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Perfume in popular culture

Perfume in popular culture used be represented as something of a frippery, a subject to sneer at. Then there’s those endless pieces proclaiming that £4.99 ‘dupe’ bottles of scent are ‘exactly the same’ as classic fine fragrances (yeah, okay). But more recently, this eye-rolling attitude appears to be changing for the better.

Certainly it seems to be (albeit slowly) if you cast a glance at some of the most-loved television shows we’ve all been streaming of late. We couldn’t help noticing the subject of fragrance – perfumery and bottles as an art form, and our sense of smell in general – is coming up more frequently.

Here’s three of the major scent mentions we spotted most recently, with direct links to watch online…

 

Blown Away: Series 2, Episode 6: Scents & Sensibility [Netflix]
In the same sort of stable as successful reality series like Bake Off, Sewing Bee and The Great Pottery Throwdown; ‘Blown Away’ proved a huge hit for Netflix a couple of years ago. The latest season once again showcases the artistry and immense skill in glass blowing, and of course we LOVED the focus on perfume bottles in this episode. We’ll even forgive the much-overused perfume pun title.

Katherine Gray, professor at the California State University and resident evaulator describes the challenge to the contestants, saying that: ‘Over the course of the last 5,000 years, perfume flacons have transformed from really simple containers to elaborate and ornate works of art.‘ In this episode, they must design and hand-blow their own glass bottles, while keeping in mind, as perfume designer and guest judge, Michel Germain says: ‘A successful perfume is more than just the scent. The bottle has to draw people in, spark interest and tell a story.’ And the results? They’ll definitely blow you away…

 

Grayson’s Art Club: Series 2, Episode 1: Family [Channel 4]
Rebelliously lovable artist Grayson Perry and Philippa (psychotherapist, author and his wife) invited members of the public to express their feelings in artworks for a physical exhibition to be held in Manchester Art Gallery. During the various stages of both major #lockdowns in the U.K. these programmes have been an absolute joy. Interestingly, the first episode of the latest season includes a significant scent-related piece. As Grayson scrolls through the submissions, he comes across a photograph of hand-labelled bottles. These turn out to be a collection of fragrances designed by the artist Suzanne Bull.

‘It’s a family collabroation,’ she explains to Grayson during a Zoom call. ‘I did a creative task to collect the smell of your favourite person. So I texted all my family, going “what’s your favourite smell? I’m doing an art thing.”‘ Grayson asks Suzanne ‘what really appeals to you about trying to evoke your family with smells?’ She replies that she’s not seen some of her family for more than a year, ‘…but it’s like they’re here with me in the room.’ Grayson seems struck by this concept and remarks ‘That’s such a brilliant idea because it brings home the physical experience, doesn’t it?’ Ironically, Suzanne can’t actually smell them at the moment as she had Covid, but it was clearly an important exercise for her – she still feels they evoke her family and loves keeping their smells nearby.

 

Antiques Roadshow: Christchurch Mansion 2 [BBC1]
Always a soothing warm bath of a show, our ears pricked up at mention of a special perfume bottle a member of the public wanted one of their resident antique experts, Judith Miller, to take a look at. A mother and daughter duo explain how they came to own this precious fragrant family heirloom. ‘I got it a couple of years ago from my mum and dad for Christmas,’  the daughter begins, recounting the history and how her dad went shopping ‘forty or fifty years ago’ to find the perfect present for his wife, when he came across the exqusite piece and ‘loved it so much that he bought it for my mum.’

 

Miller reveals the stunning little scent bottle was probably made around 1760 and said it was possibly the work of famous engraver and porcelain decorator James Giles, who was ‘absolutely top of the tree.’ It is always interesting to look at the faces of the people when they’re told how much the piece is worth, and we’re wondering if it crossed the mother’s mind she might like to reclaim the perfume bottle gift she so generously passed on to her daughter… We won’t spoil the show by saying how much it could sell for, here, but suffice to say Father Christmas was VERY generous that year. The daughter, it turns out, has ‘a number of scent bottles’ on display in her home, and this one will be kept in the centre ‘as the pièce de résistance!’

And if you’re after even more fragrance talk filling the airwaves, have a look at some of the Perfume Themed Podcasts we rounded up recently. Perfume in popular culture: a fragrant renaissance, do we dare hope…?

By Suzy Nightingale

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