Susan Oubari, an American in Paris, loves fragrances — all fragrances, whether perfumes, body lotions, essential oils, scented candles, reed diffusers, room sprays, you name it.
Scents have helped her deal with the city’s lockdowns. And with catching Covid-19.
“Essential oils were incredibly helpful to me during Covid,” she said. “I was feeling so sick, and I needed my energy to do my work.” Ms. Oubari runs Breathe in Paris, a business that she describes as teaching breath work, mindfulness and Reiki, along with spiritual coaching. And when Covid struck she was in the midst of co-writing a book, “Breathwork.”
“Essential oils come from a plant,” Ms. Oubari said. “I put some drops on my palms and rub them together and bring them to my nose, inhaling deeply. It clears your head; it helps you to become more alert to sensations, to let go.”
The power of scent is not hocus-pocus — numerous studies have shown the salubrious effect fragrance can have on our moods. And, given the uncertainties and stress of 2020, a little happiness from the smell of flowers or pine or vanilla might just be what we all need this holiday season.
“The roots of aromatherapy can be traced back over 3,500 years, when essential oils were first recorded in human history for their therapeutic and medicinal properties,” Dr. Jenny Tillotson, a researcher affiliated with Cambridge Neuroscience, a research center at the University of Cambridge in England, wrote in an email. She described a recent trial that showed neroli, or bitter orange blossom, relieves anxiety — and a similar finding for lavender.
The Fragrance Foundation UK, a nonprofit industry organization, decided to draw attention to such findings to advance sales of scents during the pandemic.
“When Covid-19 hit and we went into lockdown, we wanted to communicate in a way that resonated with the positive impact scent can have on your well-being,” said Linda Key Jackson, the foundation’s chief executive. It started an ad campaign, she said, to “probe why fragrance is important in our lives, how it makes us feel and how to choose, gift, wear and enjoy it.”
Much like Proust’s madeleine, fragrance can evoke memories.
Abigail Cook Stone, chief executive of the candle company Otherland, said, “In April, we were getting orders for our holiday candles,” as people were looking for “warmth and comfort.”
Ms. Stone said she co-founded the candle company in 2017 in New York after speaking “with someone from Harvard’s psychiatric hospital, McLean, about how scent goes directly to the areas of the brain that trigger emotion.”
As “few experiences are so fraught with emotion as the holidays,” Ms. Stone said, this year the company created the Gilded Collection, six scents in candles meant to evoke the holidays as a time for black-tie celebrations and sparkling decorations. Black Velvet, for example, has night-blooming jasmine and Alpine violets, and Silk Pajamas combines crystal ginger with the zest of bergamot (each is 8 ounces, $36).
Candles, she said, really can transform a room, especially now that “our homes have become our everything.”
The memory of actual destinations lies behind the fragrances of Memo Paris, John and Clara Molloy’s business.
Ms. Molloy was born in France to Spanish parents and Mr. Molloy is Irish. The couple live in Switzerland, but their store is in Paris — and they love to travel. “Travel is a metaphor for life itself,” Ms. Molloy said. “Movement is life, meeting people, embracing their culture.”
Their boutique on Rue Cambon displays their products with leather luggage in little tableaus. The line includes a scent based on Irish leather (the rather flowery text on the packaging describes “icy, biting mornings” expressed with pink pepper and the sun poking through “heavy gray clouds,” represented by oil of clary sage). For those longing for sun, there’s the jasmine and orange blossom of Granada (75 milliliters, $260).
Yet turning to scents to transport us to other, happier times and places need not be costly. Three years ago Christophe Bombana created 100BON (French, he wrote in an email, for “feel good and smell good”) because “I wanted to do things differently.”
During his 25 years in the fragrance industry, he said, he had witnessed how “75 percent of the cost of a fragrance is for packaging and marketing.” So he decided to create dozens of essential oils, developed with the Robertet Groupe, a fragrance company based in Grasse, France, and sell them in bottles that could be refilled at about 20 sales points throughout France. (A 50-milliliter bottle of cologne sells for €35, about $42 — the cologne is €25 and the bottle is €10.)
“The crisis has revealed the necessity to take care of our emotions, especially when you are confined at home,” Mr. Bombana wrote. “All our ranges of products, but in particular our Aromachology line, has seen a huge boost in sales, as the perfect answer to our current needs.” He said the line, which debuted in February, has reached sales of €1 million (roughly $1.2 million).
Dr. Tillotson, the researcher, wrote that she also is developing a new approach to using scent, as the founder and co-owner of Sensory Design and Technology, which is working on what she described as “eScent, an A.I.-powered smart dispenser that embeds discreetly in jewelry and clothing to create a protective, personalized ‘scent bubble’ around the halo of the head.”
The technology to enable the scent to be diffused on demand or triggered by the user’s mood, emotion, or physical environment is being developed, she wrote, and the company hopes to have it on sale within two years.
Dr. Tillotson also shared a quick and easy way to enjoy scent and experience its power. “In the U.K.,” she wrote, “the charity Mind recommends adding a ‘comforting scent,’ like lavender, to face coverings to reduce anxiety.”
It might just make wearing a face mask a bit more bearable.