Intervista A Claus Noppeney

Here is the interview:

Here is the version in English:


What does it mean to be a scent culture specialist?

The sense of smell has mostly been an issue in natural sciences. Physiologists for example study olfactory perception and identify olfactory receptors. Chemists work on the development of fragrant molecules etc. More recently however, the cultural and social relevance of the sense of smell has increasingly been recognized: People express and give meaning to their experiences of smells and compare scents in relation to one another. More importantly, we recognize how olfactory experience contributes to other cultural and social domains. Think about an exhibition or the atmosphere at a heritage site. In the meantime this movement has given rise to scent or smell culture studies as an innovative new field in universities, art & design schools. A couple of years ago I started to teach smell culture to business students at the University of St. Gallen: What is the role of smells in organizing? How does body odor effect teamwork? How do smells organize space? How do managers cope with a smelly team member? And what is actually special about this leadership challenge? These are a few questions the students work on. Last semester, I then taught a course at the University of the Arts in Berlin. The course facilitated experiments with scent in creative processes. This fall I teach a course on smell & fake at Bern University of the Arts at my home base in Bern.


What’s behind the development of a perfume?

The development of a scent involves different professions, competences and processes. In mainstream perfumery the development usually starts with market research. A perfume you can buy in a dutyfree shop or in one of the major chains is a commodity that often imitates some existing and successful scents. The case is different in the booming niche perfumery segment. This creative segment is about to revolutionize the industry. The field is diverse. In many cases these scents tend to be more conceptual, complex and special. The development might involve designers or even artists.


How does perfume link to our memories, our desires, what we want to be for others?

Consumers use perfume for different purposes. Some consumers think of a perfume as a new form of self-expression. Others use perfumes as a means of impression management. In Switzerland many consumers use perfume to comply with some unwritten rules. They use a perfume. But in real terms many consumers do not want to stand out. In this case, they use a perfume as an overpriced “deodorization device”. They want to appear “neutral” in a positive sense.


How much can a perfume affect our life?

The potential is huge. Paul Watzlawick once coined the saying: “One cannot not communicate”. Watzlawick did not think of the sense of smell. Yet, this saying draws the attention to a fundamental fact. There is no human life out of the realm of smells. We can close our eye and ears. We need not touch anything. Not to speak of eating. Yet, we depend on breathing. Every breath you take activates olfactory receptors!
How do the laboratories work to study “new” perfumes?


There are practices one associates with scientific work in laboratories: working with technical tools, precise scales and documenting each step. At the same time there are moments of intuition, sensory evaluations and aesthetic choices. One of the surprises of our exploratory studies is the high degree of subjectivity involved. Even a group of professionally trained perfumers can perceive and interpret the same molecule quite differently: Is this a woody note? Or is this a green note? Thus, it is very much the context that matters.


One last question, light, let’s say: what is your favorite fragrance?

I do not have a favorite fragrance. I use very different fragrances for the sake of the experience irrespective of my personal preferences.