Indeed “it smells of entrepreneurship”. Subconsciously, sometimes even very consciously, there is a Hong Kong smell, or is it an Asian one. Undoubtedly a set of distinct odours from food to street, from taxi to ferry mark out Hong Kong as distinct. The aromas seep into our system and help define our feelings about being here. It is somewhat hidden, subliminal you might say, but yet a hugely important part of our overall experience.

Not so different in a way from visiting a tannery stand and being overwhelmed by the strong smell of vegetable tans in bridle leather – that mix of mimosa, quebracho and chestnut that so many tanners like to use. Allied to oils and waxes with which it was finally dressed. Or on any side leather stand with its powerful array or retans and finishes defining the atmosphere in which we converse.

The tanner has few words for smell

They say that if humans are deprived of the sense of smell the quality of life drops away very quickly. Without it we come to lose our sense of identity. Yet with leather while we know it is important we rarely talk about it beyond some automotive areas; and while we have many words for touch and feel the tanner has few words for smell.

When consumers like to buy leather cases for their new technology – tablets and phones- this is all about humanising them. Touch and look are important but more often than not so is smell, especially when they want to be reassured that they are not being sold a plastic that will become ugly quickly as it wears out. Thinking more about smell would be a clever move for tanners, and with it finding a better vocabulary for fragrances.

Research appears to show that in English there are many words to help us describe colour and feel, but very few for smell. On the Malay Peninsula they have about 12 times as many words for smell. In English words like “musty” – the smell of old books – is about as good as you get.

Smell has been integral to leather from the beginning and leather and perfume grew together as industries. In this new experiential world it is time to revisit the odour of leather as a feature and to work on our vocabulary to market it. 

Mike Redwood

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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