Bleu Nour, the new fragrance brand with a defining quirk, is shaking up the industry because of its founder’s secret power: synesthesia. Okay, synesthesia might not actually be some kind of magical ability, but it is what’s given Bleu Nour’s creator, Nour Ibrahim, the ability to smell colours, translating them into some unique and addictive scents. If you’re wondering “what is synesthesia, and how can it be used to make perfume,” let us explain.
Synesthesia is a psychological phenomenon that can be described as when one sense (whether that’s touch, smell, taste, sight, or sound) stimulates another sense or part of the body. Many people believe that Van Gogh had a form of synesthesia which turned sound into colour, explaining the abstract, hypnotic colours that featured in his artworks, as that’s literally how he saw the world. But Nour’s synesthesia is a little different. Hers isn’t sound-to-colour; it’s smell-to-sight.
To Nour Ibrahim, the founder and face of the recently launched fragrance brand Bleu Nour, every scent has its own mix of colours that pop into her mind when she smells them. The scent of lemon blossom, a white-petalled flower with a citrusy scent, translates into pastel blue mixed with a hint of beige. In contrast, linder blossom, another of Nour’s favourite floral scents which smells like honey, evokes a palette of pastel pink and mint green.
Nour describes first realising that she was different, or at least that she experienced the world differently, when she was seventeen, stating that, “I hadn’t realised before that point that everyone didn’t have the same perception that I had, with colours and scents being naturally linked together.”
For Nour, it was frustrating to realise that her experience of the world is something other people will never have, but this wouldn’t stop her from trying to help us understand how it feels to have synesthesia. She explains that “this is what led me to start [Bleu Nour]: to enable others to view and experience things through my eyes, to get a glimpse of how interrelated colours and scents are for those with synesthesia.”
In fact, Nour was so set on experimenting with her personal experience of smell, that Bleu Nour isn’t even her first project doing so; she first dipped her toe into working with fragrances when she was studying at Central Saint Martins. As part of a university project, Nour founded The Synthetic Lab, a kind of “scent rehab” using synesthesia, that was designed to support the recovery of people with anosmia.
In case you haven’t heard of it, anosmia is the loss of smell due to Covid-19, and is something many people experienced post-pandemic, including Nour’s own cousin. Nour describes how, when her cousin had anosmia, “she had just had a baby and was telling me how hard it was for her to bond with her newborn because she couldn’t smell him.”
As part of Nour’s CSM project, she worked with anosmia sufferers in attempting to force the brain to relate certain smells with colours. Her principle was that, “whenever you see the colours associated with each oil [in The Synthetic Lab] you would recall it. On top of that it would be linked to an app to track progress of your journey.” What she learnt was that, whilst only 2-4% of the population have synesthesia, many more could benefit from learning it… in a sense.
This is part of the driving force behind Nour’s new brand, Bleu Nour, as it transformed into her mission to get people, with anosmia and without, to start smelling and experiencing fragrance in different ways. Nour set out to democratise the fragrance world, allowing everyone to be a part of it, and that’s how Bleu Nour was born.
Whilst she can’t exactly teach you to develop synaesthesia, Bleu Nour’s range of perfumes, oils, and candles are designed to train your brain to build a deeper psychological link between odours and colours, therefore enhancing the power of the scent memory. To aid this, each fragrance is packaged in a unique and hypnotic spill of colours that translate to their synesthetic counterparts, showing you exactly the colours Nour associates with each scent.
For example, Grounded, one of Bleu Nour’s genderless, roll-on perfumes, is packaged in a bottle of crisp, clean white, deep green-khaki, and steely grey, which Nour explains she conceptualises as feeling like a cosy hug on a rainy day. The scent’s hints of ginger, grapefruit, and Tonka evoke the colours and sensations of rain on concrete, whilst sipping an earl grey tea.
In contrast, Nour explains that Neon Violette, another of Bleu Nour’s new scents, is “akin to strolling through a blooming garden, featuring lively notes of green mandarin, mock orange, parma violet, black pepper, fig, and ambergris. Whilst Grounded exudes calm sophistication, Neon Violette bursts with playful, sunlit garden vibes.”
Alongside roll-on fragrances, Bleu Nour also stocks a range of perfume oil extracts, which Nour actually says she was inspired by her grandparents to add to the collection. She explains that, growing up in a household heavily influenced by Middle Eastern and North African culture, her grandparents would gift her 6ml perfume oils from Mecca whenever they travelled.
When we asked Nour what the scents of her heritage are, she described the sweet smell of fig trees around her grandparent’s home in the South of France, as looking like a mix of grey and beige with a touch of lilac. Whilst fig trees with a touch of lilac would be an amazing scent, Nour promises that the next fragrance we can expect from Bleu Nour will be just as good. She teases that CannaCrush, an upcoming fragrance that’s currently being developed, is sexy, sensual, and has a hint of cannabis.
Nour Ibrahim’s translation of scent into colour, and bottling it, is a new take on fragrance that we’ve not seen (or smelt) before, and is quite clearly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the exploration of fragrance and feeling. The fragrance industry is entering a new era, beginning to understand that our sense of smell is multifaceted, translating into colour, feeling, and memory, and Bleu Nour is at the forefront of it.
Whether you’re part of the 2-4% of the population who have synesthesia or not, you can find all of Nour’s synesthetic fragrances, and more to come, on Bleu Nour’s website, as well as info on her collaborative scent workshops.