Practice makes perfect, or so the saying goes. Many of us have found this to be the case when learning to play a musical instrument, learning a new sport, or attempting any number of new activities. Repetition, training and practice improve our skills in most areas of our lives. And yet, for some reason the thought of improving our ability to distinguish various scents is rarely considered or discussed.
Fortunately, this does not have to be the case. Even as wine connoisseurs are able to refine their sense of taste, so, to, can perfumers refine their sense of smell. And the good news for the rest of us is that such olfactory refinement is not limited to master perfumers (or "noses"). We are all "trainable" in terms of our ability to improve our scent recognition and memory. Granted, there are those with greater natural talents in this area, even as there are those people who are born with perfect pitch. But there is hope that we each possess the capacity to greatly improve our olfactory sense and, subsequently, our enjoyment of fine perfume.
Interestingly, some experts are of the opinion that scent training should be a regular part of a child's education. They believe olfactory training should begin at an early age, when other skills are developing. For instance, renowned perfumer Christophe Laudamiel (co-creator with Cristoph Hornetz on the Thierry Mugler Parfums' 'Le Coffret' for the movie, “Perfume, The Story of a Murderer”) has teamed up with the Fragrance Foundation to develop a program that he hopes will bring scent awareness training to school-aged children in all public schools. In a recent Boston Globe article, Laudamiel states,
We are now going into phase two of the program to find out what would be appropriate for the curriculum of schools....This is a time when kids are learning a new language or starting music or drawing. Scent is just another sense that they have to awaken.
Laudamiel hopes that olfactory training will enable people to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the fine notes in a perfume. He compares perfumery to music, architecture and painting. Understanding the notes and instruments involved with a symphony orchestra make going to a concert an even more enjoyable experience. Similarly, he believes scent education will enhance an individual's appreciation for fine fragrances.
I agree wholeheartedly with Laudamiel's assessment of our need for scent training. In light of that, I am embarking on my own personal "scent training" program. I have a lot to learn, and I will share the details and my progress in future posts. Stay tuned, and meanwhile, I'd love to hear about your own experiences with "learning how to smell."
For further reading about Christian Laudamiel and his views on olfactory training, please see this 2004 interview as well as this recent interview on Basenotes.