Synesthesia & Creating Perfumes

For as long as I can remember I've always "pictured" scent.

Here's an example

Patchouli Alcohol "looks," like a Persian rug to me. More often than not it's a light kaki brown, golden, mint green textile. Sometimes I picture this textile sitting in cool, damp basement next to a crate of rotting apples. I smell dust. I smell cold. I smell rocks covered in moss. I smell dark volcanic soil. I smell apple cider. I smell sweet, bright crystals. I smell mint and pepper. I smell dry brittle leaves. I picture a loose, brittle, crystalline texture. 

It's very likely that I have a form of synesthesia. Many perfumers do. 

Synesthesia is a condition in which the stimulation of one sense leads to the automatic and involuntary experience of another sense.

There are various forms of synesthesia, and the types of sensory experiences that are blended varies widely between individuals.  Someone with synesthesia might "see" (in their minds eye) specific colours when they hear certain sounds. Another person may taste shapes when they touch a particular texture. In my case I picture images (often textiles) when I smell & concentrate on perfume materials. Please *note, synesthesia is not a symptom of a mental disorder or mental illness. I also happen to have a high I.Q. and am diagnosed with PTSD, but so far as I understand, neither of these things has anything to do with synesthesia. 

Now here's something interesting. Synesthesia is supposedly relatively rare with estimates suggesting that it affects between 1 in 2,000 and 1 in 100,000 individuals. I believe it is FAR more common than scientists suggest! Many perfume I know "visualizes" scent! I also tend to think that if someone isn't born with synesthesia training as a perfumer will certainly advance multi-sensory cross over. 

Thank goodness I have this condition. It's a real blessing!

My ability to associate scent with textiles, colors, sounds, natural objects, landscapes and emotions gives me a unique perspective on perfume creation. These "visions" allow me to create imaginative, evocative and memorable fragrances... but more important than this, synesthesia helps me to remember what all of my perfume materials smell like! 

At the technical level I use synesthesia as a "harmony-finding tool" to uncover a variety of relationships between my 500 perfume materials.

Be they human isolated molecules, essential oils or tinctures, I am able to "see" connections between a variety of scents to create accords that are harmonious and well-balanced. I know, I can "feel" where a particular essential oil will complement or contrast against another. This saves me a LOT of time! Synesthesia is a fascinating and intriguing phenomenon that has captured the imagination of scientists, artists, and the general public for years. I am always looking to learn more about it. If you are reading this blog, and happen to know more about it please contact me at

 Here are a few illustrations of my scen-visual synesthesia. 

Oakmoss Absolute "looks" something like this to me...

Tuberose absolute looks like this 

This is how I tend to imagine rose 

...and oud oils sometime looks like this to me