Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Guest Post: A Brief Exploration Of The Sense Of Smell by Ronny Geller

What was the first smell of significance you remember? And the first perfume you loved?

When Persolaise asked whether I might be interested in doing a guest post on his blog he suggested I could write about what it is like to run a small, niche perfume business. I thought to myself, ‘perhaps not’, as the mechanics of this sort of business aren’t particularly unique (trust me, preparing a quarterly VAT form does not fall into the ‘fascinating’ category). The two most interesting things I do are track down new fragrances for the website and discuss perfume and smell with customers. So, I thought, I’ll talk about the secret importance (and value) of our sense of smell instead.

I’ve been fascinated by my sense of smell for as long as I can remember and I’ve loved perfume for almost as long. The first specific smell I can recall would be the Philadelphus (mock orange) bush abutting my childhood home in Philadelphia; the first perfume is my mother’s Jean Nate body splash. The first fragrance I loved (and, as a six-year-old, purchased with my own pocket money) was Love’s Fresh Lemon body mist.

There you go: the beginning of a personal history in smell. As I’ve grown, I've acquired smell ‘markers’ which can instantly pull me back to an age or a time, to a lover, an event or a place. Others may have this strength of sense-association or sense-memory with sight or hearing. For me, this sort of vividness is very specifically associated with smell.

Smell as a sense is generally treated as the Cinderella, the devalued younger step-sister: used to check if the milk or the chicken is off, if the boiler isn’t working correctly, if something is on fire. Utilitarian, really.

I graduated from Love’s Fresh Lemon to musk oils from the local bead shop, YSL Opium, L’Artisan Mûre Et Musc, Guerlain Vol De Nuit, Annick Goutal Eau D’Hadrien, Santa Maria Novella Melangrano and Patchouli – and the list goes on.

I can’t quite recall how I entered the world of niche, but it started with Mûre Et Musc and I haven’t looked back since. I never discussed my perfume life with others – I never came in contact with anyone who shared my obsession.

That was until the rise of the internet. Slowly, slowly, I came across snippets of information on perfumers. Then, in the late 1990s I discovered the fragrance board of the Makeup Alley website. A revelation! Every day I could communicate with others who shared my obsession with ‘the dark side’.  Information on new perfumes, emerging perfumers. Games to play: list your current top ten; your favourite non-perfume smells; if the fragrance fairy deigned to leave you a bottle of something beside your bed, what would it be?

Over time, people from the boards morphed into the first perfume bloggers – and those discussions opened the obsession up to new participants.

Prior to launching my business in 2009, I began holding casual gatherings in friends’ and acquaintances’ houses in an attempt to spread the word about my new website as well as introduce the non-initiated to the world of niche perfume. I continue with these fun and always surprising Scent Gatherings – but also hope to up-shift to more public events in the near future...

...the point of all this being that after over 40 years of exploring my sense of smell and glorying in the output of perfumers and perfume houses, big and small, I retain my sense of excitement and wonder at the unique experiences that can be extracted from simply breathing in.

© 2011 Ronny Geller


About the guest blogger: After spending over 20 years working in investment banks, UK-based Ronny Geller launched her online perfumery, Scent-and-Sensibility Perfume, in 2009. She says her life is now a lot more uncertain, but also a lot more interesting.

UPDATE 25TH MAY 2011: It seems there a few problems with Blogger at the moment and that several readers have been unable to leave comments on this post. The issue appears to arise when people try to log in with their Google accounts. Fingers crossed, the bugs will be ironed out soon. If you can't submit a comment now, please do come back and try again later.


  1. Nice post Ronny. It sounds like from a young age you knew your stuff. I wonder where we'd all be without the internet. Loving perfume would feel secretive and closeted in some way!

  2. Thanks, Liam. The internet has certainly changed things, making it possible for perfumistas to link up and obsess together :) In addition, I don't think we'd have events like Sniffapalooza in the US without the internet (one day, I'll make it a point to be in the New York for the Fall Ball, or whatever it's called).

  3. Sniffapalooza sounds like a great ol time! Poor Ireland/Dublin just doesn't have the crowd to pull that kind of attention :(


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