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Fragrance Gets Functional

Perfumes, from mass to prestige, are increasingly being infused with well-being attributes.

Smelling good is not enough. Fragrances are now expected to lift moods, calm or even boost mindfulness — and they’re swiftly being conceived with these and other functional attributes.

“The data we have says that 80 percent of consumers are looking into a way to improve their wellness, and often they don’t find it in the brands they use today,” said Matteo Magnani, chief consumer and innovation officer of global perfumery at Swiss fragrance and flavors supplier Firmenich. “This drives shifts in every category, from every brand.”

Among innovative offers is Rochas Girl, billed as the first 100 percent feel-good perfume. Ninety percent of the fragrance’s vegan formula, created by IFF’s Anne Flipo, stems from natural origin, and it’s meant to have relaxing properties thanks to a neroli extract. (Crystalizing the benefit is Rochas Girl’s tag line: “Spray Good — Feel Good.”)

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Rochas Girl
Rochas Girl Courtesy of Rochas

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Fragrances started incorporating emotional benefits before COVID-19 struck, but the trend has accelerated over the past year.

“We have been measuring the increase in the quest for wellness overall [and] have seen that 24/7 wellness is what people want,” said Arnaud Montet, vice president of human and consumer insights at IFF. “You have to break the silos between the categories.”

IFF, which generally uses the same olfactive ingredients from mass to class, has been doing a deep dive into neurosciences, driven by artificial intelligence and other digital tools to generate big data.

“Then we have been able to crack really scientifically the neuroscientific measures correlated with emotion,” he said.

Montet noted that these days people have gone back to the roots of perfume, which was used for spiritual and healing purposes up until the 18th century.

Today, even the fine-fragrance category is having a self-care moment, as people now wear perfume less for social occasions and delve more into what fragrance does for them personally.

It does plenty: Seventy-five percent of emotions generated each day are due to smell, according to scent market research cited by retail solutions provider Mood Media.

Further, perfume brands have noticed that speaking the language of emotions and feelings linked to a fragrance is a good way to engage consumers online.

“We have more and more briefs with a part dedicated to emotions,” said Nathalie Helloin Kamel, head of global fine fragrance at Japanese fragrance and flavors supplier Takasago International Corp.

Most fragrance suppliers have been working on scents’ emotional benefits for decades, although their focus has sharpened more recently, in part due to growing demand.

“We see our clients are very responsive to our program on emotion, which we call EmotiOn,” said Magnani. It’s holistic and multifaceted, focused on how fragrance can support emotional benefits through olfactive accords and ingredients.

Through qualitative and quantitative testing around the world, the company has created an emotion and odor map indicating feelings caused by different scents. Its EmotiCode outlines how a product should smell to convey a certain emotion, taking into account the category, country and consumer a brand sets out to target.

In some cases, the ingredients are tested on brain activity, with neuroscience techniques, such as fMRIs, giving scientific proof of results.

“We can make sure that the fragrance design and concept of positioning will be associated with the right emotion for the context,” said Magnani.

For example, Firmenich findings show a brand marketing a fabric softener with well-being attributes in China would need to use a floral composition, with rose, jasmine and a touch of cedar notes, while in India, the softener’s scent would have to be much warmer, with musky notes for the same desired effect.

Firmenich’s database, which is constantly developing, now has more than 50,000 consumer data points.

Takasago has for more than three decades been using neuroscience to see how fragrance impacts human brains. FMRIs are used by the supplier, for instance, to see which area of brains blood is sent in response to smells linked to love, pleasure and delight.

“We already have some accords on that,” said Helloin Kamel.

Sometimes it’s counterintuative which olfactive ingredients have the ability to do what. Lavenders, which generally are consider calming, can also be super stimulating, depending on the type. Ditto for citrus, albeit in the inverse.

Takasago has for years had an olfactive accord in its portfolio with “de-stress” attributes proven by biomarkers such as cortisol levels. In the past, customers were only slightly interested in that offer, but that’s changed completely these days.

“Since one year, we see that in 80 percent of the briefs we receive there is something linked to the emotional side,” said Helloin Kamel.

Takasago has also been working on non-waking hours. “Lack of sleep, or low-quality sleep, is really an issue we are facing at the global level,” she said.

It’s a problem that’s been increasing dramatically during the pandemic.

Swiss fragrance and flavors supplier Givaudan, which has had a neuroscience program running for more than three decades, four years ago focused on fragrances called DreamScentz to help with sleep.

IFF, the U.S.-based supplier, has teamed with SleepScore Labs, which scientifically analyzes sleep.

“There’s an opportunity to create something completely new,” said Christophe de Villeplee, president of global consumer fragrances at IFF.

Fragrance suppliers keep digging deeper into scents’ emotional connection in various realms.

“Most recently, we’ve been trying to explore more and more the attributes of how the brain functions, and see if we could so something for overall well-being,” said Jeremy Compton, senior vice president, head of science and technology — fragrances at Givaudan.

VivaScentz, technology meant to help consumers attain a holistic sense of well-being through fragrance, was launched in June 2020 and has been quickly snapped up since for beauty and personal care products.

IFF’s four-year-old Science of Wellness platform combines conscious and unconscious measures using proprietary AI and specific ingredients.

“We have been able to open now, thanks to neuroscience, what we call cognitive wellness — cognitive benefits,” said Montet, citing a move away from the more classical “relaxed” or “happy” attributes. “We go toward some new dimension. Somehow it helps us today go into the famous ‘mindfulness,’ ‘self-esteem.’”

The executives said that customers are looking especially for mindfulness-related olfactive attributes.

“You’re going to see them very soon on the market,” he said.

During the pandemic, home fragrance sales have been soaring. According to an NPD Group study, 51 percent of fragrance users queried said they had used scented candles at home last year, for example.

All home fragrance products, including for fabric care and cleaning, are in high demand.

“Consumers expect all of them to contribute to their well-being,” said Firmenich’s Magnani, adding that can be for moments of serenity, balance and comfort. “In that sense, fragrances play a big role.”

Sales at Neom Organics London, a 17-year-old brand conceived to boost well-being, doubled last year versus 2019 and are on track to more than double in 2021.

Nicola Elliott, Neom’s founder and creative director, was fascinated by how its most sophisticated products, such as Hydrating Magnesium Body Butter, to help stress, sleep and mood, have been flying off shelves.

“That is an ode to people’s knowledge of well-being, and that level of knowledge growing,” she said, adding Neom’s Wellbeing Pod, an essential oil diffuser that retails for 50 pounds, is selling strongly, too. Whereas in the past people would buy into one category of essential oils, today it’s multicategory usage, depending on how someone feels each day.

“We are definitely seeing a huge rise in that bucket of consumers that are on their first step into well-being,” said Elliott. “So this isn’t necessarily the Goop girl that you would have associated well-being with three years ago.”

Well-being takes many guises for perfume suppliers. Another area where Firmenich, among others, is seeing a lot of customer interest is on the connection between fragrance and hygiene.

“Forty-six percent of consumers do expect fragrances to have antibacterial properties,” said Magnani. “That’s a different concept of functional fragrance, but one that is very relevant for the future, as well.”

French fragrance and flavors supplier Symrise has recently honed in on the natural active ingredient Cannabis Sativa. Derived from hemp, it has a vegetal scent and is purported to help with stress, anxiety or depression.

“Combining its expertise in the development of perfumes, cosmetic ingredients and aromatic molecules, Symrise now provides its customers with a 360-degree solution with Hemp Vitessence in order to respond to the growing trend of cannabis in the cosmetics industry,” the company said in a statement.

Symrise's Hemp Vitessence
Symrise’s Hemp Vitessence. Courtesy of Symrise

“Consumers associate hemp with health holistically and associate it with relaxation, being modern and hip, as well as emotional well-being,” Timothy Evans-Lora, applied research chemist at Symrise, said in the statement.

According to a study the supplier carried out, 30 percent of respondents believe hemp to have a holistic dimension.

Other independent beauty brands have also been integrating various forms of well-being into their product offer.

Véronique Gabai-Pinsky, who in 2019 launched her eponymous lifestyle and fragrance range inspired by the south of France where she grew up, wanted to create a new olfactive structure so that users experience scent as a sensation rather than as a construction.

“The high concentration of naturals gives you that connection with nature, and therefore with some elements of well-being,” she said. “It is about escapism, a perfume for the self — as opposed to a perfume for others. It is about feeling well in your skin [and] surrounding you with a bubble of light that makes you feel good.

“We’re going even further, in using the power of nature in helping people feel better,” added the executive.

Szent claims to reinvent the flavor experience, with its water bottles that have a ring around their necks infused with essential oils to experience passionfruit, mint, pineapple, tropical and tangerine.

The concept from the U.S.-based company that plans to go global next year, is built on the fact that one’s sense of smell is responsible for as much as 80 percent of what is tasted, alongside being able to influence moods, trigger memories and affect performance.

Eye of Love is a U.S.-based vegan brand that claims to pack its colognes and perfumes with pheromones “to help you project the status and confidence so many people find attractive. Our mission? To make you smell your best, feel your best, be your best.”


For more, see:

Firmenich, Symrise, IFF and Givaudan Form FSAC

Central Saint Martin Students, Firmenich Perfumers Team on Forward-looking Project

Nathalie Helloin Kamel Joins Takasago