The Olfactory Report 4: Aperture * CATHERINE HALEY EPSTEIN

An aperture is defined as an opening, a hole, or a gap. It is also a special space where light passes through. The perfumery landscape is historically closed and dark where everything is “hush hush”, private and exclusive where holes and gaps are carefully curated and often patched and covered. There are certain people and practices that have been invisible to the broader community, whether they are the perfumer, the farmer, or the artist in general. The work of adjusting the size and allowance of the aperture however is steadily underway over the past decade or so. This month’s Olfactory Report shares a few scented apertures getting larger.


Amplifying Asian Noses

Screen shot of Scent Festival's Amplifying Asian Voices campaign, female Asian perfumer, Linda Sivrican of Capsule Perfumerie pictures with bottles behind her.

Scent Festival producer Yosh Han is using their Instagram platform over the past several weeks to elevate Asian people in the perfume landscape. No doubt compelled by the increasing and devastating rash of violence against Asian people in the USA right now, the Scent Festival since its inception last year has been keen on inclusivity and knowledge sharing in perfumery focusing on BIPOC noses and other creatives. You can follow the Scent Festival to learn more about the Asian people who creatively and generously comprise the world, in particular in the world of perfumery. A tip for positive change: if you do choose to follow people that are highlighted, please do engage with them so that the dialogue becomes richer, versus passively following. To move forward we have to do something different.


Aperture on the Industry

Last week, chemistry champion, artist, and perfumer Christophe Laudamiel was interviewed by an industry magazine Beauty Matter. Not only did he puncture the bubble of industrial silence, but he also let light in.

Through his lens, he walks us through the notions that firstly there are people not acknowledged that create the fragrance – the artist is invisible. He cautions brands to not muffle the core creativity in perfumery. He continues to comment on the systemic racism in the industry and asks that existing labs invite and sponsor minorities that previously could not have afforded the opportunity to learn perfumery or be on certain boards. He also asks that we begin separating fragrance from fashion houses, where fragrance would operate on their own, in the way that fashion houses do. Unlike the fashion industry Christophe notes that the fragrance industry is hugely sustainable, in fact he says “global warming would be gone if every industry would be where we are.” The article is worth a read and a reflection of some of the polarizing, albeit important points he brings up. Ultimately, his message is that creativity, inventiveness, art, science, and fairness will prevail in the practice of perfumery as an art form.

Disclosure note, I am publishing Christophe’s book Perfumery Revealed next year. If you are curious or interested in supporting the book project please visit here.

Image of Christophe Laudamiel smelling the top of a bottle, alongside the headline for the "Beauty Matter"' article.

Advertising Aperture

Certain aroma chemicals get advertised as a happy day, a sensuous amber romp, or a crisp and clean scent. None of these words actually map to the ingredients, so there is a forever cycle of misunderstanding and one might say misinformation. That said, consumers, watch dogs and makers are getting savvy to advertising though, so that is exciting.

doTERRA, the infamous essential oils multi-level marketing (MLM) company, was asked by the National Advertising Board to discontinue its use of “Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade” and “therapeutic grade” in their advertising because these claims are unsubstantiated. There is no research that exists that any particular scent can improve “mental and emotional health, improve or manage mood, or have positive effects on emotions”. DoTERRA agreed to follow the recommendation, and hopefully this will dispel much of the noise that exists around certain aromatherapy claims, in so doing those working with integrity in the field of aromatherapy will come to the table as a resource versus the behemoth that is DoTERRA. Thank you to Frauke Galia for sharing this news. Frauke has a lovely podcast An Aromatic Life you might enjoy checking out.


Color Aperture

large grid of red perfume bottles courtesy the Fragrantica database which organizes perfumes by color.

I enjoyed an article this month in Perfume Society written by Suzy Nightingale titled “50 Shades of Scent.” And while the title might suggest otherwise (oh the power of the label!), it was actually about the fragrance industry’s attempts at matching their perfume scents to colors. Yes that is correct, coloring the juice to fit moods and consumer preferences.

We humans have a long history of studying the crossmodal effects of color with emotion. The first peer-reviewed research is recorded in 1931 by Von Hornbostel. Personally, I have been knee deep in color study since this past summer, mostly because it fascinates me and I have historically had an aversion to it in my artwork. It comes as no surprise that an advertising unit would carefully select colors for packaging and now coloring the juice to persuade the consumer to purchase said perfume. She shared Brocard’s “Color Feeling” collection, an extraordinary “hush hush” database at IFF called ScentEmotions where they have mapped 3,000 of their perfumes to consumer’s emotions, and she briefly touches on the famous fragrance “wheel”.

I talk about the “wheel” in fragrance with some disdain in my book Nose Dive. In fact, I actually tell new perfumers to throw it out. You cannot tell the way that scents interact with each other if you use “the” wheel. It’s deceptive because it looks like the color wheel in art history. In the article Goethe’s color wheel is also mentioned. Goethe’s “Theory of Colours” was a serious study over years with his students about how colors interact with each other and create psychological states. This is entirely different than the color wheel used today illustrating consumer fragrance families.

It is mentioned in the article that “Colours are not a universal language”. Historically this is true, there have been many cultural studies indicating the differences of color symbolism in many cultures. These are studies of symbol versus feeling though. The truth being uncovered, it turns out, is that humans do have universal tendencies between color and emotion. A landmark study published this past year titled ,”Universal patterns in color-emotion associations in 30 nations” (Jonauskaite, D. et al, 2020) surveyed over 4,500 people, in 20 languages and in 30 countries and found that in fact there are universal associations between color and emotion. For example, 50% of people in the survey from all over the world associate red with anger, and they also associate it with love. There were of course some cultural variations, though it is fascinating to learn that conceptually and at our core, we have more connections than we previously considered. And more variations individually that could possibly be documented. For example yellow can indicate joy or anxiety depending on who is looking, and when. They used to paint baby nurseries yellow, then stopped for fear that it was inducing anxiety. Same goes for yellow and red in fast food chain furniture colors – yellow so that you do not stay for a while, and red because together those make orange, and orange makes humans hungry. (Note: Don’t paint your kitchen orange if you’re dieting!)

As much as I would love a fragrance to match my mood I wonder, and would seriously like to smell, what fear, confusion, anger, and disappointment smell like. I feel like that is what 90 percent of us in the USA are feeling due to the civil unrest and trials going on right now. Or maybe what we need is a scent of relief? And per the article the fragrance market is booming, and most definitely because we are seeking relief, change of atmosphere and imagination in any way we can find it. Scent is a powerful tool for us humans – be picky with what you consume. The people at Fragrantica have created a database of perfumes by color, so if you are convinced the color of the juice will lift your spirits, then you can totally go for it!


—About the Author—

CATHERINE HALEY EPSTEIN is a multi-disciplinary artist, award-winning writer, designer, and curator. She wrote a book titled Nose Dive (2019) which explores the intersection of creativity with the science and anthropology of scent. She is the co-founder of the Odorbet, a growing vocabulary for our noses which resides online and in a growing database offline for now. Articles of note include “Primal Art: Notes on the Medium of Scent”, Temporary Art Review (2016). She writes about contemporary art and practice and culture at her platform Mindmarrow. She conducts workshops on the use of scent in creative practices, advises companies on scent-related projects, and continues to collaborate with artists and writers on unique initiatives that explore intersections between art and other disciplines. She is currently a candidate for her master’s at Northwestern University. You may follow her on Instagram @mindmarrow, or email her at with questions on the nose front, or if you are interested in contributing to the Olfactory Report!

Read Catherine’s previous Olfactory Report on the serenity and high-art scents of the forest HERE!