Who: Bernardo Fleming, trends and foresight director at IFF (International Flavors & Fragrances). For his day job, Bernardo is responsible for understanding and defining how the future will look and smell like for IFF’s extensive team of perfumers. His work brings him into contact with designers, researchers and creative minds from outside the industry who share his curiosity and passion around the untapped power of scent. He is never happier than when building bridges between the industry and those who want to engage with their sense of smell.
Bernardo also has an rare condition whereby he experiences scented dreams. He recently had his first solo exhibition in Los Angeles, Dreaming In Smell, where – with the help of a team of perfumers and collaborators – he turned four of these dreams into immersive works of art. He’s reluctant to tag himself as an artist, but the way he uses his sense of smell can definitely be called artistic, and provokes and stimulates a new way of approaching memories and emotion. We caught up with him to find out more.
Today I’m wearing something that’s not commercially available, Goodness by Paul Guerlain. I’m in a very privileged position in that I can wear things that are not available for sale and today it’s a creative expression from one of our future trends. We work with young talent at IFF who are the next generation of master perfumers, to bring an olfactive interpretation of the trends that are shaping the future, in this case Paul created a rose that moves away from the traditional binary masculine / feminine take on the flower. Rose is one of those olfactive territories that doesn’t need to carry a gender label, in this scent it has a peppery and woody intense depth that makes it gritty, it has a lot of personality.
I am doing some layering today, with D’yer Mak’er, one of the scented dreams from the project I’ve just done. Meabh McCurtin is one of the gifted perfumers I worked with and she created the scent as a riff on the Led Zeppelin track created as one of the Scented Dreams collection, the dream had the riff of this song and the lingering scent recreated by Meabh as the background. It has the beautiful smell of palo santo and I put it on in the morning like a protective shield. The rose notes from Paul’s creation layer on top of the mystic woody notes of D’yer Mak’er and blend extremely nicely.
You can intellectualise fragrance, but really it’s about your feelings and your emotions. For me, these two fragrances bring a feeling of sensual cocooning, the rose is very protective and comforting, the palo santo, sandalwood and sage becomes almost like a halo of spiritual protection.
You start building emotional olfactive connections when you are young. The palo santo for me is about two things, firstly the Catholic church, I smell it before I’m even conscious of it because it’s imbedded in my memory from a childhood spent in Argentina. Also it brings back memories of when we used the scent to mask other smells from my teenage years! So they’re very personal olfactive imprints that you build around yourself.
Fragrance is essential to my life and I was interested in even before I knew there was an industry around it. I’ve been a sensory junky since a very young age, I’m a foodie, a music geek, an art lover and passionate about scent.
I’m very aware of the role smell plays in our lives, it goes much further than just the smell of danger or seduction, I’m connected to different people from many disciplines and backgrounds, so I generate awareness on the importance of smell in life. With Covid related anosmia, a lot of people are beginning to realise how important the untapped power of scent is.
In my dreams I can smell. I only recognised it as a ‘condition’ about 5 years ago when I was working with a researcher working on scent from outside the industry, who told me that this was unique. I has assumed everyone incorporates smell into their dreams, but she said ‘No!’ There’s been very little research done, but studies indicate that only three to seven percent of people have this and it usually affects those who have a high sensitivity to smell or are exposed a lot to scent, so it was ‘tick, tick’ for me.
I became curious, and wondered what I could do with it. So now, when I wake up in the morning after a scented dream, I take notes, which I transform into a creative brief. I have the opportunity to work closely – both in proximity and affinity- to perfumers who can translate my scented dreams into fragrances. They bring my scented dreams to life as fragrances. Some of these scented dreams are like any other dream, some are clear and distinctive, some are disturbing and some are just bizarre and random, as dreams can be.
I was invited to give a keynote about the condition and in the audience was Saskia Wilson-Brown, founder of The Institute of Art & Olfaction, who invited me to turn it into an immersive exhibition, Dreaming In Smell, in Los Angeles.
To create the installation we scented bedlinen with four fragrances, Dentista, created with Ricardo Moya, Departures with perfumer Anh Ngô Nguyễn Việt, Cana (Cop) with Birgit Sijbrands and Dýer Mak’er with Meabh McCurtin. As I couldn’t travel to Los Angeles to install the exhibition, I wanted something that would be easy to install. I liked the poetry in using bedlinen to carry the fragrances, it’s like the transportation of my dreams via the environment in which they happened.
Also, I worked for many years at IFF in scented fabric care, its a medium that is underrated in perfumery despite the skills required to bring the scent dimensions to life. It requires skills as complex as in fine fragrance and it’s also a beautiful way of awakening the sense of smell.
Visitors were intrigued by the unusual smells, for example Departures used the smell of cow manure and damp carpets, because the dream was not pleasant at all. I suffered with anxiety and depression in my youth and I still get my down moments, and often this is when the scented dreams come, when I’m suffering from stress I can anticipate them.
The art here is the combination of the perfumers and me, the dreamer. The exhibition would not be possible without the partnership with the perfumers, where we combine skills to create an art form. I don’t like that the spotlight only falls on me, its a collaborative effort.
At home, I define spaces by scent. I blend my own candles but also use diffusers and incense sticks, In the kitchen I have a lovely patchouli scent I use which has become an olfactive landmark of the house, if the lights are turned off at night, you know where you are in the house because of the smell.
I’m curious about the therapeutic benefits of fragrance too and the physical, cognitive and emotional impact they have on our wellbeing. These beneficial scent stories been carried through generations for a reason, they work! I want to learn more on this.
The unusual smells I like are body smells, specially from my beloved ones. For example the breath of my daughters in the morning, if you smelled it on a scenting strip it would probably be disgusting for everyone else, but for me its beautiful. It has an element of intimacy that makes it unique, like the smell of behind their ears, the smell of their scalps, I find them beautiful because they carry an emotional connection, you know that they will be the smells you want to remember.