As I write this I am at Halcyon House in Carabita Beach, Australia. Not literally as global pandemic will not allow but figuratively as the hotel’s “signature scent” wafts from the lighted candle on my desk. Our sense of smell is a strong memory trigger numerous scientists have found. That appealing fragrance you notice when you arrive at a great hotel is not only an olfactory welcome, it can stay with you (hopefully in a positive way) for years after the trip.
“A signature scent expresses a venue’s character, it’s an added dimension that becomes an emotive recall of memories of magical times,” says Azzi Glasser a perfume designer who has created scents for hotels including Rosewood Bangkok and Chiltern Firehouse in London.
Increasingly hotels are commissioning perfumers to create custom room scents. Aman has recently launched three candles – Grounding, Purifying and Nourishing – to evoke its famous spas. “The Spa Candles deliver exquisite scents, making it possible to escape the frenzy of daily life and enjoy the serenity of Aman from the comfort of one’s home,” says the brand’s spokeswoman.
Soho House has a range of scented candles evoking its clubhouses around the world and taking you through the day. Sicilian Thyme “captures the essence of Italian breakfasts on the morning terrace at Soho House Rome”, Bergamot and Mandarin Zest is “inspired by mornings overlooking the terrace in Little Beach House Barcelona”, Rose Water is “an ode to the English rose” at Babington House’s walled garden, Tonka and Florum evokes “long lunches on the terrace at Soho Roc House in Mykonos”, Fig Verde “recalls evening strolls around the courtyard garden at Soho House Istanbul”, Patchouli is “inspired by fragrant evenings overlooking the Arabian Sea at Soho House Mumbai”, Pomelo is “reminiscent of sunset cocktails at our Miami House”, and Leather and Oud is “reminiscent of nightcaps at Soho House Hong Kong”.
Meanwhile the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong was long associated with Ginger Flower by Shanghai Tang but now has its own freesia and osmanthus fragrance. “We wanted to develop something original for the hotel that is only found here,” says head of group spa operations, Andrea Lomas.
Atelier Lumira in Sydney designs bespoke scents for boutique hotels across Australia and Antica Farmacista in Seattle crafts fragrances for The Ritz Carlton among others. They usually begin by checking in to the hotels for inspiration. As well as talking to the hotel owners and general managers, they take in everything: the location to the design, atmosphere, lighting, food, drink, music, art and books on the shelves. “We analyse each and every element and begin our process of creating a scent that embodies the spirit of the hotel,” says Shelley Callaghan creative director and co-founder of Antica Farmacista along with Susanne Pruitt.
For Halcyon House, Almira Armstrong creative director and founder of Atelier Lumira says: “I wanted to capture the warmth and carefree nature of this destination. We did this by fusing sunburst citrus notes with warm spices and a signature floral heart of sheer neroli petals.”
In the case of Rosewood Bangkok, Glasser had her boots on the ground before the hotel was even completed. “I visited the site with my hard hat on and learnt about the heritage of the city itself and the materials that would make up the design,” the London based perfumer says. “I wanted to use the finest natural ingredients: the opulent top notes of elemi, rosewood and fresh water; the heart accord of vetivert, moss and amber; and the base notes of oud, cedarwood and labdanum adds a velvety warmth.”
As Cheval Blanc Randheli in the Maldives is owned by LVMH when it decided to launch a signature scent it naturally turned to the luxury group’s fellow houses. Guerlain and Christian Dior perfumes’ “head nose”, François Demachy, created Island Chic fragrance for the resort. “The idea was to try to translate this feeling of tranquility and beauty specific to the Maldives and to Randheli,” says Demachy. “For this I started with an aroma of black tea accented with the local spices cloves and cardamom and base notes of the marine aroma, seaweed.”
Demachy, the subject of new Netflix film, Nose, has also been enlisted by Hotel du Cap Eden-Roc to create a fragrance including in the form of a scented candle to commemorate the French hotel’s 150th anniversary.
Some hotel chains have a signature scent for all their properties to ensure a reassuringly familiar experience. Essence of Shangri-La – vanilla, sandalwood and musk with top notes of bergamot and ginger spiced tea – will greet you in any of Shangri-La’s lobbies around the world. “The scent is fresh and subtly Asian, to evoke serenity,” says director of marketing Mavis Ko. And Essence du Sofitel – a top note of fresh citrus, a middle note of white rose and base of white sandalwood – was designed by master perfumer Lucien Ferraro in Grasse to remind guests of “an afternoon in the South of France” which ever Sofitel they check in to.
Others tailer the aroma for different locations. The Ritz-Carlton has personalised fragrances for some of its properties so a Ritz-Carlton in Miami, for example, will smell differently to the one in New York. The latter hotel is on 50 Central Park hence the name of its signature scent and its inspiration. “We used a botanical map of as well as specific destinations in the park to include quince, elderberry, floribunda rose, and Strawberry Fields. We created a scent that essentially brings the outdoors in,” says Callaghan.
Where once a luxury hotel with a signature scent could be deemed risky, now it could be missing out without one. “Introducing scent into a hotel environment used to be considered risky, as hotel owners were afraid to offend guests,” says Callaghan. “That is no longer the mentality, we have found that our hotel partners rely on fragrance to help convey their message. In a sense, a hotel feels ‘naked’ without that fine fragrance element.”
Of course most of these scents are available for guests to buy in the form of candles, diffusers and sprays at the gift shop or on line. As Armstrong says, “Scent is such a powerful connector to memory so what better way to remember a wonderful vacation than by returning to the fragrance that surrounded you during your stay.”