Virginia Bonofiglio, Assistant Professor and Associate Chair Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing

We think we smell with our nose, but we really smell with our brain. Smelling is very personal; how things smell to you depends on your culture, how you were raised, scents you were exposed to in your childhood, like what fragrance your grandmother wore. That’s why it’s so difficult to market a global scent.
In the U.S., for example, babies smell powdery, like Johnson & Johnson—very sweet. But in South America, they put lavender on their babies, which is much more herbaceous. Everything has scent—not just beauty products but detergents, candles, room spray, even food. If you work in the fragrance industry, you’re going to have to figure out what smells are in many of these products.
In my class, Fragrance Knowledge, students learn to identify 100 scents, single notes as well as finished fragrances.
There is a methodology of smelling: scents are classified into families,such as citrus, green, floral, and herbaceous. We all intuitively have this ability to identify odors. It’s called an olfactive memory. Some students are more in touch with their sense of smell; others need to take that first step. You start by smelling things that don’t smell like each other; the differences allow you to remember them. You can’t smell consistently hour after hour, so we limit it to 12 scents per class. I tell my students that they need to find their own individual memory triggers to help them distinguish between scents. I’ll pass around fragrance blotters and ask, where does this scent take you? If it’s lemon, they might say furniture polish, lemonade, or candy. I tell them to just have the emotional experience and not to overthink it. Then it’s a matter of practice, repetition, like exercising a muscle. By the end of the semester, students have created their own system of smelling. That’s their first step to becoming fragrance marketers or evaluators.

Photo Credit: Matthew Septimus