When I was planning my family weekend trip to Baltimore from New York City to attend the Digital Family Summit (an interactive conference for young digital media creators and their parents) in early October, I was asked if I’d like to test drive a Chevrolet Equinox. I’m a big fan of experiences and trying something new. I would not describe myself as a car person, but thought, sure why not?
My business’ tagline is “Inspiration For Creation” and the core values are to capture inspiration from unexpected places and enjoy the creative process. To facilitate creativity, I often tell my clients that you need to be in tune with your senses at all times. My most acute sense is smell, which is fueled by my work in the fragrance and flavor industry for the last 20 years. Fragrance is such an integral part of my daily experiences, but I think for many its overlooked or an afterthought. Everything I do is a sensory journey, whether it’s a trip to the grocery store or weekend getaway. I approached my Baltimore visit as a fragrant sensory experience, while I assume many of techies and professional bloggers who attended the conference had an analytical and logical perspective.
I was excited and curious to explore the Chevrolet Equinox car that was dropped off on Friday morning before we headed to Baltimore. The first thing I did was open the car door and was delighted to get a whiff of the “new car” smell, which had a masculine, leather like scent. I expected it and would have been disappointed had the smell not been there. For those marketers and brands out there, don’t underestimate the power of scent. After I futzed with the navigation system and pressed some buttons, I was done exploring. The car would meet my immediate needs for the weekend.
In our typical fashion we hit the road an hour and a half later than planned and spent five hours in traffic driving to Baltimore. The weather was chilly, foggy, humid and misty that evening – it rained on and off. While driving with the windows rolled down after it had rained, the air smelled a bit dirty, it was wet with damp, earthy nuances. My daughter liked the scent and thought it was reminiscent of East Hampton after it rains, where we spend our summers.
Being a native New Yorker, without fail whenever I drive on the New Jersey turnpike by exit 13, this industrial, putrid metallic smell of factory waste permeates the car. Visually the landscape of the factories spewing dark clouds of waste looks like a page right out of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax book best described by my late father as “robot vomit.” The rest of the ride was scentless except for a quick stop for gas (I happen to like the smell of gasoline).
We finally arrived at the Hilton Baltimore at 10:30pm. My kids were particularly fascinated with the large and wide revolving door, which they circled multiple times. Besides, observing a few guests clumsily bump into the glass revolving door because it was awkwardly designed and not intuitive, I was intrigued by the scent of the lobby. At first, it smelled citrusy and reminded me of bug spray, which lead me to think it was a hotel guest wearing Jessica McClintock perfume. However, it was an ambient scent that lingered. There’s a trend for public spaces such as hotels, casinos and retailers to scent the air to create positive experiences for their guests. In hindsight, I realized that the Hilton is known for its “olfactive branding” program and I’m guessing the fragrance I smelled, which was fresh, citrus and green tea-like was the “Eau de Hilton.”
Knowing we had a busy day ahead we went to bed. Although exhausted on Saturday morning, I felt compelled to wake up motivated by the loud and cheerful applause I heard outside. Blurry eyed and a bit confused, I looked down from 16 floors. To my delight I saw a sea of brightly colored fluorescent shirts, which belonged to the marathon runners gearing up for the Baltimore marathon. Go runners! I wondered if the air smelled like sweat yet and giggled to myself remembering the scene in The Lonely Guy movie when Steve Martin jogs into a dinner party wearing fake spray-on sweat to pretend he had just worked out.
Slowly making my way to the bathroom, my senses were enlivened by the diffusive scent of Peter Thomas Roth’s Mega-Rich Shampoo (exclusive to Hilton Hotels) that my daughter was lathering in her hair. The aroma was also fresh, citrusy and green. Keeping up with the citrus theme, I showered and then spritzed myself with my new favorite fragrance Atelier Cologne Orange Sanguine, which is a bright and juicy scent. It smells just like a fresh-squeezed orange – pithy and rindy.
We made our way to the 2nd floor to attend the Digital Family Summit. I joined my eight year old daughter for a Food Blogging, Styling & Photography workshop with Laura (Lolli) Franklin of Better in Bulk and Robin Zachary of Prop Closet. This class was as aesthetically appealing as it was sensorially stimulating.
Fresh-baked unfrosted chocolate and vanilla cupcakes were the foundation for our hands-on session. I expected the room to smell like the cupcakes had just come out of the oven, like the vanilla-like baking scent that is pumped into NYC’s Crumbs bakeries, but because we were in a hotel conference room and not a kitchen, they had been prepared earlier and the room was missing the aroma. However, the brown and yellow cupcakes were neatly placed on a tray in rows by flavor waiting to be iced, decorated, photographed and eaten. Single colored sprinkles of red, pink, orange, green, blue, yellow and white were individually cupped and lined up monochromatically next to the unfrosted cupcakes. After a brief lesson about the do’s and don’ts of food blogging, styling and photography we broke up into small groups. Using a simple recipe, each group got to craft their own colored frosting using food dye. My daughter’s group created a muted lavender colored icing while other groups created slate blue, Kelly green, turquoise and hot pink colors. The smell of the freshly whipped icing was palpable. It tasted even sweeter than it smelled – sugary sweet, cavity inducing sweet. The kids unleashed their inner designers and decorated their cupcakes with sprinkles, flags, confetti, and polka dotted candles. Using props such as solid-colored napkins, cupcake stands, baking utensils and backdrops cleverly made of patterned wrapping paper glued to foam core boards, they styled their cupcake creations for a fabulous, fashionable and flavorful photo shoot. Practically salivating, the kids could finally reap the rewards of their hard work and taste the long anticipated, tantalizing and tempting results of their masterpieces. Proud, ecstatic and sugar-buzzed, the creative kids and parents left the session on a super, satisfying sugar high.
On Sunday we had a little downtime and opted for a little R&R by visiting the hotel pool. The minute I stepped off of the elevator my nostrils tingled from the pool smell. As I approached the entrance to the pool area, the smell intensified and my nose was assaulted by the overpowering Chlorine odor. I wonder if a fragrance house can create an odor neutralizer to combat Chlorine or fragrance it to create a better scent. My acute reaction to the scent didn’t stop me or my family from enjoying splashing and playing in the pool.
I typically like to visit off the beaten path restaurants and sites when traveling in another city. But when attending a conference, it doesn’t matter where you visit; you rarely get to experience anything but the inside of the hotel. I knew that my family would spend most of our time at the Hilton Baltimore. However, before we left I wanted at least one meal that was representative of Baltimore. Baltimore is known for crabs, which I enjoy eating, but rarely order because they require too much work and the payoff isn’t worth it. Mo’s Crab & Pasta Factory in Little Italy was close by and recommended. As a grand finale to our trip ten of us went there for dinner. We feasted on Crab Cakes, Crab Imperial and Crab Dip in addition to other local dishes. The two things that struck me when we entered the restaurant were the old fashioned cigarette machine with the pull handles and the alluring and distinct aroma of fresh crabs seasoned with Old Bay Seasoning. Since savory scents are kitsch and on trend such as Pizza Hut’s “Eau de Pizza,” White Castle’s Original Slider scented candle and most recently Yankee Candle’s Turkey and Stuffing candle, Old Bay Seasoning should consider creating a signature scent.
We had a great, educational and interactive experience in Baltimore during the Digital Family Summit. Luckily our drive home was smooth and only took three hours with no rain and no traffic. Our visit to Baltimore was brief, but intense. I definitely would like to go back to explore the local flavor and discover unique restaurants and shops adding new scented, colorful and flavorful memories to my sensory journey.