How fragrance is the antidote to our iPhones

16th June, 2017

Considering a digital detox? Viola Levy explores how smell can hold the key…

Credit: Composite Image - G. Osborne / Kaspars Grinvalds / palau83 / kentoh (Adobe Stock)

Most of us are used to hearing the well-worn clichés: "in this digital age" or "in the age of social media..." (*Bangs head against wall*) These inevitably lead into how "we've lost touch with reality” etc. Given the fact a lot of this is down to media scare mongering, I admit I'm also one of the billions of people who find it hard to put down their phone and look at the damn sunset. And I do believe this half-arsed approach to living in the present – phone out, head down - has repercussions when it comes to our mental and spiritual health.

And that's the great thing about perfume - its ability to cut through the digital fog, forcing us to wake up and smell the Rive Gauche. Firstly, smell cannot be recreated by computer - not yet at least. However much talk we hear of virtual reality, it's still for the near future restricted to sight and sound (and possibly touch, if reports of creepy inventions would have us believe). There's no "smell-o-vision" - scent instead requires you to show up and actually be in the moment. And that’s what’s so wonderful about it. It’s either right there before you - “in the flesh” so to speak - or it isn’t there at all.

So I think many people’s love for fragrance isn't just about smelling “nice” or “sexy” or whatever. It’s more that its immediacy helps us snap out of whatever daydream or neurotic train of thought we were embroiled in. There’s no absent-minded swiping or scrolling with scent – whatever it is, most of us tend to have a strong reaction to it. We either lean in for a better whiff, or we immediately run gagging to the nearest open window. It can also conjure up times and places long forgotten (smell having the closest connection to memory than any other sense).

Advertisement — article continues below

The importance of perfumery and smell was made even more apparent to me fairly recently. I’d been going through a rather trying time and had been trying to cope with the aftermath. My evenings were spent immersed in Netflix box set binges, or “liking” glossy holiday snaps on social media, while I was constantly plugged into podcasts on my way to and from work. Drowning my sorrows in digital "noise", I wasn’t talking about what I was going through with anyone; I jumbled up my feelings like a Rubik's cube and carried on regardless. Several weeks passed in this state of happy denial, which I took for recovery. 

Scent requires you to show up and actually be in the moment. And that's what's so wonderful about it.
That all changed when I was invited to come and try some new fragrances. Truly beautiful and bewitching numbers, these weren’t your run-of-the-mill, department store fare. There were punchy oudhs, enveloping musks, beguiling roses and a jasmine so seductive as to be almost indecent. Like olfactory alchemy, they managed to break the spell I’d cast, accessing memories and stirring dormant feelings I’d shut down. For me it was a bittersweet awakening, but one that was needed.

When you consider all that’s currently happening in the world, I think about my career as a fragrance writer and that maybe I should be focusing my attentions on something more pertinent than the latest floral chypre. But although scent can be dismissed as frivolous, I believe it’s a beautiful and important art form in its own right, being able to temporarily snap us out of our iPhone trance. From an evolutionary perspective, our sense of smell was developed to better alert us to our surroundings. And I think many of us could do with being a more alert and aware at the moment.

  • Share this

About the author: Viola Levy

Freelance beauty editor Viola Levy has loved perfume since purchasing a treasured bottle of Impulse O2 aged 10 and later wearing Anaïs Anaïs to a friend's 13th birthday party. Formerly contributing beauty editor of Glass Magazine, her blog Scents and the City highlights her favourite fragrances and beloved London haunts.



    Advertisement — comments are below


      • Bavard | 17th June 2017 01:42

        I'm sorry to read you've been going through a trying time, but heartened to read about the transformative sniffing expedition.

      • Ken_Russell | 17th June 2017 13:30

        Liked reading this and happening to own no Iphone, but quite a few fragrances, many of whom on the stronger side, not such a wild guess which one of these two categories gets more personal attention

      • gandhajala | 17th June 2017 15:47

        And if thy iphone causeth thee to stumble, cast it from thee...

      • Redneck Perfumisto | 17th June 2017 22:23


        I agree - sniffing has been great to get away from too much geekery. HOWEVER, once I learned how to buy fragrances from my phone.....

        ALL WAS LOST


        PS - Viola is such a great name! Love it!

      • jujy54 | 13th July 2017 02:21

        Brava. [hums the Gershwins' "They Can't Take That Away From Me"]

      • Diamondflame | 3rd August 2017 12:03

        The trouble is our smartphones offer access to perfume-related info and chatter.

      • ScentBound | 7th August 2017 15:51

        Viola, I think you've hit on a major point here. This article deserves expansion and further exploration of perfume and mindfulness. I loved the style and the topic and I want more.