During a French radio interview, Thierry Wasser, the dubious head perfumer at Guerlain (and the first person ever entrusted with that job outside the Guerlain family), once made a throwaway remark that he believes perfume should be available for free at the Sécurité Sociale. The quote, he says tiredly, has since “followed him around” – but he stands by it. “Perfume is good for you,” he says. “I really believe that.”
Min will argue. But exactly where his true strength lies begins to shift. For the past 40 years – from the 1980s era Calvin Klein Obsession onwards – our idea of perfume has been almost entirely related to sex. But physical attraction was not always the goal: when the world of modern perfume beginning in the ’20s, perfume was about female calls of confidence and power (with fragrances like Chanel No. 5 and Lanvin’s Arpège), much more than the pursuit of love.
“The idea of perfume as a way to attract a partner – it’s not the scent, it’s just the marketing,” says Wasser. He has another theory – and this is one that is currently emerging in the industry – that one of the things that perfumes do best is to evoke a feeling of personal creativity, of reinvention and re-imagination in the wearer . The idea, he says, was entrenched in his mind at the age of 13, when, behind his puberty-reaching friends, he carried Guerlain’s Abbé Rouge as a way to create a “character” for himself. “It was my superhero cape and costume,” he says – and to this day he keeps a lab sample in his pocket that he “constantly re-injects like an addict.”
In a world where individuality and freedom of self-expression are encouraged, creativity is the new self-care – and smell is explored as a way to broaden the mind, try out new ideas and make room for inspiration. This is an idea brought to life by perfume brands such as Roads, which grew out of an idea to use scent on stage to create atmosphere for plays; Brooklyn based DS and Durga, whose line of fragrances encapsulates “everything we love in music, art, nature and design”; and Eccentric molecules, the cult brand that turns 15 this year, whose Beautiful Mind series is inspired by the disciplines of dance and writing.
The connection between smell and creativity was in the perfume maker Barnabé Fillion’s mind when he worked on the new trilogy of fragrances for Aesop, Other topies. “It was a deliberate decision with these perfumes to encourage the ability to dream,” he says. The idea originated four years ago, when he and a philosopher’s friend discussed the way writers use the idea of place, which led to “the idea of how perfume can transport you from the physical to the abstract. When you wear a perfume on your skin, it serves as a starting point for musing, and can unlock dreams as well as memories. ”
The reason why smell can be so helpful in unlocking creativity, Fillion says, is that the act of smelling can give you “presence accuracy” – in other words, it can plant you firmly, excitingly, in the moment – which, he says , “is interesting to be creative in any discipline”. This is an idea that has transformed British perfume maker Azzi Glasser into an art form: in addition to her collection of fragrances, The Perfumer’s Story, she works with clients she describes as “very picky and creative” – actors, musicians, writers and artists – either creating custom-made fragrances for them or, as in the case of actors such as Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter – make perfume to help them get into character. “It gives them a sense of confidence, a creative power,” Glasser says. “When you find a character, you try to unlock a part of you, and perfume is one of the most incredible ways anyone can do that.”
One of Glasser’s most beloved fragrances is Old Books, which, she says, unleashes a kind of creative power in many of her literary-minded fans. Its scent is partly beautiful musty old library, partly absolute essence of a kind of “sexy aftershave” smell. “It’s Johnny Depp’s favorite, and Douglas Booth loves it, and so does Stephen Fry and [23‑year-old English model and poet] Sonny Hall. ” When Glasser herself wants to feel at her most creative, she wears her Amber Molecule perfume, a soft, powdery scent that has a kind of quiet steadfastness – exactly what you would want if you kept working awake all night. “It’s the loyal, comforting friend,” she says. “I like to wear it before I go to bed, or when I go on a plane – when I go into a cocoon and have time to think.” Interestingly, it is a perfume to which her younger fans are also attracted: according to Glasser, Kaia Gerber and Iris Law are both “very crazy about it”.
But beyond just a feeling – or an atmosphere of creativity – is there a definite way to inspire? Futuristic wellness company The Nue Co think there may be. It sees “fragrance supplements” as the next frontier of self-sufficiency, and its latest addition, Mind Energy, was created to enhance focus and creativity “at a primordial level”. “Customers were talking about a creative block,” says Flo Glendenning, vice president of product at The Nue Co. “When people feel low or burnt out, it’s not a conducive environment for creativity. We developed Mind Energy to increase focus and allow people to access their creative potential.”
The fragrance contains a patented agreement designed to help rejuvenate mental energy and boost it by causing a shift in your state of mind – measured by brain scanning. And most importantly, as a fragrance, it’s also good: unlike the brand’s previous two fragrances, which were fairly simple, Mind Energy feels like the most rounded perfume: it’s delicious and peppery, but also has a real warmth to it. . “It’s a beautiful perfume, where the coolest thing about it is the technology,” says Glendenning. “Wellness formulas do not have to be a traditional capsule.”
And if looking to the future does not inspire you, you may be able to get in the zone as you look back at the golden age of perfume-as-art form. Thierry Wasser mentions Guerlain’s early 20th century box office hits – “L’Heure Bleue, Mitsouko, Shalimar” – as inspiring simply because of their total dedication and mastery of form. “I do not see why L’Heure Bleue cannot be relevant to an 18-year-old girl now,” he says. “The only thing you have to do with perfume – any perfume – is to make it yours. Fragrance is not something trivial or insignificant. It’s not a product – and if that’s how you think about it, you’ve missed the point. Because if you carry it well, and understand its power, it will take you somewhere else. ”