Fragrance with a feel-good factor
I've always loved fragrance, but perhaps never more so than the day I picked up Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez's book, Perfumes: the Guide.
Suddenly Thierry Mugler's chocolatey Angel didn't just smell good, it was - and I quote - like a "fudge-dipped berry in a confectioner's shop".
Fragrance was not just a pretty accessory but a part of life.
"The fact is that this stuff is worth loving," wrote Sanchez.
"As with the tawdriest pop melody, there is a base pleasure in perfume, in just about any perfume, even the cheapest and most starved of ideas, that is better than no perfume at all. It decorates the day. It makes you feel as if the colours of the air have changed."
There's little sign of colour on the grey, heavy-sky day I meet Benedicte Foucart. But fragrance is certainly in the atmosphere.
Foucart - French, elegant and charming - is the founder of Valeur Absolue, a Geneva-based company specialising in fine fragrance with a difference; wellbeing elixirs that contain ingredients that not only make you smell good, but also improve your mood.
We've known for ages that fragrance has a huge psychological effect on our lives, but until fairly recently that knowledge has been mainly anecdotal, not scientific.
Recent research, however, provides evidence that memories evoked by smell are more heightened emotionally than those prompted by other our senses, including sight, sound and touch.
In fact, our ability to remember a particular scent surpasses our ability to recall what we've seen. People recall smells with 65 per cent accuracy after a year; by contrast, it's estimated that visual recall of a photo drops to about 50 per cent after just four months.
None of this is news to Foucart, who has spent her career understanding the power of fragrance, most markedly in senior marketing roles for global companies such as Elizabeth Ardern and fragrance-maker Firmenich.
She founded Valeur Absolute, she says, because she perceived a pressing need for something different to the superficiality of the huge number of "me-too" fragrances developed over the past decade or so.
"While women's lives have changed so much during this time, the approach to making fragrance hasn't. The values they project are those of the '80s, not those of the 21st Century."
She says many women no longer see the relevance of a fragrance that "promises seduction" and little else.
Disappointed in modern fragrances' similarity, their lack of quality ingredients and their irrelevance to women's demanding lives, today's consumers see nothing "they can recognise". As a result, they can live without them.
"With Valeur Absolue, we went inside the bottle," she says.
"We said, 'Let's bring fine fragrance and wellbeing back together. Let's take our inspiration from the 17th Century roots of fine perfumery and the time when perfume had a health or a mood-enhancing motive.'"
The result was three (more are in the planning) fine fragrances, each enriched with ingredients scientifically proven to improve mood. For example, Areaumat Perpetua, which is included in all three fragrances, is a natural extract of the Immortelle flower and clinically linked to the release in the body of feel-good beta-endorphins.
Tests also show that the topical use of Areaumat Perpetua lowers the level of cortisol ('the stress hormone') in saliva.
While not claiming to be all-natural, the Valeur Absolue range utilises essential oils with aromatherapeutic benefits and minerals, such as potassium and magnesium, which the body needs to feel good.
"The fragrances are as natural as they can be without compromising the ideals of fine fragrance," says Foucart. "They smell beautiful, but offer more."
They also come with a little something 'extra'. Visible in each bottle are ingredients that symbolise the emotions enhanced by each fragrance. Harmonie contains the "serenity stone", amethyst; Sensuality has mother of pearl, the symbol of love and femininity; and Joie-Eclat has diamond powder, a symbol of sparkle.