Scent – often referred to as the forgotten sense – is having a moment in the creative spotlight. This report explores how perfumers, designers and brands are experimenting with olfactory sensations to create tailored scents and multi-sensorial experiences.
Scent packs a powerful punch when it comes to triggering memories and influencing people’s moods. The olfactory bulb is a central part of the brain’s limbic system – the structure involved in our emotions. It’s because of this intricate neuron wiring that our sense of smell is known as the ‘emotional brain’. And thanks to 2011’s flurry of new scented delights, our ‘emotional brain’ is being stretched and stimulated like never before.
Several perfumers are capturing the essence of a physical space and telling visual stories of the past through scent – creating an atomised memory that transports the wearer to an evocative moment in history.
In September, New York-based clothing brand Oak teamed up with Brooklyn-based fragrance collective Joya Studio and world-class perfumer Rayda Vega to create The Lights of New York – a range of candles that recreate the complex scents of specific times and places in the city’s gritty history.
The four scents are named after New York intersections. For example, St Marks + First ‘85 is inspired by “metallic, trash and vaudeville, incense, sweat, concrete, booze and vintage clothing stores”, according to Joya Studio. It contains notes such as peach, aromatic incense, suede leather and pear liquor.
Type, by Copenhagen-based fashion designer Henrik Vibskov, is constructed on the same nostalgic principles. His three scents – Type B, Type C and Type D – are designed to evoke the scent of distant memories in Berlin, Copenhagen and Damascus respectively. The spicy and citrus notes in Type D reflect the ancient marketplace on a hot summer’s day in Damascus, whereas Type B’s musky, dry notes encompass the cold, wintry days in former East Berlin.
Luxury Parisian perfumer Diptyque celebrated its 50th anniversary with the launch of a fragrance that captures the scent of its flagship store. Headspace technology expert Roman Kaiser designed the brand’s 34 Boulevard Saint-Germain perfume by analysing molecules in the air of the store. Olivier Pescheux and Myriam Badault of Diptyque then arranged the aroma blocks in varying intensities for a truly unique signature scent.
French perfumer Arquiste released a line of unisex fragrances in September 2011, developed by Mexican architect Carlos Huber. Each of the six scents is an interpretation of a historical moment from the past.
This includes Aleksandr – a fragrance that captures the essence of the morning that Russian author Aleksandr Pushkin died in a duel. After analysing documents about the incident, Huber interpreted how that moment might smell – down to the birch trees the men rode past on their way to the duel site, and Pushkin’s polished leather boots treading the snow. Notes include Neroli, Violet Leaf, Balsam Fir and Russian leather. Huber says: “A beautiful scent is like a beautiful memory; it transports us to another place in time.”
Tailored to You
With consumers striving for customisable products and tailor-made experiences, the new wave of perfumes hitting the market are tailored to rather unusual personal attributes.
Swallowable Parfum, by Australian artist Lucy McRae and Harvard University biologist Sheref Mansy, is an ingestible capsule that causes the body to release a natural fragrance through its perspiration glands.
The genetically unique scent is dependant on the individual’s temperature, emotion and physical activity – turning the skin’s surface into an atomiser. According to the duo, the capsule is being developed as a tool: “To open discussion with the cosmetic, pharmaceutical, fashion and technology industries, challenging the way we could consume perfume in the future.”
Also working the genetic angle is niche Italian brand, Blood Concept. The perfumer has released a range of four unisex fragrances – O, A, B and AB – designed to work with the specific blood types. According to the website, blood type O’s fragrance is visceral, intense, carnal and primitive, whereas blood type A’s is billed as green, aromatic, reassuring and clean.
US-based fragrance brand Strange Invisible Perfumes has launched a new line of astrologically inspired fragrances. The 12 botanical scents have each been blended to reflect the essence of each star sign. The fragrances are being released in pairs that oppose each other on the astrological wheel. The first pair was Virgo – warm and earthy with Sandalwood notes – and Pisces – mysterious and obscure with notes like jasmine, lime and black pepper. A new astrological pair is released each month.
The Fourth Dimension
In the context of today’s fast-paced lifestyles and the myriad of digital technologies, experiences that synthesise the senses are on the decline. Designers are incorporating scent into their repertoires to seduce the visually saturated consumer.
At September’s London Design Festival, creative trends consultancy FranklinTill hosted the Secret Sensory Suppers – a series of three experimental dining events that encompassed all of the senses.
Transforming the celestial Masonic Temple at the Andaz Hotel, FranklinTill invited three creative guests to work with the critically acclaimed Andaz chefs on tailor-made menus. Each night the dining space was scented with specially designed fragrances from candle makers Cire Trudon and Fornasetti Profumi to heighten the diners’ sensory experience. FranklinTill co-founder, Caroline Till, says: “Building on the desire for experiential events that stimulate and tantalise the senses, we wanted to curate a series of memorable suppers, which would allow guests to participate in a sensory adventure.”
Interest in olfaction is rife – so much so that in October this year, the world’s first pop-up scent museum opened its doors in New York City. The Sensorium: Lucid Dreams from the Sensory World by Swiss fragrance company Firmenich and French cosmetics retailer Sephora, is an interactive, multimedia experience exploring the history and science of perfume.
The museum is made up of two interconnected environments – First Scent and Lucid Dreams. First Scent immerses visitors in an ethereal dreamlike world with moving images of grass being mowed and a visit to the beach. The images correspond to custom-blended fragrances emitted throughout the space for an evocative cocktail of sight, smell and sound. The Lucid Dreams room is home to a flower sculpture that reacts to the sound of the visitor’s sniff by transforming suspended images throughout the space.
Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Payam Askari is exploring the antithesis of the multi-sensory experience with his project, Bouquet of Flowers. Askari has created five scents – Rose, Earth, Orange Blossom, Tuberose and Grass – each with its own glass bottle. The bottles rock on their rounded bases, letting the air flood the vessel, which causes the fragrance to carry.
Askari says: “Our interaction with smell is often erratic and unresponsive, and in a vision-biased world, we are smell- blinded in experiencing most things that surround us. These objects diffuse the aroma of an entire bouquet, making it visible just by its smell.”
Scent is undergoing a creative revival, giving designers and perfumers plenty of room for experimentation.
Perfumers are creating atomised memories that transport the wearer to an evocative moment in history. Carlos Huber says: “A beautiful scent is like a beautiful memory; it transports us to another place in time.”
Consumers want customised products, but for brands to stand out from the crowd they need to develop products that connect with the consumer on an emotional level. Perfumes are beginning to work with the human genetic make-up, giving the wearer the ultimate personal scent.
Adding scent to immersive experiences adds another dimension of intrigue. Consider sensorial spaces as a different way to introduce clients to new concepts or technologies for more dynamic storytelling.