Feeling The Fragrance

The importance of evoking emotion through signature scents.
By
Shelley Callaghan & Susanne Pruitt
Co-Founders
Antica Farmacista

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As soon as you step foot into your favorite hotel, the scent surrounds you. It may be the intoxicating fragrance of night blooming jasmine, plumeria, tuberose, and gardenia at the Royal Hawaiian, or the energizing notes of lemon, neroli, and jasmine at The Hotel Bel-Air. You take a deep breath and all of your tension and stress melt away. Your vacation has officially begun.

Today, scent seems to permeate the “must have” list of amenities that are commonly found in the luxury boutique hotel world. And we are thrilled to hear it. As fragrance creators, we firmly believe in the power of scent. But we really don’t need fragrance. What we do ‘need’ is the emotion that fragrance invokes.

It’s scientifically accepted that our sense of smell is directly linked to our memory and emotion. Simply put, when we smell something, we feel something. A scent can conjure a forgotten memory from our childhood or from years past: the aroma of an apple pie baking, the tang of the ocean, the metallic scent of snow, the scent of a mother’s perfume or a father’s aftershave. A scent can make us feel at home or on a wild adventure. Scent is the first thing our brain recognizes; it’s not a thought, but a feeling.

A feeling. A signature. That’s the mark of the best luxury boutique hotels. They strive to emotionally connect with a client and evoke an emotion. Each hotel is unique, and guests tend to gravitate to one or the other based on their desires. Every element is selected with the intention of creating their signature ambiance and emotion. The lighting, the music, the books on the entry table, the impeccable attention to detail; these are the things that create a feeling of place. The goal is to create a rare experience built on exemplary comfort and luxury. And the emotion evoked by carefully designed fragrance is the magnetic hook that will not only capture your guests, but will keep them hooked. 

How do you develop a magnetic signature fragrance? After more than a decade of experience, we have learned to observe, to experience, to feel our way through fragrance development. Our deep passion for these projects originated with retail customers like Bergdorf Goodman, Takashimaya, and Lane Crawford. To establish a scent direction, we researched regional trends, investigated shopping habits, and developed an aesthetic understanding of each clientele. Though each retailer catered to an affluent customer, each fragrance and end product needed to possess their own signature through candles, home ambiance diffusers, room sprays, and bath and body products.

In 2008, we targeted The Hotel Bel-Air. We consulted with management, concierges, and retail. We then developed a collection of fragrances that captured the essence and the emotion of the Bel Air Property: an orange blossom fragrance that echoed the exquisite neroli trees near the Hotel Bel-Air entrance bridge, and a deep tobacco,musk, and night blooming jasmine fragrance that mirrored the evening fires set on terracotta patios. Antica/Bel Air diffusers and candles were scattered throughout the property, complemented by a custom-created shampoo, conditioner, body moisturizer and body wash collection.  

Fast forward ten years: not only has the desire to diffuse fragrance throughout hotels grown, but the technologies have improved dramatically. We developed a full range of products, from multiple scent HVAC diffusion, housekeeping room sprays, diffusers, candles, and in-room bath and body amenities to massage oils, bubble bath, and more.

Custom-scented products also afford great retail opportunities, whether in a gift shop or in-room availability. The Beverly Hills Hotel and Montage Resorts are two of our partners that employ this strategy, with VIP gifts and sophisticated reminders for clients to “come again.”

There certainly is a method to the madness in the creation of a fragrance story. The scent must be subtle but noticeable at the first touch point, the lobby. We recommend greeting guests with a soothing, beautiful scent. A scent diffused through the HVAC system is the most effective in larger spaces and will establish an emotional connection. We also love to reinforce the emotional quality of the scent by introducing it in unexpected places. Our method? We take the key ingredients from a scent and use those creatively throughout the hotel. For our Ritz Carlton NYC Central Park scent, with notes of elderflower, quince, and cherry blossom, we created a map for guests of Central Park with locations where the ingredients are found. We also created a signature cocktail found on the bar menu. We believe that extraordinary experiences are elevated by the emotion of scent.

Clients often want to know what type of fragrances work best, but there is no single answer to this. Scent is incredibly subjective. Experience has shown that we are not appealing to the masses in the luxury boutique hotel market. We are defining a unique experience, collaborating with the hotel, and identifying their client. We consider a variety of factors throughout this process, including hotel aesthetics: modern or traditional? Is there a regional scent preference or aversion? Physical location of the hotel: mountainous ski resort or beachfront retreat? 

We often compare a luxury boutique hotel experience to that of an extraordinary home environment. Granted, our friends might not have interiors like most luxury hotels, but ultimately there is a richness, a splendor, and a homey quality that we find inviting. And scent is rarely missing from a well-appointed, personalized home. Whether an exotic scent built on amber, tobacco and leather…or a waterfront beach vibe built on marine notes and bright citrus, the signature scent story that our friends create in their home is the exact type of ambiance and emotion we create for hotels.

Different fragrances create different emotional experiences. Ask yourself, what do you want your client to feel; what do you want them to remember about their hotel stay? What will make them want to return? Whatever the emotion, whatever the dream, there is a fragrance to invoke it.