The Sweet Smell Of Success: Can A Fragrance Really Bring Sporting Glory?

Staff at the Golfresort Weimarer, a 45-hole golf resort complex in the countryside 90 minutes southwest of Leipzig, may find an unfamiliar smell in the air this summer. The England football team – who are in Germany for the UEFA European Championships and have secured all 94 rooms at the five-star hotel for the duration of the tournament – haven’t just brought their hopes, dreams and Nike jerseys with them. Like a pomeranian cocking its leg against a lamppost to mark its territory, the England team flew into Germany accompanied by three “signature scents”, each of which is to be pumped throughout various areas in the complex in an attempt to help create “an optimal environment” that manager Mr Gareth Southgate is hoping will translate to success on the pitch. The custom fragrances are reportedly already used at the team’s Burton-on-Trent HQ and are intended to boost the familiarity of the new space in Germany and keep them in their element. And thus presumably circumventing the “home advantage” phenomenon, where sports teams statistically perform better when on their own turf. Designed to ensure that the England players are at the top of their game during the tournament, the scents being deployed include one which will be diffused into the main areas of the hotel (a refreshing mix of bergamot, lily and jasmine), a second fragrance in the gym (to energise) and a third lavender scent in the bedrooms (to promote restful sleep). The question is: will it work? Can scent really affect how we perform? Or is this just a load of olfactory hokum? Mr Nick Gilbert, cofounder of Olfiction, a UK-based fragrance consultancy, says that the plan is unlikely to have tangible effect on England’s xG metrics at the Euros. “There aren’t any ingredients that can change behaviour on their own,” he says. Still, he adds, Southgate’s tactic might not be entirely in vain: “What researchers do know is that the majority of our emotions are responses to scent – ones we either are or are not conscious of – and our emotional state will impact performance in any walk of life.” Ms Eudora Nwasike, a London-based fragrance specialist, agrees. “Scents affect how we feel, think and behave because they have an immediate connection with the brain’s limbic system, including the amygdala and hippocampus – the regions of the brain that are responsible for emotion and memory,” she says. “It could enable them to remember key lessons from their training sessions when playing against other teams.” “The association effect is very real,” Gilbert says. “The way our brains are wired is that the first time we experience a fragrance, the emotional resonance of that situation is really primed into us.” For his part, Gilbert can’t stand rose perfume because it reminds him of a particularly militaristic schoolteacher. “I had a really nasty teacher that wore a [tuberose] perfume, and if I ever smelled that again I would always think, ‘Oh no, Mrs Richmond’s going to rip up my work!’” he says. “That’s the thing that happens in my brain.” So, while an ingredient like lavender may not physically make you drowsier, the connotation we have with it as something to relax could, in theory, help you get a sounder night’s sleep. “If you’re in a new and different environment, scents that we are familiar with are going to provide a sense of comfort,” Gilbert says. In other words, if the first time you smelled lilies was at an event like a wedding, you might associate them with celebrations or happiness. If they were the flowers filling the room at a grandparent’s funeral? Not so much. Using custom fragrances in an attempt to influence people in public spaces is nothing new. In fact, brands often take advantage of the psychological connection between scent and emotion. “In the aviation industry, for instance, Singapore, Delta and Turkish airlines use scented towels and soft calming perfumes in their cabins to enhance passenger experience,” Nwasike says. Likewise, the EDITION hotel group has its own unique scent – an intoxicating fug of black tea, smoke, chocolate, pepper and citrus, created by Le Labo – that hangs around in its lobbies. It even sells a candle and diffuser for guests. “Hotels take scents seriously because it captivates their guests by creating pleasant aromas and giving a strong first impression,” Nwasike says. “The use of scent in a space creates a certain ambience and atmosphere that links to the brand image [in guests’ minds]. It also helps to make the space inviting, comfortable and memorable.” A few years ago, I visited SHA, a wellness clinic in Spain [link: https://www.mrporter.com /journal/lifestyle/why-brain-training-is-the-next-big-wellness-trend-387402]. After an intense week of various health-focused treatments and a strict nutrition plan, they sent me home with their signature lemongrass fragrance. I sprayed it profusely around my flat in London to make it smell exactly like their serene spa – bliss! – in an attempt to relax, but ultimately it just made me feel guilty whenever I ate chocolate. Eau de shame. Whether or not England will see winning results from their own scent experiment is, at the time of writing, up in the air. The team’s last time playing the Euros ended with them in the final, beaten by Italy in 2021 after a tense penalty shootout – and what a stinker that was. So, maybe their secret olfactory weapon is just what they need to push them over the edge. Bring on the bergamot.

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