Notes from the nose: Frank Voelkl

Notes from the nose: Frank Voelkl

Perfumer Frank Voelkl on why we should allow ourselves non-essentials too via scent's evocative power in de-stressing, pleasure and self-care.

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“There’s a clear connection between our sense of smell and the brain,” explains Frank Voelkl, the Firmenich perfumer behind our FUNCTIONAL FRAGRANCE. “When you physically smell a fragrance, the molecules go through your nose and hit sensors. Those sensors are connected with receptors in different parts of our brain, so depending on which receptors are being triggered by a scent, different emotions can be triggered too.”

Frank recalls his first memories of scent: “There are two things that come to my mind in my childhood: My mum would kiss me goodnight, and she had this night cream—I don’t know which one it was. It was a very intense smell, but a good one that I liked. The other memory is that I used to go to my uncle’s farm a lot as a child in the summer. A farm is very fragrant, not only good smells, but bad smells too. The smell of hay, the barn, the animals on the farm bring back good memories for me.”

Frank first developed a love of scents as a teenager when he and his family moved to Paris. Exposed to the abundance of city scents, his interest suddenly peaked and he started collecting fragrances. “On the weekends, I would go to a store on Rue de Rivoli by myself and smell through all its products. Another thing I started doing was trying to guess which fragrance my mom was wearing. It was a game, but then my parents had a friend who knew about a perfumery school in Versailles, called ISIPICA Paris. Eventually, I went there because I was curious and they explained to me that there were people creating all of the fragrances I’d been smelling. From that point on, I knew that was what I wanted to do. I was maybe 17 at the time.”

Using research from the Brain & Behavior Laboratory of the University of Geneva, alongside studies on cognitive neuroscience and the olfactory system, FUNCTIONAL FRAGRANCE is designed as an anti-stress supplement, triggering neural pathways connected to feelings of calm and reassurance to lower your cortisol levels. Frank describes the thought process behind it: “This is how I like to differentiate between a perfume and a scent: For me, a scent becomes part of you, and a part of your skin. Perfume, on the other hand, sits on top of your skin. The intention with FUNCTIONAL FRAGRANCE is for yourself and your own wellbeing, so this is a scent. I look at it as something to use for your own comfort. It’s to help you feel good. It’s not to show-off.”

While we’re on lockdown, prioritizing self-care methods is essential to our mental health and since aromatherapy is one of the fastest ways of altering your emotional state, perhaps we should all be tapping into our olfactory system. “I’m not a doctor and I’m not curing an illness, but I think creating a moment of pleasure and positive emotions, a sense of enjoyment and wellbeing for people using it, is special,” Frank says. “I’m very grateful for that, because I feel like I’m contributing something good. Maybe it’s not essential to life, but I do think we all need a little bit of enjoyment, self-care, and pleasure.”