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Imagine the smell of roasted almonds…

Imagine the smell of roasted almonds… 640 480 SKANDINAVISK

Imagine the smell of roasted almonds. Suddenly, I feel warm inside.

How do you create the scent of Christmas? Englishman, Shaun Russell, the creator of two distinctly different seasonal fragrances, explains how they are intended to give people around the world the feeling of Christmas in Scandinavia.

Translation of interview by Emilie Kleding Rasmussen for Danish newspaper, Politiken, published 19th November 2021.

What inspired you when creating the smell of Christmas in Scandinavia?

A special Christmas moment from Stockholm around ten years ago. It was snowy outside, and the thermometer outside our old wooden house could read as low as -22c (-8F). Everything was in a state of crisp stillness, and it felt like you could cut the pale blue sky with a knife. Meanwhile, indoors, warmed by the three log fires (the old house didn’t have central heating), the treats baking in the oven, and the reviving gløgg (mulled wine) simmering on the stove, the temperature was almost saunaesque. These two impressions stood in stark contrast to each other. This was a powerful moment for me.


How come?

It occurred to me that Scandinavia is a mix of extremes. Not just in winter, but also in the balance of darkness and light, winter and summer, frost and warmth, outside and indoors. This is a lot more apparent than what I grew up with in England. That is what I love about this region. It creates a special kind of intensity — which directly affects Christmas.


And how does Christmas smell, then?

We designed two very different scents for our seasonal candle collection. SNÖ (Swedish for ‘snow’) is discreet, light, fresh and has a bit of an edge, just like frosted berries in the forest. JUL (Scandinavian for ‘Christmas’) is full-bodied, spiced, smokey, with hints of mulled wine, gingerbread, oranges, and winter cloves. To me, this is the perfect combination of the scents of Christmas, and my hope is that they can convey the feeling of Christmas in Scandinavia. Furthermore, it is a tribute to Scandinavians, as I have tried to create a dual scent experience that moves something in them, that they might be able to recognise from their own Christmas memories.


Is it a challenge to create scents of Scandinavia when you are not from here?

I always feel like both an outsider, but at the same time I am completely embedded in the very depths of Scandinavia. It isn’t mine, but on the other hand I have lived here for 20 years, been an explorer of the region and all its scents. It is a big privilege to be a part of something that isn’t my own. It ensures that I am always observing.


How do you go about designing the scents?

I work with a perfumer from Grasse in France. He translates my experiences into smells. I like to travel around Scandinavia — often with him — where we photograph, take notes, and collect moments, which he then not only recreates, but reinterprets into a fragrance. It is an artistic and scientific balance, in which we use around 50 different raw materials for just one scent. Then, we have an ongoing dialogue about the adjustment of scent notes, until we reach the exact harmony we are looking for.


Why is it so important to get the scent notes right?

Imagine the smell of roasted almonds. Instantly, I am taken to a Christmas market in my mind, I feel the warmth from the mulled wine, the blush of my cheeks, the ‘hyggelig’ atmosphere around me, and the voices of my family, and then suddenly, I just feel good. That is what the sense of smell can do: release an emotional reaction in the blink of an eye. It creates a connection to ourselves. It creates a space where we allow ourselves to simply experience. And that is what I want to remind people of with my scented candles — and of course that means we must get the scent notes completely right.


You will be celebrating Christmas in England this year. What does Christmas smell like there?

Incredibly familiar. I think it will always be this way — no matter how many years I spend in Scandinavia. It is Christmas traditions I grew up with; eating turkey, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and moist fruit cake, liberally doused with brandy and then set light at the table for dessert. It’s the way we decorate the Christmas tree differently, the fact that we walk around on carpet, not wooden floors. The weather is milder and more humid. It all sounds like small differences in comparison, but it still contributes to a unique experience and smell of Christmas. And, at the end of the day, it means my identity is different to yours.

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