The Psychology of Scent

by Leanne Mascoll - first published by Anthropologie 

"I think some of our greatest pleasures come from scent. Scent has the power to soothe us when we are not well and to ground us when that is what we need.” 
Louisa’ Canham's view on the influence our sense of smell wields is based on years of academic knowledge and a good dose of fascination. In her former life she was a clinical psychologist, applying her specialism in children and adolescents broadly, from working with young people with autistic spectrum disorders to the high-risk environment of the prison service.

It was through these professional experiences that the seed, which later bloomed into LA-EVA, was planted. “I loved psychological work, I still do, but I also felt burdened by it,” she explains. “I held a lot of responsibility from a young age, my own children were small, and to some degree I think that there’s only so much emotional content that you can process every day”.

 

 

In need of another “hat” – not mother, nor psychologist – Louisa started making soap. “When I think about how I got into it, it was kind of pathological,” she laughs. “Mental health, wellness and unwellness are very fluid entities and I needed something tangible.” It wasn’t an instant success. “I had blocks of soap blow up like bread and some as dense as bricks. But I loved the process of what I was doing: using my hands and my senses.” 

It was the first step in an amazing chain of events that saw Louisa take her “units of wellbeing” to artisan markets, leave the world of clinical psychology to explore soap-making full time, move her production to a studio after poisoning the family “a couple of times with sodium hydroxide – bad mum!” and eventually launch LA-EVA with a line of emotively-scented lotions and washes that are certified organic, vegan and cruelty-free.

The most amazing thing is none of this was planned. “It has been a really organic journey, and still is,” Louisa explains. “There’s never been any grand plan. It’s all just declared itself and I’ve learnt along the way.”

 

 

I find it amazing that Louisa is not a qualified perfumer – the precision with which the essential oils she uses to craft her scents are balanced would give the most seasoned perfumer a run for their money. But her intention isn’t just to send you on your way, trailing a beautiful scent. “In LA-EVA we believe that scent adds meaningfully to our experiences and that we can create beautiful associations and lock in moments in time through it.”

So how does this work? In layman’s terms “the part of the brain responsible for our sense of smell is also related to feelings and memory. The smell of something can take you back in an instant. When I was on the market stalls people would pick up a bar of soap, inhale, and comments such as, ‘I haven’t thought about that smell since I was twelve years old and on holiday in the Mediterranean’ came up all the time. This fascinates me.”

Louisa has always shied away from talking about the inspiration for each scent, mainly because she wants everyone to form their own bond with them. But as she talks me through each blend, she offers a little window into their origins.

 

 

BLŪ, a smoky blend of blue chamomile, lavender and vetiver was inspired by a trip Louisa took to the remote island of Gavdos in her early twenties. Cedar trees grew out of the sand and sea, the smell of chamomile hung in the air and bonfires burned late into the evening. The warming notes of ROSĒUM were born out of memories of her honeymoon in Istanbul – early mornings spent watching pink sunrises from the turret of an old hotel and the sensual smells of cardamom, clove, coffee and rose. JASMĪNA’s heady concoction of thyme, black pepper and jasmine was a slightly different prospect, “it’s the imagined state – a reference to billowing curtains and slow starts in bed. A fantasy really in my own life.”

JASMĪNA is the focus of LA-EVA’s latest studio installation: a seasonal process in which the team’s workspace is transformed into a living representation of one of the scents. It puts immersion at the centre of the brand’s creative process and is one of its many unique layers: what’s in the bottle, around the bottle, in the environment and back again.

So what else in the outside world is earmarked for a bottle? The answer: “There are lots of references in the bank. They are just waiting for their moment to materialise.”

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