The extraordinary link between voice and perfume

It was during a recital by countertenor Andreas Scholl that perfumer and artist Kitty Shpirer began to imagine the formula for Aria Sublime. “I had been listening to Andreas over and over for a year when I had the opportunity to see him in concert,” she recalls. Her voice, both crystalline and powerful, touched me deeply and gave me dizzying olfactory sensations. I took out a pen and a notebook so as not to forget the fragrances she evoked to me. Soon after, Kitty Shpirer presented the countertenor with a draft of her scent. “When I asked him about the smells he liked, he spontaneously listed some that go into his composition, such as woody notes, licorice and jasmine. It seemed extraordinary to me…” This voice-perfume concordance is also at the origin of the book “Perfume and the Voice, an unexpected encounter”, by Annick Le Guérant and Bruno Fourn (ed. Odile Jacob). Annick Le Guérant, historian of smells, smell and perfume, says: “Bruno Fourn, at the head of a rich collection of sound archives, heard me talk about perfume one day during a radio broadcast. radio and experienced the strange sensation – which seemed crazy to him! – that my voice sounded like a clove and ylang-ylang accord. He contacted me, and the idea that there could be voice-perfume matches appealed to me. Research on the subject has taught us that such links have always existed in literature, religions, psychoanalysis, language – in the 12th century, “to feel” also meant “to hear”…”

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Illumination of neuroscience

Associating odors with a voice is synaesthesia, a neurological phenomenon that solicits at least two senses involuntarily, and which could affect 1 to 4% of the population. “We have known about this phenomenon since Antiquity but until now it was neglected by science, as smells and the voice were taboo and assimilated in the three great monotheistic religions to desire and sexuality, explains Annick Le Guérant. Christianity, for example, has long considered odors to be sexual attributes that are sources of desire, and women were asked not to wear perfume. Islam speaks of “adultery of the ears”, which covers the fact of being sensitive to a sensual voice which is not that of one’s husband or wife. ” It is only since the 2000s that the researchers study audio-olfactory synesthesia. “Among the most remarkable works, we can cite that of the Americans Daniel Wesson and Donald Wilson, who, in 2010, observed that certain olfactory neurons were sensitive to both sound and odor and that exposure to noise intensified the sense of smell, comments Annick Le Guérant. An olfacto-auditory convergence baptized “smound”, a contraction of the words “smell” and “sound”.In France, neurobiologists Jean-Didier Vincent and Pierre -Marie Lledo have found that the rhinencephalon, our olfactory brain, also receives auditory sensations in a context of memory or affectivity.Thanks to MRI, it has also been shown that olfactory neurons can activated by the simple utterance of a smell.

Closer to our identity

Voices and smells have, moreover, in common that they escape us – we never really hear our voice, any more than we control our body odors – and that they are “a fair reflection of our personality, our identity and our emotions, continues Annick Le Guérant. The psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu was thus interested in the unpleasant odors emitted by his patients during their therapy, which, according to him, expressed what they could not formulate with words. As for the psychoanalyst Florence Lautrédou, she recounts having received in consultation an 8-year-old girl who regularly found her voice as a 4-year-old child. And for good reason: she was unconsciously trying to reactivate the period when her parents were not separated. » It is also the voice and the perfumes that most vividly evoke a deceased being. Anne Goscinny, daughter of the comic book author, who died when she was only 9 years old, “says having sprayed her television with the perfume that her father wore daily when she saw him on the screen. A way to revive his memory, ”suggests Annick Le Guérant.

To each voice its perfume

If voice and perfumes are faithful markers of our personality, a voice that no longer corresponds to one’s temperament can be a source of suffering… which perfume can soften. Valérie Lange, voice therapist and passionate about perfumes, attests to this: “A patient with a deep and scratchy voice due to a pathology on the vocal folds wanted to find a more feminine range. However, to compensate for this loss of femininity, I had noticed that she intuitively wore a light perfume. On the contrary, one of my patients with an imposing physique was trying to counterbalance his very high-pitched voice with heady perfumes…” These findings then encouraged the therapist to create the “Voice/perfume concordance” method. The principle ? Determine, during an interview, the olfactory identity card of the person consulting, ie the fragrances corresponding to his voice and his identity – most of the time excluding vocal pathology. The idea? “It’s about getting rid of marketing messages that push us towards perfumes worn by the greatest number of people to identify ‘his’ perfume, whether it’s niche or high-end perfumery, whether it enhances our personality or makes up for the flaws…” Sylvaine Delacourte, director of perfume creation at Guerlain for fifteen years before founding her brand and creating bespoke perfumes, always takes the voice into account during her consultations: “The deep, hoarse voices, which take up space, go well with the chypre, woody scents of almost masculine perfumes; soft voices appreciate flowery, powdery scents; the joyful, sparkling voices harmonize with the citrus and fruity notes. »

“That smell is me! enthused Andreas Scholl when Kitty Shpirer introduced him to Aria Sublime. “Very moved and even though he never wore perfume, he wanted to wear it,” confides the designer. And in return he composed a piece of music inspired by his scents… that people who bought the perfume, when it was launched in Germany, in 2013, could listen to via a QR code. A nice way to live an experience of voice-perfume synesthesia…

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