The Scent of a Memory: An Interview with Allsense/Oo La Lab Founder Terry Jacobson
In Delta House off Alexandra Road, there’s a laboratory on the second floor. But don’t expect scientists in lab coats streaming in and out working on mysterious new advances in technology, there’s innovation of a whole different sort going on at South African entrepreneur Terry Jacobson’s Oo La Lab – the science of scents.
We first came across Oo La Lab when we attended Singapore Fashion Week a couple of years ago, discovering that they had made some location-specific scents for malls like ION Orchard. Along with Terry’s other company Allsense, the team specialises in crafting bespoke sensory experiences for its customers and clientele. You won’t find brand name perfumes or colognes lying around here, and you certainly won’t find these alongside the ‘fragrance’ shelves in a shopping mall; each scent is carefully created from a variety of base chemicals and components that have some truly surprising results.
Said Terry: “Humans are multi-sensory creatures, and smell in particular is kind of like internalizing an object, and is part of the key to forming a complete picture and story of an object or an experience. They’re such immediate responses and I thought it’d be such a powerful thing to tap into. I wanted people to explore their own sense of subjectivity with the lab, and discover for themselves what sparks certain feelings or emotions, and learning how to tap into these triggers for positivity.”
He continues: “There was some research done on the lead singer of INXS Michael Hutchence and his suicide. He spiralled into depression after he smashed his nose and lost his olfactory senses, losing both his sense of taste and smell, and it was almost like he lost his ability to connect with the world. These are senses that are strongly connected to memory, nostalgia and emotion, the part of the human condition that helps us feel and perceive things beyond visual qualities alone.”
When Angel from Oo La Lab’s marketing team introduced us to some of the scents, we were wowed by how powerful and evocative they were. Stored in identical, almost medicinal vials, there’s almost an ‘anti-brand’ quality to Oo La Lab’s products. We took sniffs of unique scents such as the saccharine sweet ‘Brown Sugar’ (reminding us of pandan leaves and gula melaka), their strangely alluring ‘Sugar Mommy’ aroma (strictly not for your actual mother), ‘Fresh Cut Grass’ and even a ‘Screwdriver’, referring to the cocktail. Beyond fragrances alone, Allsense has even done a project with Marigold to promote the freshness of their orange juice, taking over two bus-stops and creating a ‘bubble machine gun’ to propel bubbles that smelled of orange juice.
Recently, they’ve even worked on an exclusive set of scents for the recently concluded Laneway Festival, where at the festival itself, the team set up a diffuser to project their scents into the air around their booth, drawing curious music fans in by how it managed to cut through the outdoor air and fill their noses with pleasant scents. The team has also incorporated their scents into other products such as scented candles, and are currently working on making a ‘Chili Crab’ scented one (to which we suggested that they should make an entire series themed Singapore food).
On his favourite scent, Terry says: “One of my favourite smells is actually burnt electrical wire. It takes me back to the time of my youth, where back in the day, we just spent days playing on the Commodore 64 with friends. After some time, the wire starts to smoke and it’s got that gunpowder scent. These are the sorts of things that just go to show how people have interesting memories around different smells.”
At the lab itself, we were guided by Angel in creating our very own scented soy beeswax candle in a quick one hour session ($88). Making candles may seem daunting and difficult to the lay person, but it’s actually surprisingly easy – all you need is to set some hot wax in a holder. Now the scented bit, that’s the hard part, as it’s not easy to get a hold of your favourite scents. The process is as much a learning one as it is a hands on session, as we learnt what makes a good scent (“Sometimes, less is more,” Angel reminds us.) We started by choosing a base, ranging from light Aquatic all the way to the much heavier cedar wood scents, making up the majority of the scent. We then added on additional scents of our choice, ranging from peaches to caramel ‘gourmand’, playing around with our preferred scents on blotting strips until we finally found the perfect mix. Stirring it into the hot wax, all we had to do then was to wait for it to set, come up with a fun name for it and voila – a scented candle. We were thoroughly happy with the finished product, and we’re pretty sure we’ll be having some good sleeps burning these through the night, or perhaps, the aromas might even inspire our writing.
On the future of Oo La Lab and Allsense, Terry says: “I think Asia has yet to fully embrace fragrances, which is why now is the perfect time for us to break into the market. We’re not just a vanilla company where we created ‘standard’ smells, and in fact, we reject the idea of mass market fragrances because smell is so subjective and personal. I wanted to set up in Singapore because the community here is so creative, and I just wanted to find a way to give back to it.”
Terry concludes: “Ultimately, in a world that needs more sensitivity and emotional intelligence, I think our products can help promote that, along with more mindfulness. Coming down to the lab, so much of it is about taking a step to really discover who you are and find yourself.”
Oo La Lab is located at #02-04 Delta House, 2 Alexandra Road, Singapore 159919. For more information and to sign up for a workshop or purchase scents, visit their website here. For marketing opportunities with Allsense, visit their website here