Pillaton WI Report - June 2014


Our speaker in June was Tony Curtis. No, not that one! Ours is local and works at the University of Plymouth. Tony started by telling us that he was going to change our lives in the next 30 – 40 minutes. Quite a statement which made us all sit up and listen.

His subject was Perfumery something near and dear to lots of hearts I think. So, how was this going to change our lives you may well be asking? Well as he explained what we smell and how we react to it all goes back to the nature/nurture debate with nurture playing a big part. This means, as we know that our history can affect how we feel so similarly perfumes can affect feelings and may well be linked to our individual history.

The next thing that he told us was that if we do not like the smell of our partner we are more likely to divorce!!!!! The basis of this statement was from a genetic viewpoint. We apparently subconsciously pick out opposites with smell being part of this choice in order to produce better offspring. However one small fly in this hypothesis is that the pill can disrupt this pattern!

But, back to our evening. In order to see how those of us present reacted to different smells he tested us out on a number of different perfumes. He gave each of us the opportunity to sniff each perfume with the instruction to think about how this made us feel.

The first one half of us liked and the others not. Some of us said it made us feel “Christmassy” and in others it evoked the feeling of being at the dentists – it was oil of cloves. So Tony explained that each one of us has over 200 receptors in our noses with each of us having a unique combination of these. This explains why something may smell good to one and not to another. Also on this, apparently skin bacteria can change a perfume which is why the same perfume may smell differently on different people.

The second experiment approximately a third of us could not smell at all. This one was MUSC which apparently goes into fabric softeners as it is linked with nurturing and safety and smells “clean”.

The third was interesting. Those who liked it were in the minority. Some said it smelt of honey but others did not agree with Alison describing it as “diabetic urine”! Well it was phenyl acetic acid.

We then moved on to dilute Rose oil. Now this is where an idea for a village industry popped into my head as concentrated rose oil apparently sells for £5000/kilo! I am sure between us we could collect huge amounts of rose petals and knock up a still and hey presto, there we go. But........

So back again to the meeting. Tony explained that not all perfumes with names of flowers can be made from those flowers. For instance, Lily of the Valley can only be made by synthesis and not from the actual plant. It is a mixture of Rose and Jasmine.

He rounded up his talk by restating that perfumes may affect intensive emotions, are linked with memory and that we all smell things differently. He also said that odours and their origins are being used more and more in medicine. Examples are dogs being trained to sniff out cancers and we have known for some time that they are able to detect by smell, in some circumstances, if someone is about to have a seizure.

Then came the test. We were given four samples to try and identify and were also asked to write down a description of each of them. He said that each correct answer would score a point and if there was a tie then he would decide the winner based on the descriptions. Well of course there was a tie which was between Lesley, Alison and Trish. So after due consideration he decreed that Trish was the overall winner. Her prize was a wonderful book – British Perfumery a Fragrant History - to which he had contributed a couple of chapters.

So, did the evening change our lives? Perhaps it has changed mine a bit by helping me recognise that perfume is very much linked to emotion and history – a very interesting, I think, concept. I don’t know about changing the lives of anyone else but I do know that we all very much enjoyed the evening.

Pam Lowther

More WI reports

Last updated: 31 July 2014 Contact Us