Hands up if you don’t know what a madeleine is. Yes, we know you cannot see them on the screen, but surely there must be someone who never heard of them. Madeleines are small cakes from the French pastry tradition. If you heard of them before, it’s probably Mr. Marcel Proust’s fault – or maybe it was thanks to him, and to a French literature class. In my case, it was because of my high school diploma exam (#truestory). This delicious little cake is central to a famous literary sequence, in which the author has an occasionally hallucinatory trip down memory lane, after a bite of madeleine: its taste reminded him of things that he didn’t even think he could remember. A lot of students worldwide would have been very grateful to madeleines if they had managed to worsen Proust’s memory rather than enhance it, since he ended up remembering so many things that it was impossible for us students to remember them all (yes teacher, really: not doable). Honestly speaking, we think that it was very likely that it wasn’t just the taste of madeleines that triggered Proust’s flood of memories: it must have also been their scent.
Taste and smell are strongly connected to one another. Think of how you feel when you have a cold, for instance, and you can’t smell anything. See? It’s actually the sense of smell that does most of the work for taste perception, leaving it to taste to make the action of eating pleasurable, to make sure we feed ourselves enough. Do you think I have an agenda? Well, I do find the world of fragrance absolutely fascinating, and I would like you to join me on my journey. Perfume has the power to create, store and evoke memories like nothing else does. Not even photos are as precise as our sense of smell is, because images are just static, two-dimensional snapshots. Olfactive memory has its own dimension, in which the visual element is faded and uncertain, but in which feelings are absolutely clear, helping us remember details and hues that no Instagram Story will ever capture. Even the way we choose perfume is connected to this. Ask a woman why she picked her signature fragrance, and 9 times out of 10 her answer will say that it represents who they are, and that the people who smell this fragrance will “remember” about her. Please behold, the famous connection between sense of smell and memory.
Our choice of fragrance reveals a lot about us – more than we can imagine, just like with the memories triggered by Proust’s madeleine. A scent can capture our sweet, sensitive side, or tell the world about our wanderlust, or again, it can express other facets of our personality with fruity, lively notes. It would be limiting to relegate perfume to memory and imagination only, though: a scent is a journey, first and foremost. It’s diving into the past, deep down into memory. It’s exploring exciting and unknown territory, ready for new adventures. It’s directing our gaze within, to discover ourselves and reveal something about ourselves in one little detail. Whichever way you choose to go, don’t forget that the best part of any trip is the journey that gets you to your destination – whichever view is awaiting us at the end of our way up.