Back to the F**kture: Matteo Magnani

type - podcast
Scent is set to change the nature of health, wellbeing and self-care, according to Firmenich’s chief consumer and innovation officer Matteo Magnani, who speaks to The Future Laboratory’s co-founder Martin Raymond in the latest Back To The F**kture podcast episode.

Imagine the scene. Its Art Genève in Switzerland, so a lot of black clothing, soft-collar shirts and thick-rimmed Philip Johnson statement glasses. It’s evening, so you’re taking your monochrome wardrobe to a concert of live music conducted by the Swiss contemporary composer and trombonist Alexandre Mastrangelo.


The lights dim, the screen in front of you flickers, and in time with the shifting images and rising notes, an arpeggio of carefully timed scent molecules erupt from the wifi collar worn around your neck.


Sounds soar, images merge and the scent molecules become smells, wafting fragrances that match, merge and become the music and images on screen.


This is as close as we can get to artificially induced synaesthesia without jacking electrodes directly into the brain and scrambling its signals. But it is also the kind of thing Matteo Magnani, chief consumer and innovation officer at global fragrance house Firmenich, does with his team when they are trying to forge new ways for fragrance to be used and perceived.


In this experiment, the fragrance molecules were provided by Firmenich and the electronic dispersal collars by tech innovation firm ScentRealm, one of Firmenich’s Chinese partners.

As Matteo explains in my latest Back to the F**kture podcast, there are many principles being tested here – from how we can potentially enrich our presence in the metaverse via scent, use fragrance in more programmable ways in our public spaces and retail outlets, or shift the value and presence of scent marketing itself away from using the Hollywood icon or wafting beach body model, to smelling the moment – of love pleasure, happiness, self-care – rather than showing it.


‘They’re still at that experimental stage,’ he tells me, ‘but I think those ideas are going to be reality pretty soon, as soon as the technologies are mature and scalable and good enough.’

Published by:

6 March 2023

Author: Martin Raymond



He doesn’t see Firmenich entering the psychoactive molecules market quite yet – cutting-edge brands are currently working with CBD, LSD and micro-dose MDMA diffusers. But he does see advances in fragrance technology, dispersal and manufacture of synthetic scent molecules themselves – a Firmenich predecessor, Lavoslav Ružička, after all, won a Nobel prize for chemistry – as a way to stimulate the natural highs that can be released in our brain – oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine – when it senses a particular smell that triggers an equivalent feel-good memory. And it’s here that he feels that fragrance can come into its own: in the areas of wellness, wellbeing, and crucially, self-care. ‘We associate fragrance with romance, love, sex, but it has a growing role to play in making us feel better, sleep better, care more holistically for ourselves.’ 

And he isn’t wrong. The wellness and self-care market is estimated to be worth a cool £1.2 trillion ($1.5 trillion, €1.4 trillion), according to McKinsey & Co, while the global sleep economy – one of the fastest-growing areas in the self-care wellness category – could be worth £488bn ($585bn, €551bn) by 2024 (source: Statista). 

He sees Gen Z consumers as key drivers of these categories. ‘They understand the role of smell, of scent as part of a self-care routine. And they tend to experiment more with smell generally in terms of both understanding the functional and wellbeing dimension of a fragrance product and the way they interact with it.’

This, he tells me, is where things get more personal, bespoke, potentially mimicking the DNA of each customer so that the fragrance they apply, or the aroma of the room they disperse it in, becomes unique to them and their mood – energetic, sleepy, calm, meditative, even a deep work state. ‘It is the beginning of a new journey of fragrance, and the creation of whole new categories. But not just in terms of consumer types, but in terms of consumer needs and life stages. 

‘Wellbeing and self-care are big words, big topics, but once you start looking at specific consumer groups and asking how a teenager is different from a menopausal woman you can really get into a more targeted way of designing to their benefits and to their needs and use fragrances to do that. It’s a brave new world.’ 

It is, and you can hear Matteo’s insightful take on it by listening to my latest Back to the F**kture podcast below.

You can also find out more about Matteo and the extraordinary work of the Firmenich team here.

Tune in to the podcast on Audioboom, Spotify, Apple.