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November 11, 2009

What Does Winter Smell Like?

We visit Harry Slatkin, founder of a home fragrance empire, as he sniffs his way through Hong Kong, nailing down the scent of winter '07/'08.

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Harry Slatkin raises his nose in the air — just slightly — closes his eyes, and takes a short, sharp sniff.
“What is that?" he asks no one in particular, wafting a scented paper swatch in front of his face.
“It’s a mildew-y house smell,” he decides. “No, it’s like a dentist’s office.”

Slatkin picks up another swatch, waves it, twitches, and then declares: “I can smell the fireplace, here, and I’ve got the feeling that people are about to come over.” He smiles softly to himself. “It’s got that happy holiday feeling. I’m still in the living room but I want to go into the kitchen and smell fresh apple pie.”

Check out our Fragrance Finder Tool to find your signature scent.

Slatkin, president of home design of Limited Brands, Inc., is looking for the next holiday scent in his hit home fragrance series, toplined by his Slatkin & Co. candles (an operation that turns over an estimated $5 billion a year). We caught him in Hong Kong, home of the fragrance houses that hold the ingredients he’ll eventually parse together into a home scent he calls Winter. Because, apparently, winter has a certain fragrance and it can be captured in a candle.

The essential starting point for fragrance is mood, says Slatkin. Odors don’t get filtered through your intellect; they go directly from your nose to the part of your brain that processes emotion. So even before you know whether you’re smelling cardamom or cleaning fluid, you’re feeling something. It’s a phenomenon that hasn’t escaped savvy marketers. Hotels and retailers are creating “brandscents” — special aromas piped into their locations to help you feel at ease, spend more time there, or even like the merchandise more. Slatkin doesn’t have that large of an agenda with these home fragrances: He just wants his scent to be so evocative and of the moment that it influences people to take it home with them this holiday season.


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