“Give people an olfactory home!“

07. June 2017, MAXFIVE

Geza Schön says what he thinks. The Berlin perfume maker, considered one of the best in the world, in a frank conversation about the challenges of the perfume industry, the olfactory home, the meaningfulness of a corporate smell and the meaning of memories and smells.


corporate smell
geza schön


© Lindsay Wilson


© Emily Blincoe

Do you want to take a whiff of me?

Should I guess your perfume?

Can you do that?

It’s become relatively difficult to recognize fragrances because most of them have a similar smell. People are very insecure about smells and only reluctantly accept new ones, that’s why the creativity of mass perfumery is slightly restricted. Usually, every large European city has one or two concept stores that also sell fragrances, or sell them exclusively. Mostly it’s a couple of freaks who get together. Or there are niche perfumeries with really old owners who sell fragrances that are more difficult to understand.

For example, a shitty job is working for a sausage maker
or someone who builds washing machines.

Can such fragrances even be paid for?

They’re not cheap, but affordable. A fragrance from my “Beautiful Mind” series, that I created with Christiane Stenger, costs €150 per 100 ml. But purchasing the ingredients and producing our fragrances is very expensive. We use a certain flower from Tahiti and it costs €20,000 for a kilo. They send us the blossoms in fat so that it is molecularly distilled in Europe. Only then can we smell the fragrance. The material costs are €120 per kilo for our fragrance!

What do people do wrong, when they sample fragrances?

Most people go and spray four or five or even more fragrances on their arm one after the other, or on test strips and then try to decide. That doesn’t work. After the second fragrance you don’t even know any more what the first one smelled like and you are confused. I am still waiting for the opportunity or the first perfumery that creates a place where one can test the fragrances in quiet and in a stress-free atmosphere. And that one holds people by the hand to help them understand fragrances.

Do you also create fragrances for brands, companies or stores?

I do that as well. You could say that it’s possible to book me. It’s not like I refuse to do commercial things. But it depends on the company’s set up, whether they want to spend money for a fragrance. If they are stingy and think that they can do the same thing with me as they do with the industry or industrial perfumeries, then I immediately say no. I’m not interested in something like that, it’s no fun and I also don’t attach my name to stuff like that. It would be too profane.

Is there a point in me – as a chain – getting a fragrance so that all my stores smell the same?

Do you mean an environmental smell?


That’s something that is trending now. There are a lot of companies working on that right now. I have as well. For a large sporting goods company. That means, whether you go into a store in Berlin, Vienna or New York, it always smells the same. Of course, that’s already there because of the product selection. If only trainers and jogging outfits hang on the racks, it creates its own smell. But the thought behind it is to add something aesthetic along with this industrial smell, to offer people an olfactory home. They come in, smell the same thing as always and feel comfortable. But the whole topic is still in the infant stage. Even the topic of corporate smell is interesting. Because it is not a perfume. You can’t do anything that smells like Axe or Gucci, that would be totally stupid. It has to be something unique and ideally a smell that has something to do with the product that the company makes.

How do I get to a corporate smell? Do you follow a certain process?

That depends on the product. I was in touch with a very large milk producer. It would have actually been a dream job because milk is probably one of the first smells or tastes that everyone perceives. Mother’s milk. Sweet. Tasty. Hunger. And one can create a proper narrative and scene around it. Not only milk, but cows, mountain pastures, sound of bells, blue sky, white clouds. Awesome. A shitty job is working for a sausage maker or someone who builds washing machine. But when someone is truly crazy, then I would tell him that it’s asinine. He’d be better off putting an air freshener in.

You smell nice
If I go somewhere to eat, then I don’t want the chick behind me to be wearing Angel or some other heavy perfume that immediately floods the place.

But they usually smell horrible …

Whether we think something smells good or stinks is usually learned. For example, if you’re walking along somewhere and a woman passes you and she’s wearing the fragrance your first wife wore, you think, “What the fuck!” It goes directly to your emotional centre.

That is because the region in the brain responsible for memories and smells is the same.

Not quite. The limbic system is a remainder from an old part of our brain. What we smell is more of an emotion than a stimulation subject to only one attribute, such as for example, aubergine colour. There’s nothing to discuss, no one can tell you that it is green. Smells, by contrast, are very subjective. If someone grew up with their grandmother, and she always baked vanilla cake, but thrashed her grandchild, then that person will not have a good memory associated with vanilla cake. But if you always ate the vanilla cake with your grandmother on a park bench, you’d have positive memories associated with it. Subsequently, for the rest of your life, this memory of cake would be positive for you, whereas the other person would start sweating as soon as they’d perceive the smell.

What does that mean for a perfume maker or the industry?

We all have our own olfactory memory. That’s why aromas are very difficult to quantitatively define. It’s not the same for everyone. We all have a lot of smells, but different impressions. And then these different impressions are also associated with different attributes. My father always thought that it was absolutely obvious that Old Spice was the freshest smell there was. Actually, Old Spice is one of the sweetest perfumes. But I can’t explain that to my father, because in the advertising for Old Spice, you always see a sailor, ocean, ocean breeze. That suggests that Old Spice is fresh.

So does that mean that the smell, the fragrance in a store is important, or not?

You probably can’t please everyone with a smell. Many people feel, rightly so, under attack if they come into some place and notice that there is a perfume hanging in the store or restaurant. I also find it disturbing. If I go somewhere to eat, then I don’t want the chick behind me to be wearing Angel or some other heavy perfume that immediately floods the place. She may find it great, but people have different tolerances for fragrances. Basically we all have the same nose, but some noses are better trained than others.

So, you don’t like Angel?

If a woman smells like Angel, she can turn around and go home.

But can I assume that the smell of fresh bread in a store has positive associations for the majority?

It is generally a positive smell because it is always associated with breakfast and teatime. No one would say, “how awful, fresh bread”. Same with the smell of freshly brewed coffee.

Can smells be produced by location? In areas where baked goods are sold, the odour of bread, in another area coffee …?

These smells for bakeries or this crap doesn’t work. You can only bring up the smells with the real thing. Even these weird bakeries that have half-cooked rolls delivered from Poland every morning and then shove them into the oven – even there, the smell is made by the baking. There’s only one thing that is difficult to imitate – physical smells.

What are physical smells?

Smells warm, smells cold, sour, acidic, dry, powdery. Everything that is physical. Those are trigeminal smells. Our nose doesn’t just perceive one-dimensionally, but olfactorily and through the trigeminal nerve.

Is it actually possible to buy freshly mowed grass?

There’s a couple of brands who do something like that. But that doesn’t get beyond the gag factor. There is always a huge difference between opening a bottle or having the smell flood your nose when your neighbour mows his lawn.

Which products that we buy are strongly connected with smells?

The smell of a new car is always really important for guys. I like the smell of a Mac when you unpack it.

Does Apple smell?

That’s an interesting example. Normally, such a smell is almost artificially created, but for Mac stuff it is actually a natural interaction. Plastic, Styrofoam, packaging and the thing, the electronics, the stuff inside. The smell is synthetic but it has such a freshness to it. Weird!

What do you do differently from the others?

Okay, you have to imagine, you go to an Indian place and order curry. Already there, there are 800 spices, in other words, 800 components. Or, you go to an Italian place and just order a plate of pasta with olive oil and basil. It only has one seasoning, basil, but is incredibly tasty. In other words, you can make very complex things or very simple things. I have only one component in my fragrances and that gives people a chance to wear an aura. And they totally love it.

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