This will get right up your nose

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The Independent Culture
The sweet smell of success prompted one Japanese company to lace its air conditioning with mood-enhancing oils. Belinda Morris discovers how you too can do your bit to improve office life

You know how the smell of places can really give you the willies? I've walked into some large institutional buildings and there's something about the whiff along linoleumed corridors that sends me straight back with a shiver to the first day of term. Electrical shops on the other hand are delicious - I only have to sniff a mini hi-fi and I'm reliving the thrill of being bought my first record player (sadly CDs smell nothing like as wonderful as vinyl, but that's progress for you).

The point is, that there's nothing quite so evocative as smell, and nothing quite as powerful. The right aroma can apparently induce us to spend more money in a supermarket, or buy a house or run the wrong way up an escalator to give someone a bunch of flowers (I wish). A ruthless type in Las Vegas even developed a perfume to encourage gambling - and it worked.

So think of the possibilities in your average office. Well, a major Japanese corporation has already done just that. They dispensed essential oils through the air conditioning to enhance the mood and performance of their workers. History (doesn't record whether it was successful, but in case you want to give it a go (and let's face it, it has to be better than the smell of sweat/fear/panic/politics) - lemon, jasmine and mint were the vital ingredients for improving alertness.

But assuming that access to your office air conditioning system is somewhat bound up in red tape, there are a few small things that anyone can do to spice up the office - olfactorally-wise. Peace, harmony and increased productivity are all potential and positive outcomes. Any additional - perhaps personal - consequences will be your own look-out. But you're all grown-ups.

On completely safe ground, meanwhile - let's suppose that post Christmas and New Year, the office is suffering from a general and widespread feeling of lethargy. Where's the pep, the get-up-and-sell-something, the enthusiasm for a new challenge? What you need is a fragrance for the office (you have them for the home, so why not for work?). What you need specifically is Energy - a "mood enhancing complex" which is part of Virgin Vie's Living River range of aromatherapy-based products created to put you into a particular frame of mind. Surreptitiously spray the office with Energy Room Mist (pounds 7.50), or spray yourself with Energy in a Can (pounds 8) and then breezily sidle up to weary-looking colleagues and watch the effect all that zingy citrus fruit and ginger has on them.

If, on the other hand, there's already an excess of zip, bordering on stress, in the office, it might be wise to calm things down a little. Aveda's Chakras (for men or women) are plant-based formulations that work to enhance and nurture different moods. The sweet blend of sandalwood, frankincense, bergamot and lavender in Fulfillment will (hopefully) evoke feelings of well-being and calm. Dab a little of Fulfillment Spirit Pure Fume (pounds 36) behind your ears (behind someone else's ears?) and watch the tension lift.

Off at a slight tangent, Mio Essential Fragrances have introduced Fresh Air into their Essential Home collection. Intended to add a hint of green fields to newly washed sheets and towels, it also does wonders to just- laundered shirts according to someone I know who sends her husband off to work of a morning smelling irresistibly of mimosa blossom and chocolate. Could this be asking for trouble? But if you like the sound of it, look out for a new range of fragrances called Demeter at Harvey Nichols this spring. With names like Dirt (yes really), Gentle Rain, Orchid and Cucumber, they are just what they say on the bottle and Mint Chocolate (pounds 20) not only acts as a pick-me-up, but could induce sudden urges to rush out for a box of After Eight.

Depending on their construction and the "family" they belong to (ie floral, oriental, chypre, fougere and so on) all perfumes have the potential to enhance, even alter moods. This is a point worth remembering if you're in sudden need of a bolstering influence or a rush of creative inspiration. It's a well documented fact for instance, that the most confident women tend to wear floral scents, which may seem unlikely until you consider that Chanel No 5; Dior's Diorissimo, First by Van Cleef and Arpels; Ralph Lauren's Safari and Must by Cartier, fall into this wide category.

Want to send out signals of sparkling originality and creativity? Then look for an oriental like Dior's Dune; YSL's Opium; Obsession by Calvin Klein; Poison by Dior; Nahema and Shalimar by Guerlain, Etro by Jean Patou and Comme des Garcons. And as Valentine's Day is looming, it might be worth investing in something a little special to snare the object of your desire. What about Penhaligon's new Love Potion No 9 toilet water (pounds 15), a small price to pay if it works. And if the office Romeo still exists, the perfect gift left anonymously on his desk has to be L'Artisan Parfumeur's Mechant Loup (pounds 32) - hazelnuts, spices and honey for the big bad wolf.