Some aromas immediately bring a sense of nostalgia or longing, such as freshly-baked bread and just-mowed grass.
For some, smell is inspirational and irresistible. Fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi once said that he always keeps a bottle of perfume -- one currently being worn by his favorite model, or muse, of the season -- stashed by his dashboard. This way he can always sniff the bottle, think of her, and be inspired to design beautiful dresses.
Then of course, there's French novelist Marcel Proust who based an entire work, "A la Recherche du Temps Perdu," upon a sequence of memories triggered by the scent of madeleines baking in the kitchen.
And some scientists say the human-produced pheromones can be artificially recreated and bottled for market, as a love potion.
In short, the power of smell is a potent one, and the market for creating an ambiance through the olfactory senses is huge, with new products as well as scents popping up at an ever-rapid pace.
Perfume is only the tip of the iceberg in the fragrance market, as Hollywood celebrities, fashion designers, and cosmetics manufacturers compete over market share in the highly lucrative bottled scents business. For the fashion-conscious, there is nothing quite like having a signature fragrance to call one's own, to ensure that one's entry into a room not only makes a visual, but also a sensory impact; the effect being that a particular fragrance would always remind people of that particular person.
But as people start valuing more time spent at home, the home fragrance business is booming. Gone are the days when lighting up an incense stick was largely a means for college students to get rid of suspicious odors from their dorm rooms. Made in exotic locations as far-flung as Thailand and India, incense sticks now come in an array of fragrances as well as sizes, promising to fill a room up with smells ranging from morning rain to sensual jasmine, for little more than $8 per pack.
Potpourri is another good source of subtle fragrance that can accent the home, especially in small, confined spaces such as the bathroom. They can all be pleasing to the eye, too, laid out on a small bowl or dish to display the dried petals. And of course, there is the old stand-by of sticking cloves into apples or citrus fruit, to ensure a fresh, subtle scent.
The problem is, however, that in a culture where subtlety is often disregarded as a virtue, most people don't like scents to be mere wafts, nor do they like the smell to fade away all too quickly.
Hence the popularity of powerfully fragrant scent sources such as Glade's plug-it-in fragrance that can be purchased for just under $5. The plastic appliance that is filled with a scented oil cartridge can be plugged into a socket, which heats up the oil and emits a smell that can permeate entire rooms. And therein lies the problem of the cost-effective source of scent.
It is simply too powerful, and often clashes horribly with other natural odors in the house, such as cooking smells from the kitchen, freshly cut flowers on the dining table, or worse still, with the cologne of the homeowner.
Then, there is the home fragrance spray, that comes in an atomizer. Slightly more costly than a plug-it-in at close to $15 a bottle on average, sprays can be spritzed on directly to furniture or sprayed into the air. But here again, the smell may not linger as strongly when simply sprayed into the air, whilst putting the substance on furniture could lead to stains on sofas and curtains in the longer-term.
So perhaps it's not surprising that one of the most popular forms of fragrancing the home is through scented candles, which come in all sizes, smells, and price range. From homemade candles made from organic wax, to mass-produced supermarket-brand names, the demand for candles seems to know no bounds.
For the idea is that they not only provide a steady waft of fragrance, they also provide that all-too-important element in allure and romance, namely subdued lighting.
Not for nothing are candlelit dinners de rigeur for wooing. Candles provide a flattering light, masking the faults of the people and food in front, and instead bringing out only the best of in them, or so it is believed.
But here again are a number of problems. Having scented candles right by the buffet table or dinner plates overpowers the smell of good food, and effectively destroys the palate for the meal. Meanwhile, candles themselves can be a fire hazard.
But perhaps the fact that scent-clash between perfume and home fragrance can actually destroy romance is the best deterrent to keep both sources from getting too strong and in-your-face.
But as the ancient Romans were fond of saying -- "There's no disputing maters of taste."
(GoToShop is a biweekly musing on where or where not to spend one's hard-earned paycheck. If there is, indeed, an opposite and equal reaction for every action, then shopping is no exception. The fine art of shopping can be a political statement, a social manifestation, an economic triumph -- or simply a dud decision on the part of the consumer.)