How a Hotel Gets Its Signature Scent
For travelers, the olfactory sense creates some of the strongest memories.
- Nov 18, 2019
Courtesy: Andrea Cheng | News Source: cntraveler.com
Six years ago, Atelier Cologne founder Sylvie Ganter was presented with a challenge by her husband and business partner Christophe Cervasel: to create a signature scent for Majestic, a five-star hotel located in the heart of Barcelona, in celebration of its 100-year anniversary. She had six years of developing, conceiving, and perfecting fragrances for her consumers. But for a building? “I had no clue where to even start,” she recalls. “I had never done anything like this.”
The first step was immersing herself in the hotel. With her family, she stayed at Majestic over a long weekend, soaking up every detail, like the history (Hemingway and other legendary figures were, famously, longtime residents), the decor (intricate moldings, bold fixtures, Art Deco accents), and the overall aesthetic (luxurious but not ostentatious, traditional yet timeless). It crystallized what felt like an impossibly abstract task, allowing her a glimmer of how she could capture the spirit of the hotel and distill it into a fragrance.
Once she established the mood she wanted to evoke—muted, masculine, chic, elegant, timeless, relevant—she turned her attention to the ingredients. In order to use elements from the hotel’s surroundings to anchor the fragrance to the region, she landed on Mediterranean-grown clary sage, a form of musk, and fig leaf for a salty seaside note, before loading it up with Atelier Cologne’s signature citruses like lemon and bergamot.
“I designed it like I would have for the skin because that’s what I know,” says Ganter. “And then we adapted it so it could be diffused through air conditioning by making it brighter and less concentrated.” She adds that the concentration of traditional fragrances is 18 percent oil, but for the hotel, it was diluted to less than 10 percent. “You want something that smells good in the space, not overwhelming, like you’re swallowing it when you enter the hotel.”
“You want something that smells good in the space, not overwhelming, like you’re swallowing it when you enter the hotel.”
Musc Imperial launched at the Majestic in 2015, and soon after, guests demanded it in perfume form. And then a candle. The hotel requested that it be made into an amenities line, ending Bulgari’s reign as its sole vendor. In 2019, the scent was awarded Niche Fragrance of the year—the only hotel-inspired fragrance to ever win an award—by the Cosmetic Executive Women, a trade organization for the cosmetics, fragrance, and personal care industry.
But for the most part, Ganter believes the majority of Majestic guests probably don’t even notice the scent. “It’s subliminal,” she says. “Now that there are amenities and a candle in all the rooms, it makes it more official as the scent of the hotel. And if you bring home the shower gel, it transports you back to the place where you had a really good time.”
Which is precisely the whole point of signature scents for hotels: creating an olfactory memory that, when presented again, can trigger nostalgia. Rachel Herz, psychology professor at Brown University and Boston College and author of The Scent of Desire, says the use of a fragrance to achieve this effect can be traced to the late ‘90s with the launch of AromaSys, the first company to provide environmental scenting through the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems at large resorts and hotel chains in major U.S. cities. As technology evolved and more companies began to tap into indoor-scenting machinery, the demand for a specific smell increased among hotel properties. Because unlike random fragrances or candles sold to guests at boutiques, a scent that’s specially designed for a hotel is intended to forge an emotional association and, ultimately, drive repeat business.
“Guests may not pay that much attention to the scent, but they’re aware it’s there when they walk into the lobby,” says Herz, who has studied the psychological association with scent for almost 30 years. She says we adapt to smell within 15 to 20 minutes, which is why it’s of the utmost importance for hotels to streamline the lobby scent with its toiletries. “It creates a memory trinket; the scent is a marker and a reminder for them to return to the hotel for their next visit.”
For Lisa Chung, an avid traveler and former travel marketer, scent is one of the first things she notices. She recalls two vivid olfactory experiences: a stay at the The Draftsman in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Hotel de Nell in Paris. The smells were vastly different from one another (the former was bright, the latter warm), but they had the same impact. “You’re welcomed first with the scent and it feels akin to entering a spa: It’s calming and it makes me feel like I can relax, that my vacation has started,” she says. “Each one spoke to the hotel’s design and feel.”
The alignment between a hotel’s personality and the signature scent is an important one. When there’s a disconnect, it could potentially lead to disastrous results, like repelling guests and, ultimately, hurting its brand identity. Offensive notes, too, don’t help, such as artificial materials like peach or calone, or anything overtly feminine or masculine.
It’s much easier when a hotel can harness one or two special characteristics and extract them into a scent. In the case of Monteverdi Tuscany, a boutique hotel in the Val d'Orcia region of Tuscany, its location alone proved to be rife with inspiration. The stunning landscape is replete with rolling hills, vast vineyards, groves of olive trees, fields of poppies and gold-colored grains. It was the starting point for perfumer Maria Candida Gentile, who gathered scent profiles from the flora, the gravel, the lavender, the sage, and, after more than two years, boiled it all down to a single formula: “The Essence of the Val D’Orcia,” which launched earlier this year.
But not every hotel property has the luxury of a one-of-a-kind historical landscape at its disposal. So what about bigger chains?
Marriott International, the largest hotel chain in the world, has 30 brands in its portfolio and among them, half have a signature or a scent program. With its focus on wellness and health, Westin was the first to roll out its signature White Tea scent (a blend of white tea, wood cedar, and vanilla) and amenities line—done with fragrance manufacturer Mane—more than a decade ago with the goal of energizing its guests.
As for W Hotels, the trendy chain that redefined modern luxury, the idea was to match its super-charged energy (and its equally super-charged guests) with a fragrance that could cultivate a “fresh, chic environment.” For 16-plus years, that has been its “Signature Citron No. 5” scent with notes of Italian figs, jasmine, and sandalwood.
“When creating our signature scents, we have to think about the desired atmosphere or feeling we are trying to create for that brand experience,” says Tina Edmundson, global brand officer and luxury portfolio leader at Marriott International. “Should the scent balance comfort with a quiet sexiness? Does it need to be energizing or calming? How will it blend with the colors and textures used in the design? We like to think of our signature scents in the same way you might think about choosing a perfume or a cologne—it must be organic and authentic.”
Still, scents are incredibly subjective. And building a fragrance for a hotel property with locations all across the globe seems like a rather risky undertaking. But Herz suggests looking at it from a brand identity perspective. “Take the logo,” she says. “It doesn’t have meaning, but it becomes a part of the brand and how it’s recognized by people. The whole idea is to increase brand awareness.”
Another Marriott hotel that’s using scent to further its brand message is St. Regis and its signature “Caroline’s Four Hundred,” which was created with Arquiste in 2015 and inspired by Caroline Astor, the matriarch of the founding family. (The name refers to the 400 guests she would invite to her parties at the turn of the 20th century.) “The scent captures the exotic woods of her ballroom, along with notes of her favorite flower—American Beauty roses—as well as the potted palms and apple blossoms that would line the hallways of her legendary Gilded Age parties,” says Edmundson.
No one will know for certain how a custom fragrance will be received, but when done right, it enhances the overall experience. For Ganter, it paid off when she dreamed up “Musc Imperial.” And when she stays at other hotels, she can’t help but notice the scent.
“When I stayed at Hôtel Costes in Paris, it has a very distinct, very deep smell,” she says. “It has a very strong personality and it makes a lasting impression. It’s something that has stuck with me for the longest time. And when I burn a candle from the hotel, I feel like I’m there.”
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