankincense inspired by cozy winter evenings. “Smells … are a visceral and effective way of reliving comforting memories,” she said.

The reason smell is so suggestive, and can trigger memories and emotions quicker than other senses, might be that the processes at play are anatomically close.

“When the receptor cells at the top of our nasal cavity detect a smell, they pass signals along nerve fibers to the olfactory bulb, which processes the signals and passes information about the smell to an area of the brain called the limbic system,” explains Duncan Boak, CEO and founder of Fifth Sense, a UK-based charity for those affected by smell and taste disorders.

“This system is comprised of a set of structures, including the amygdala, hippocampus and thalamus, which play a major role in controlling our mood, memory, behavior and emotion. It is often regarded as being the most primitive part of the brain.”

Our sense of smell is most closely linked to what is known as episodic memory, or long-term memory of events from a first-person perspective.

This could explain why specific scents can be so emotive. It is not so much that our senses are heightened by the general hoopla of holiday season — the intoxicating smell of crackling fires, mulled wine and mince pies — but the memories that are prompted.

“It is an extremely important and emotional time for many, as Christmas is usually spent with those you love the most and focuses on appreciating the things that are most important to you in life,” said Lisa Hipgrave, Director of IFRA UK (International Fragrance Association) and Head of Fragrance at Diem. “Scents can be emotive. Often, people will associate a smell with the happiness and warmth that comes with the festive period.”

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Article Topic Follows: Holidays

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