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Dresses, fabrics, cutlery, eye shadow(s), hair, playlists, scallops, weather, tents, napkins, wines, cakes, cookies, beloved relatives, impossible relatives, speeches, ribbons… The list of things that can be part of planning a wedding is endless.

If you ask me an important sense is often neglected. There are perfumes advertised in wedding magazines, and every now and then a story about a particular perfume and a related love story of someone famous, or a perfume created as a love declaration. But I can’t remember a more dedicated piece on the scent aspects of a wedding. (If you have, please share). Some perfume writers and bloggers have addressed this topic in an ambitious way though. I have also not seen proper consultations offered in retail (I don’t count “there is a new romantic lily of the valley out on the market, the perfect scent for a bride” as a wedding scent consultation).

Now you may think, well maybe it’s just not as important and prominent as the dress, music, place, flowers etc… My answer is: are you sure?

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Smells have a very powerful impact on our memories, moods and feelings. So when selecting the details that will create the atmosphere of a wedding, it should be natural to consider also how scents will contribute. It is easier than you think.

The scent of an occasion like this (the thoughts in this post can be applied to any event of significance) is just as significant and influential as the music or scenography. It’s just that there is no tradition of working with it. That however does not mean that we are not affected, and making more personal, emotionally valuable, romantic and wise choices would indeed make a difference.

So, what should you think about? Two things mainly: yourself and your partner (that is one thing) and the other smells at your wedding. The other ones are for example the food, the flowers in your bouquet, surrounding flowers and plants (both decorations and already existing ones), the setting.

Choosing a scent is not very different from the other choices you will be making in that the same criteria should apply. At some point you probably sat down and made a list of what you want your wedding to be like, for example romantic, elegant, unusual, playful, sweet, decadent, personal, sophisticated, relaxed. And you had some ideas on what that would lead to, for example if you and your partner love nature and you want your wedding to be personal you’ll want to incorporate some nature elements into your wedding in setting and menu and clothes. If you are a couple from different cultures you probably put some effort into coming up with ideas on how to add different elements and symbols based on that. If you want a Rat Pack wedding that has influenced your choice of DJ and dress and venue. Etc etc. All these kinds of thoughts and ideas can be translated into scents.

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Your fragrance
Let’s start with you. If you like to wear perfume (or other fragranced products), you will want to wear some for your big love celebration and you’ll want it to be special and right. A wedding is usually an event that lasts for a few hours and as a bride or groom you want to feel fresh and uplifted not tired, uplifted. Maybe you prepared the day before by doing sports and eating and drinking healthy, you have gone to a spa or beautician to add some glow. Scents too, affect our energy, they can help us feel fresh. A scent can also soothe or even make us tired. I would be very surprised if there have not been some people getting married wearing a perfume that either made them tired or maybe even allergic. A wise fragrance choice is one that keeps you in the right mood and supports energy – for example a nice clean cologne or other citrus fragrance for the day and the emotional moments that easily make your body send off extra heat, and then for the evening something more sensual, gourmand or spicy. These two fragrances should be selected so they go well with each other though.

If you feel tense and a little more nervous that you want to feel – it might be unwise to have a fragrance that is too complicated, a more clean fragrance with balanced calm notes will help you relax and feel centered. On the other hand if you are exhausted from preparations, support yourself with something that keeps your mind awake. And of course… coordinate your scent with your partner. You will be close all day, don’t expose yourselves to a scent collision that will not smell nice and give you both a headache. These are just some aspects to consider from a more practical point of view.

Choose a fragrance synchronized with your wedding bouquet. A perfect perfume and a perfect bouquet might clash when in combination if they include smells that don’t go well together. Choose flowers in your bouquet also from a scent perspective; avoid sedating or too strong smell. Co-ordinate your perfume provider and your florist.

Generally, I would say that for your wedding day – don’t go complex. Choose something light, soft, intimate and personal but easy. There will be so much going on, so many people, so many emotions and hormones. Trust your preferences. While its never right to make a perfume purchase too fast (too fast in this case means for example without taking the time to experience more than top notes) this is really really not the time for a hasty risky purchase. Other things to consider can be looking for a perfume house or creator that you identify with, associations to geographical places (for example places that are part of your romantic history together), perfumes created in a romantic contexts (By nose couples, or perfumes created by a nose for a lover or commissioned for a beloved.) And if you can, maybe consider creating your own fragrance for this day with the help of a perfumer.

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Smell an(d) emotion
Now from an emotional and romantic point of view (and what occasion is there more relevant for that than a wedding) there is so much you can do with scents. It is a fact that regardless of whether we are interested or pay attention to it, scents are very powerful because of the brain’s design. Scents are connected to memories and feelings. If you think about it, you probably have some scent memories that you connect to a person, a place or a situation.

This is the same mechanism that teleports us to places and times when we smell something and suddenly get an image in our head. So imagine how beautiful to use this brain force at your weeding and connect this day to those particular moments. During a wedding scent consultation process I talk to a couple about their romantic history to identify one, or several, particular scents that we can work with. Maybe the scent of the first flowers your partner gave you, maybe there is a spice in your favorite meal to cook together, maybe a smell in the apartment or something from a trip together.
A scent that creates an instant connection to the feeling of “us”.

Not only will highlighting such a scent detail during the wedding add emotion from the past, which will intensify your experience, it will also be coded in the brain for the future. So in one or ten years when you want to relive some of that feeling from your wedding day using that scent will help you.

Scent scenography
Naturally, we are not talking just about perfume but also about the food, the setting, floral arrangements etc. What we are looking for is a consciously created scent scenography for your wedding which supports atmosphere, emotion and well-being. It should be functional and personal.

Here are some concrete things to consider:

– The place your wedding ceremony and party are in already has/have some scents – take them into consideration. If it’s a church maybe don’t wear incense-like perfume, it will be too much. If you are in a garden with trees and flowers – be careful when adding more flowers so not to create an overdose.
– Synchronize the smells in food, fragrance and flower decorations.
– Avoid smells that guests might react to. For example big lilies give many people a headache and they take over so if you have a lovely plate in your menu with delicate tastes it might not get the attention it deserves.
– If you are giving guests gifts, a scented candle can be really special. Create a red thread, for example if you had roses in your bouquet and fragrance a nice scented rose candle will make the day live on. (Scented candles deserve a post on their own…, they are often used to create an atmosphere, sometimes a shortcut. A good candle is great but no candles by the food! And choose carefully.)
– Create a sensory frame that is comfortable for the senses for guests – everything from food to scented candles in wash rooms should be treated like members of one ensemble. Think of scent as a scenography tool.

If reading this made you interested in making scent scenography part of your wedding and you would like some help with that or if you are a wedding coordinator and would like to incorporate this into your process please feel free to contact me for a consultation using the comments section below or by e-mail sylvia(at)interabang.nu

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I haven’t written any post here for a while because of travelling and an over-whelmed mind. I spent most of March in Kenya with a malaria elimination project. (As some of you now my other professional path is communication, mainly PR and strategy but also some fundraising.) An extra-ordinary experience that allowed me to discover many different places and contexts, from embassies to small island communities on Lake Victoria. These weeks and the complex context can be summarized and shared from many perspectives of course and my main focus on the experience is indeed from a malaria elimination project point of view. (If someone is interested in more information on that please feel free to contact me, especially if you are interested in supporting.) But for now, I do want to share with you some reflections and impressions from an olfactive and sensory perspective given the context of this blog and part of my life.

Coffee beans in the garden of Karen Blixen's house

Coffee beans in the garden of Karen Blixen’s house

This was my first trip ever to Kenya and when I left Sweden spring had just begun to discretely announce its ambition to arrive… at some point. Many layers of clothes, gentle silent shy spring smells. Preparing for intense days by the equator I expected a mild shock, that it would be hot, that the Nairobi air would be compact, stubborn, urban, dusty and the Lake Victoria air sticky, lush and sweet. I was not prepared to instantly fall in love with Kenyan air but that’s exactly what happened and I spent many days talking about it to whoever would listen. The Kenyan air is amazing. It’s a fragrance in itself. Fresh, breezy, sweet, soft and always with a hint of something floral. It’s so likeable, so tender. Such a contrast sometimes to the visual impressions, for example in Nairobi where there is a lot of traffic, construction and… people. (I live in Sweden… it’s not so densely populated, downtown Nairobi is a physical and visual sensation for me.) Every day I felt aware of this particular air and felt like inhaling endlessly. The Kenyan air was really a remarkable part of my impressions and it feels like the perfect reflection of other impressions such as for example the soft slow voice that many Kenyans speak with.

Streets of Nairobi

Streets of Nairobi

Nairobi bloom

Nairobi bloom

Something else that I thought about a lot was the directness and purity of flavors. It was really quite relaxing and restoring for the senses, and I noticed how I quickly started to avoid cosmetics that smelled to much (the one particular product that felt the most right was a serum from Swedish brand Emma S, that actually smells a little bit like the Kenyan air). Even having returned home I notice when cooking that I am much more attracted to simple gentle pure things, I keep trying to recreate ugali and sukuma. When you are raised and based in a climate that allows for things to grow in your garden only a few months per year, it is a true luxury to eat fresh food and only fresh food every single day. Fresh fish and fresh lime is really really fresh in Kenya.

Porcupine lime

I don’t know how many times I ate kachumbari, a delicious salad made with tomatoes and onions and cilantro, and never grew tired of it because the flavours were so rich and intense. A little bit more onion or cilantro or not made it feel like a different dish. And the mango… I think for the rest of my life when I think of mango my brain will start creating the sweetness of fresh ripe mango in my mind. Surprisingly enough the closest I get to the intensity of fresh Kenyan mango is the dried mango from Swedish-Colombian Nathalie. I quickly found a favorite routine for the early evenings when we returned from field trips in the islands on Lake Victoria. There was a place, a lawn right in front of the lake with soft chairs and a beautiful view and they made Masala tea with milk, served in a nice pot. The soft grass, the soft chair, the over-whelmed mind… watching the lake make its daily transition turning into a an unruly water more resembling a sea than a lake… warm dusty skin and the taste of the spices embraced by soothing milk. I will remember this forever.

Masala place.

Masala & contemplation place.

There was an abundance of sensory impressions in this environment but somehow they came isolated and so there was a balance between variety and purity that felt energizing. It reminded me of the first week at perfumery school in Grasse where we smelled so many raw materials every day but somehow I never felt tired or sedated (the first week with naturals that is, the second week with synthetics was an entirely different story…). There were so many new sounds and smells and flavours… all senses were on an endless daily safari. And such odd combinations that form new associations of the mind… For example every night I applied mosquito repellent before going to sleep and every night in Mbita there was music somewhere in the distance. Very often the same song reappeared with a certain background drum loop repeating. Two slow, three fast. That kind of beat smells like mosquito repellent to me now. A more pleasant association is dusty clay road and fresh sugar cane. That one I love. And this is where I tell you that going on a road trip in Nyanza with a good jeep and an excellent driver and some fresh sugar cane should be on everyone’s bucket list. It is epic.

Sugar cane, dusty road

Sugar cane, dusty road

Someone asked me the other day, if I would create a fragrance that symbolizes Kenya, what would it smell like. An enchanting challenge of course but I am not ready at all to even attempt. My first encounters with Kenya revolve around being struck by the many faces and characteristics of Kenya, from one extreme to the other. So dynamic and unruly in one second, so peaceful and intimate the next. Dusty roads and lush opulent rural hills. Fast lanes with matatu madness and zebras that just don’t care. Flowers and fish. Masala and sugar cane. Mandazi and mango. Nyama choma in the making in the night air. Drumbeat and breeze. Endless contrasts. I admire the pride that every Kenyan I met seems to have in the spine, and the soft silent voices. The big smiles that light up not a room but an entire street. The reserved poise. I have no idea how to convey all that. But I know I would want to capture it in a way that also includes those incredible magic infinities…

Kenyan infinity

Kenyan infinity

I could write a book about everything that Kenya did to my mind, heart and senses. Maybe someday when I have had the privilege to spend more time there I will. For now I leave you with these impressions, some Kenyan seduction from Dela for your ears and some amazing photos by Kenyan photographer Kevin Ouma.

Asante sana Kenya. Infinite place.

Maasai Photo by Kevin Ouma

Maasai Women. Photo by Kevin Ouma

Boats in Mfangano. Photo by Kevin Ouma.

Boats in Mfangano. Photo by Kevin Ouma.

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We had a total of 14 hours of sun in Stockholm this January and an entire winter practically without snow. That creates great sensory confusion! Today the sun is out, it’s almost like I forgot what that goldenish light looks like. You can feel all plants stretching towards it, softening textures, stagnation coming alive. So today will be a perfume free day, I am just going to fill my nose and lungs with soft sweet moist spring air and enjoy the anticipation. Soon the island air will carry the sounds of new green leaves.