Notes of molasses and ginger are likely to spark joy for many people: They remind us of Grandma’s Christmas cookies and carry us straight back to her kitchen, where every year dozens of little gingerbread men would appear on the counter. For others, a whiff of Coppertone suntan lotion is equally soothing, bringing back memories of summers spent at the local beach. Entrepreneur and olfactory expert Audrey Bernard develops scents that evoke destinations around the world, exploring tourism through the sense of smell. Her startup, Stimulation Déjà Vu, combines cognitive science with creativity to stir up emotions that can take us back to the past or into the future. With many of us now daydreaming about our next travel adventure, we caught up with the Montrealer to discuss her nose for business, the beautiful olfactory memories she likes to recreate and her tips for finding comfort by simply following her nose.
enRoute Why is it that smells trigger such powerful, often emotionally charged memories?
Audrey Bernard Smell is a sense that is directly linked to our brain. It immediately activates our limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for emotions and memory. A particular smell will initially trigger an emotion, and then awaken a memory. And this type of memory truly allows us to travel, to immerse ourselves in a place we have visited in the past, or sometimes to project ourselves toward an unknown place. Smells leave permanent traces in our memory, because olfactory memory has the greatest capacity to store our recollections.
ER Where did your own passion for the sense of smell come from?
AB I have always had a very sensitive sense of smell. Even as a child, I already had a particular attitude toward perfume. I was a big fan of fragrances and collected bottles and little vials, but I never wore perfumes. I simply admired their smells and liked the feeling they gave me. I smelled things in order to experience an emotion and be carried away to different places. All I knew at the time was that certain smells made me feel good. I understood that the right smell could take you to another place. Every year, we spent Christmas holidays in Miami, and to this day, that smell of humidity, hot air and tropical plants that would hit me as I got off the plane reminds me of the holidays.