A Sense of Europe Exhibition
At the beginning of February IFRA hosted an exhibition in the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium.
The exhibition, titled ‘A Sense of Europe’ was designed to show members of the European Parliament the role that fragrance plays in Europe’s cultural, artistic, historic and economic heritage.
The exhibition captured key moments in Europe’s post-war history and illustrated them through a series of moments in time, olfactory sculptures and popular perfumes of the day.
A Sense of Community
The first moment in the exhibition was 1957, the place was the Palazzo dei Conservatori on Capitoline Hill, Rome. The event was the signing of the Treaty of Rome bringing the European Economic Community in being.
Christophe Laudamiel, one of the world’s top perfumers, created a scent sculpture to represent the smell of the treaty’s paper and ink along with the woody, leathery musty smell of the room it was signed in.
The two popular perfumes of the époque were L’Interdit by Hubert de Givenchy and Vetiver by Carven.
The launch of L’Interdit was the first time an actress, Audrey Hepburn, became the face of a perfume. This beautiful floral fragrance has been representative of the elegance of Parisian haute couture for over 50 years.
The emancipated men's perfume house Carven launched "Vetiver" in the 50’s. This fragrance opened up a new olfactory track for men with its beautiful study of the essence of vetiver. It became a signature fragrance of Carven and many other creations have since been inspired by it.
After the success of such perfumes the link between European fashion and the dominance of European fragrances became inseparable.
Today the fragrance industry contributes 10 billion euro a year to the economy and sustains 35000 thousand jobs. And, of course, makes the lives of millions more of us smell a little sweeter.
A Sense of Well-being
The second moment in the exhibition was 1964. In a country experiencing the greatest prosperity in its history the British Conservative Party campaigned for re-election in 1959 on the slogan: ‘You’ve Never Had It So Good.'
The following ten years of healthy growth and low unemployment had also created West Germany’s Wirtsschaftswunder, France’s Trente Glorieuses and Italy’s IL Miracolo Economico. Bringing with them the new labour saving devices of the new consumer society.
None have had more lasting social significance than the washing machine. Alongside increased access to education and oral contraception it played a significant role in the liberation achieved by European women in the 1960s.
For this section of the exhibition, Procter & Gamble kindly donated the original scent of Ariel washing powder from the 60’s. This scent is based on the philosophy that the perfumes in household products have a job to do. As well as being aesthetically pleasing they have to be functional. A perfume which does not perform technically well will not be acceptable irrespective of its suitability as a fragrance type.
This scent is a sophisticated woody floral aldehydic fragrance which is residual to fabrics. It was created by first selecting raw materials which are most stable in a laundry powder format and perform the best on clothes. Then the building blocks of Rose, Ylang and Liliy of the Valley were added, creating a ‘skeleton’ of the fragrance, which was then turned into the finished article.
With household appliances becoming more commonplace in European households during the 60’s, the European fragrance houses became more and more innovative and started to create ‘functional fragrances’.
To this day the original Ariel scent is still instantly recognizable providing the brand with instant recognition and loyalty.
As well as looking and feeling clean if laundry smells clean then our brain tells us that it is clean. That’s because our sense of smell is directly connected to the brain’s limbic system where our memories and emotions are stored.
So a clean smell motivates and rewards us for the regular cleaning that leads to a safe and healthy home environment.
And since fragrance is emotional it’s not surprising that the smell of clean laundry is the smell that we most commonly associate with the comfort of home.
A Sense of Freedom
In the summer of 1989 the opening of the Hungarian and Czech borders made the first holes in the ‘iron curtain’ that had divided Europe for 43 years.
During the autumn East Germany’s Montagsdemonstrationen (Monday demonstrations) grew in strength. And when Information Minister Gunter Schabowski was asked at a press conference on November 9th when his citizens would be free to travel the question took him by surprise.
He shrugged and replied “sofort, unverzuglich” (immediately, without delay).
That night the gates opened and hundreds of thousands of Ossis poured through the Berlin Wall to be greeted with champagne and flowers.
Our third moment in the exhibition marks the moment the Berlin wall came down in 1989.
When the wall came down many from the east had never experienced fresh fruits such as bananas and oranges. Christophe Laudamiel created another scent sculpture to illustrate this moment.
The scent contains Italian oranges mixed with the juiciness of blood oranges also from Italy and mixed with molecules found in bananas. There is no banana extract available for perfumery use: unlike orange peel, bananas contain very little essence!
Banana pulp is extremely fragile, it oxidizes readily in the air, so perfumers have to go back to the origins of the banana smell: the different banana molecules created by nature. This scent contains seven banana molecules, a fine dosage from green banana to pulpy banana to ripe bananas, eight orange extracts and molecules to recreate the different facets of an orange as well.
As a general rule, a natural extract rarely smells like the original fruit or flower "on the vine" or "on the branch". It always has to be spiked to recreate the real thing, like figurative art.
These two fruits represent what isolated Eastern Europeans were craving before the fall of the Berlin wall. Upon the fall of the Wall, these citizens suddenly splurged on these fruits and famously emptied German supermarkets, especially of bananas.
The two perfumes representing this era are Joop by Wolfgang Joop and Samsara by Guerlain
Europe discovered German fragrance with Joop’s oriental, floral and very powdery perfume launched by fashion designer Wolfgang Joop.
With the launch of Samsara, Jean Paul Guerlain, continued to write the history of Guerlain, begun in the eighteenth century. This woody oriental, sweetly softened by iris is a great modern classic.
The fragrance industry was extremely innovative at this time and the number of new briefs was growing fast. At the beginning of the 90’s the average number was 60 to 70 briefs per year. By 2012 this has grown to 600 to 700.
Like any innovative industry, the fragrance industry needs to protect its intellectual property. The scent of flowers or the smell of oranges cannot be copyrighted. But, unlike a piece of music, for example, the composition of an original fragrance cannot be copyrighted either.
New substances and delivery technologies can be patented. And a single unified patent throughout the European Union will help to maintain European innovation in these fields.
But the best way of protecting the valuable intellectual property that lies in the composition of original fragrances lies in the harmonisation of the existing civil law of trade secrets in the EU.
That way their exact compositions remain known only to their creators but can be shared with regulatory or medical bodies confidentially.
A Sense Of Creativity
The next époque in the exhibition was the 1990’s. This was a tremendously creative period for Europe.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau announced their proposal to use hypertext “to link and access information of various kinds as a web of nodes in which the user can browse” in Geneva in December 1990.
They created the three technologies essential to their WorldWideWeb; the URL address, HTML publishing and the HTTP transfer system. And in 1992 they published the first photograph (of a ‘high energy’ band) to appear on the web.
In Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, France and the UK HI-NRG Music, Italo-Disco, House, Trance and Techno were meanwhile being mixed together to create what became known as Dance Music.