Brooke Lean And Yasmin Sewell: The Fragrance Founders Promising To Do More Than Just Make You Smell Good

By Ashleigh Cometti
The Virtue founder Brooke Lean. Photo / Brooke Lean

They’re fusing energetic healing and aromachology with traditional perfume-making practices.

Can a sniff of scent really boost your mood? Make you feel more grounded? Give you energy? Or, most importantly, reduce stress?

So says the new wave of fragrances that promise to do more than just make you smell good (or pretty up your vanity). Rather these purpose-driven scents are said to alter your emotional state after a few spritzes.

Billed as ‘functional fragrances’, these mood-shifting scents work by activating the amygdala, a part of your brain that releases neurochemicals upon exposure to not only trigger memories, but impart a sense of calm or stimulation, depending on the notes in question.

It signifies a shift in how we’ve always considered fragrance an accessory, an extension of an outfit, something we simply cannot leave home without instead tapping into the ritualistic experience of applying scent as a means of setting an intention for the day ahead.

But can you really sniff your way to serenity? Apparently yes, according to a multitude of scientific journals which have deduced the link between our moods and our sense of smell.

Making sense of scents

Mikiko Kadohisa, whose 2013 study* into the effects of odour on emotion has been widely cited in the medical field, examines the link between the two, but offers a few caveats.

“Human and animal studies show that odour perception is modulated by experience and/or physiological state (such as hunger) and that some odours can arouse emotion, and can lead to the recall of emotional memories,” says Mikiko. “Further, odours can influence psychological and physiological states.”

Anatomically, smell starts at the back of the nose with millions of sensory neurons firing from a small region known as the olfactory epithelium. The tips of these tiny cells contain proteins known as receptors, which bind to odour molecules as they float past, says Leslie Vosshall, a scientist who specialises in olfaction at Rockefeller University.

“People have about 450 different types of olfactory receptors (for comparison, dogs have about two times as many). Each receptor can be activated by many different odour molecules and each odour molecule can activate several different types of receptors. However, the forces that bind receptors and odour molecules can vary greatly in strength, so that some interactions are better ‘fits’ than others,” Leslie explains.

The alluring shop floor of The Virtue fragrance store in New Plymouth. Photo / Brooke Lean
The alluring shop floor of The Virtue fragrance store in New Plymouth. Photo / Brooke Lean

Aromatherapy vs aromachology

The intersection between psychology and scent is termed aromachology, and the methodology is becoming increasingly popular as brands come to understand that holistic wellness encompasses much more than tinctures.

While aromatherapy is built on the principle of using natural oils and plant extracts to enhance your sense of wellbeing, its methodology relies on the oils absorbing into the skin’s many layers and then into the bloodstream.

Whereas aromachology promises a shorter-term effect, homing in on the inhalation of perfume or scent said to have an impact on your wellbeing.

Aromachology doesn’t rely on ingredients being solely natural, either, rather it can be via a mix of naturals and synthetics that work together in a perfume formula to trigger an emotional response. To put it simply, aromatherapy equals absorption, and aromachology equals inhalation.

For Brooke Lean, the founder and creative director of local fine fragrance maker The Virtue, aromachology is built into her brand’s foundation.

“Scent has proven to be an effective ritual when it comes to self-care. Wearing perfume can help stimulate a certain mood, give us a sense of individualism and, according to scientists, trigger nostalgic memories,” she says.

“Fragrances have measurable effects on mood, irritation, stress, depression, apathy, happiness, sensuality, relaxation and stimulation. This leads into the current trend of not just having one signature scent our customers are choosing their scent based on how they wish to feel and this often means a selection of carefully curated signature scents, to reflect how they’re feeling, or wish to feel on any given day.”

She refers to her scent development process as an alchemy of art, intuition and science first deciding on the olfactory direction based on the story she wishes to tell, a moment she wants to capture, or which emotions she wishes to evoke before settling on top, middle and base notes and pairing this with the scent’s visual identity (Brooke is also a skilled photographer).

The pheromone phenomenon

On social media platforms like TikTok, new wave fragrances have been embraced without equivocation ­ for example, the viral #pheromoneperfume which has amassed 43.7 million views.

In one clip, TikTok user @Erinduganjurchak samples the trending Pure Instinct Roll-On, $39, a pheromone-infused essential oil perfume available from Amazon said to mix with your body’s own pH and make you “irresistible”, so Erin says.

Naturally, the comments section exploded, with other users writing in to share stories about how their workdays improved when they wore the perfume, or tales of how their partners reacted.

By definition, pheromones are secreted chemicals that trigger a social response in members of the same species. They possess the ability to behave like hormones outside of the body of the secreting individual, to affect the behaviour of the receiving individual.

While anecdotal evidence implies that pheromone perfume works well to attract people to your personal scent, there is limited research around whether synthetic pheromones have the same level of influence as the body’s natural secretions.

Along a similar vein is “vabbing”, a now TikTok-viral practice which is built on the principle of pheromones whereby vaginal secretions are applied in the same spots you would perfume, including behind your ears, on your neck and on your wrists.

A portmanteau of the words “vagina” and “dabbing”, vabbing plays into the idea that animals and insects secrete pheromones to make themselves more attractive to potential mates (heterosexually speaking).

While the research into vabbing is limited, a 2016 study** published by Megan Williams and Amy Jacobsen titled Effect of Copulins on Rating of Female Attractiveness, Mate-Guarding, and Self-Perceived Sexual Desirability examined how copulins (hormones and fluids produced by the vaginal wall) secreted during ovulation can make women seem more attractive to men.

Findings were somewhat vague as the olfactory capabilities of humans vary but they suggested men may be able to detect odour changes related to the physiological status of women, and that this “may explain subsequent behavioural and physiological changes in men”.

While the act itself isn’t harmful, it does beg the question do we really need to partake in yet another practice that makes us more appealing to a mate? Or can we chalk this up to another way of thinking about functional fragrance?

“Fragrances have measurable effects on mood, irritation, stress, depression, apathy, happiness, sensuality, relaxation and stimulation." Photo / Brooke Lean
“Fragrances have measurable effects on mood, irritation, stress, depression, apathy, happiness, sensuality, relaxation and stimulation." Photo / Brooke Lean

Note theory

With thousands of fragrance notes on offer, it can be difficult to tell which note elicits which emotional response.

The many nuances of scent mean responses are not universal across the board, so let this be a caveat to say what works for one person may not work for the next.

Generally speaking, lavender is recognised as calming, grapefruit and cucumber are said to be uplifting and energising, while fragrances belonging to a powdery, musky family are intended to relax the wearer.

Another factor to consider is how a person’s lived experiences impact their interpretations of scent. For Brooke, this is primarily linked to her travels.

“There are different theories and science on this, some even say our preferences to scent are developed in the womb. Personally, my leanings toward scent are based on my life experiences, places I have lived, countries I have travelled to, and how those experiences have made me feel,” she says.

When developing Vyrao, founder Yasmin Sewell sought to fuse her expertise in energetic healing with perfumery.

Three years ago, while working in the fashion industry as both a buyer and a creative director, Yasmin’s lightbulb moment came when she realised energy needed to be the main driver behind her brand.

“Chanelling it came first, what it’s channelled into came second. So, we started with fragrance,” she says.

Inspired by the practice of Reiki (Yasmin is trained in both Integrative Quantum Medicine and Reiki), each scent serves to energise the wearer, lift their spirits and encourage a shift in perspective.

“I’ve always worn fragrance for myself rather than for others, and I wear it to amplify my energy. It’s about ritualising your routine, stating your intentions for the day by taking a moment for yourself. I use Vyrao in that moment and so do my friends and we all find it starts our day in a positive way,” Yasmin says.

Underpinned by the belief that scent taps into a part of the brain where memories are made and emotions are processed, every scent is formulated with ingredients specifically selected to weave feelings with the highest vibration.

Inside every 50ml bottle, expect to see a Herkimer diamond crystal, which has been energised by Vyrao’s in-house healer, Louise Mita. These diamonds are famed for their ability to clear, amplify and raise energy, and work synergistically with the plant and flower remedies that comprise each scent’s juice.

For Swiss flavour and fragrance manufacturer Givaudan, engaging the senses went a step further when the multinational corporation pioneered scent-based technology that enabled perfumers to tap into the power of fragrance to evoke different physiological reactions.

What manifested was three technologies VivaScentz to improve the user’s wellbeing; MoodScentz to boost relaxation, happiness or invigoration; and DreamScentz to optimise sleep.

Quickly adapted by a number of well-known beauty brands, including Paul Mitchell, Murad and IGK, expect to see even more development in this field in years to come.

And they’re not the only ones as the interest in functional fragrances and aromachology continues to grow, more traditional beauty brands and wellness companies are sure to follow suit.

Pulse point perfumes

Apply these roll-on perfumes and oils to your wrists, inner elbows and behind your ears for a mid-morning energy boost or to soothe your mind ahead of dreamtime.

Abel Odor 7ml Parfum Extrait Green Cedar, $75, is designed to promote vitality and wellness, with its blend of 100 per cent natural, therapeutic-grade essential oils including cedarwood, magnolia and cardamom.

Clever Little Calm: Stress Support, $22, is just one of three paraben-free oils designed to support women during the different phases of their cycle, alleviating physical symptoms of stress, anxiety or a low mood.

Osea Vagus Nerve Oil, $90, is said to help melt away signs of stress and promote serenity with its blend of essential oils that target the body’s vagus nerve (which is responsible for its relaxation response).

Flamingo Estate Euphoria Pulse Point Oil, $54, is brimming with botanicals to help spark joy, insight and wellbeing with its blend of organic bergamot, sandalwood, damask

Sensorial spritzes

If spray formats are more your thing, consider one of these concentrated parfums or mists instead.

Chanel No1 De Chanel L’Eau Rouge Revitalising 100ml Fragrance Mist, $185, which highlights fruity notes of citrus and red berries for a burst of energy, alongside Chanel’s hallmark jasmine-rose heart.

Issey Miyake Les Eaux d’Issey Eau & Magnolia 100ml eau de toilette, $209, is a multi-faceted scent which is both floral and aquatic thanks to the addition of Aquozone, a delicate yet powerful upcycled ingredient.

The Virtue Back Beach 50ml Parfum, $209, which harnesses a blend of essential oils, botanical extracts and ethically derived synthetic ingredients (for quality, longevity and to satisfy the cruelty-free accreditors) to evoke the power and peacefulness of the ocean. “The first sniff will make you feel like you’ve been held underwater the salt almost stinging the nostrils; a direct hit to the olfactory system,” Brooke says.

Dior J’adore Parfum d’eau, $312, is a first-of-its-kind for the brand, and features a highly concentrated, water-based formulation that is both long-lasting and alcohol-free. It boasts a soft and sunny blend of Chinese magnolia, jasmine, rose and honeysuckle. Available from September 11.

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