Fragrance as art: exhibitions to see this year

Fragrance as art was a concept often (if you’ll pardon the pun) sniffed at, but it seems that scent – and our sense of smell – is gradually working its way into the public consciousness as a valid subject to be displayed and discussed.

From 2017’s Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent exhibition in Somerset House, to their Polution Pods installation last year – London has been a part of the scented art scene (though how we long to see – and smell! – more), but 2019 sees two major new exhibitions you might have to hop on a plane for.

British designer Tim Simpson and Dutch designer Sarah van Gameren formed their London-based studio, Glithero, to produce installations that ‘capture and present the beauty in the moment things are made,’ and are excited to be part of a current fragrantly-themed exhibition in Switzerland, which runs until June…

Glithero say: ‘We have designed the complete scenography for an exhibition about perfumery. The exhibition, ‘Nez-à-Nez, Contemporary perfumers‘ at the Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts in Lausanne (MUDAC) consists of 6 bespoke installations that we have designed over 6 rooms. Each room presents a different theme of tendency from the world of contemporary perfume making that have been identified by the curators in collaboration with the olfactory magazine Nez.

Mudac called upon us to create poetic and immersive installations displaying 39 fragrances from 13 of the best contemporary perfumers such as Jean-Claude Elena, Fabrice Pellegrin, Olivia Giacobetti, Dominique Ropion and Isabelle Doyen. Our challenge of this exhibition was to make the immateriality of the perfumes tangible within a museological context where the visual input is often given centre stage. We chose to present the fragrances in ways that surprise and intrigue the visitor but that don’t colour in or adulterate the evocative impressions of the perfumes.

We’re looking forward to show you the result of this adventure. See you there!’

Date: Friday 15 February – Sunday 16 June 2019
Location: Mudac, Musée de design et d’arts appliqués contemporains
Place de la Cathédrale 6, 1005 Lausanne, Switzerland
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday – 11.00 to 18.00 (Closed on Mondays)

Meanwhile, in Washington DC, The Givaudan Collection offers a rare opportunity to gaze at some of the most beautiful perfume bottles in history, as part of the Perfume & Seduction exhibition.

Givaudan say: ‘It took the perfumer’s skill and collector’s passion of Leon Givaudan to assemble, in the years from 1924 to 1930, this unusually homogeneous collection of 18th Century toilet accessories. Composed of about a hundred items, manufactured from costly materials and lavishly decorated, the Givaudan collection is one of the most important of its kind in Europe: crystal perfume bottles set in gold mounts, bottles in fish scale and tortoiseshell for smelling salts, Vernis Martin étuis, enamelled vinaigrettes, bronze or ceramic bottle cases, patch boxes in ivory or mother-of-pearl.

To view the Givaudan collection is a rare treat for all those who value both the artistry that went into the making of these precious objects and the stories they tell about the history of perfumery and its place in our society.’

Hillwood Museum say:Perfume & Seduction will trace the form and function of perfume bottles, explore a variety of shapes and materials and the process of making perfume, and examine the evolution of forms during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, highlighting examples from Hillwood’s collection.’

A section of 64 items from Givaudan’s private collection will be showcased in ‘Perfume & Seduction’ at the Hillwood Museum in Washington DC, from February to June 2019.

If you can’t make it to Switzerland or Washington before June and are pining for beautiful perfume bottles to look at, might we suggest a trip to the Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition, currently at the V&A? We rather breathlessly reported from the press day of this fabulous show – of which the fragrance bottles play a small but vital part – and cannot urge you enough to go and see it for yourself, if you’re able to get tickets.

In the meantime, might we also urge more galleries and museums to be brave enough to use fragrance and smell as part of their exhibitions and experiences? Smell remains the least scientifically and culturally explored of our senses, yet it has been proved to be the sense that links most directly – and emotionally – to the brain. Shows and installations that encompass all the senses and excite us beyond merely viewing, to being part of the exhibition ourselves, are definitely the way forward. And with this in mind, our magazine, The Scented Letter, will be decoting an entire issue to fragrance and culture later this year, so get ready to be olfactorily obsessed…

Written by Suzy Nightingale

We j’adore Dior – Designer of Dreams at the V&A

Perfume is the indispensible complement to the personality of women, the finishing touch on a dress.’ – Christian Dior

Showcasing couture gowns worn by Princess Margaret, Margot Fonteyn and Jennifer Lawrence, in Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, the V&A has opened the world’s largest exhibition ever staged in the UK on the House of Dior. We went to gawp at the gowns, and of course, to swoon at the scent bottles…

How telling that – amidst room after room of sumptuous designs and rainbow walls of vivid colours, unless one peered at the labels – it was practically impossible to accurately date the array of garments and accessories. And how welcome that so many iconic fragrances are displayed as part of the overall design aesthetic of Dior.

‘The exhibition highlights Christian Dior’s total design vision,’ explain the V&A, ‘encompassing garments, accessories and fragrances. Flowers are emblematic of the Couture house and have inspired silhouettes, embroidery and prints, but also the launch of Miss Dior in 1947, the first fragrance created alongside the very first show.’

Fragrance and fashion have always gone hand in (scented) glove, but never more so than with Dior. No designer has simultaneously launched a new brand new fashion line and a fragrance. It was an audacious act that marked their groundbreaking, breathtaking course to this very day.

Lined-up in cabinets, perched on plinths or variously housed within a stand resembling a miniature palace; the Dior fragrances are shown as being vital to the overall development of the house, and their continuing success shows how warmly we have clasped the scents to our (in our dreams) Dior-clad chests.

Arranged into eleven sections, the exhibition traces the skill and craftsmanship of the ateliers, along with highlighting many of the designers who have worked under the Dior banner, always pushing the boundaries while keeping an elegant insouciance that remained true to Dior’s ethos.

Noses pressed against the glass, oh how we would have loved to smell some of the originals – an impossible task at such a large exhibition, of course, but merely gazing at the original sketches for the bottles, a saved invitation from that orginal fashion and fragrance launch, and the most lust-worthy flaçons you’ll see all year – it’s enough to transport most of your senses. We advise wearing your favourite Dior fragrance and inhaling deeply as you get giddy with the glamour of it all…

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams runs from now until 14th July 2019, with tickets from £20. All concessions £15.

We highly advise booking your tickets now, as a day after opening they were sold-out until April. Even so, believe us, it’s worth the wait.

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Givaudan’s Eden Project scent sculpture

Have you ever wanted to smell history? Well, now you can, for deep within the Biomes of Cornwall’s Eden Project, the fragrance development house of Givaudan have collaborated with Studio Swine (‘Super Wide Interdisciplinary New Explorers’), aka: Japanese architect Azusa Murakami and British artist Alexander Groves, to create a monumental new scented artwork.

Standing at nearly nine metres and firing out rings of fragranced vapour, the structure is thought to be the world’s largest ceramic sculpture.

The sculpture has been named ∞ Blue (Infinity Blue) and it’s an immersive, 20-tonne installation created as the centrepiece of the newly opened Invisible Worlds, a major new (and permanent) exhibition homage to cyanobacteria, one of the world’s smallest living beings.

32 cannons fire out scented vapour rings into the exhibition space, which the Eden Project say ‘…reveals the untold and unseen stories of our planet beyond our senses: too big, too small, too fast, too slow and too far away in space and time.’

Watch a short video of the sculpture in action – it’s completely mesmerising!

And the scent of the vapour? Apparently it ‘tells a layered, 4.5 billion-year history of the atmosphere… using the aromas of primordial worlds as a starting point for new sensual experiences.’

So we’re imagining it might be… green, earthy, with heart notes of mineralic haze and a base of swamp?

Studio Swine explain: ‘Around three billion years ago, cyanobacteria first developed oxygenic photosynthesis. In doing so, they changed the nature of our planet. In the same way that artists of the past would depict the sacred, our sculpture ∞ Blue gives physicality to the invisible elements our existence depends on; our breathable atmosphere, microbial life and deep time.’

Accompanying the sculpture, a film directed by Studio Swine – who like to use this medium to enhance their artworks – in collaboration with Petr Krejčí, fascinatingly charts the sculpture’s very beginnings in the sea off the Cornish coast, using ‘otherworldly, sci-fi-inspired cinematography.’

We can’t wait to visit and sniff the ‘primordial scent’ for ourselves, and definitely something to consider for the summer holidays! Pretty much nothing is going to be more impressive for kids (and adults, alike) to write in their What I Did On Holiday journal than, ‘Dear Diary, today we smelled the scent of microbial life, and deep time itself…’

Visit the Eden Project’s website for more information.

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Fragrance – a conversation through design

We often liken a fragrance to texture – ‘velvety’, ‘smooth’, ‘suede’ – or colours, temperatures and emotions. With so few words in our language dedicated to smell alone, we must reach out with our other senses and make a connection between them and what we are smelling.

Arun Sispal is an artist and designer who sought to explore these connections in a tangible way, translating them into fragrant form with the help of British indie perfume house 4160 Tuesdays. You can now experience the results at his exhibition within the Royal College of Art – which is FREE but ends 1st July 2018, so we urge you to make haste before you miss it!

Scroll down for full details of how to get there, but for now we caught up with Arun, and asked him to explain the concept in his own words…

Arun Sispal: ‘The sentence I use to summarise what the work is about is -“If you were unable to experience the qualities of fragrance through the olfactory system, how could you experience its qualities through senses of touch and sight?”

Essentially, this project is to be viewed as a ‘conversation’ and ‘enquiry’, as opposed to a design piece with a final end outcome. The work discusses notions of ‘Interpretation’ and ‘blended senses’, and how the senses can influence one another. The conversation is made up of 3 stages:

Stage 1– I created a bespoke scent
Stage 2– I responded to the scent created through design and material creation
Stage 3– The design work was taken to 4160 Tuesdays, where Sarah McCartney created a fragrance response to the design work.

Stage 1– I created a scent at 4160 Tuesdays with a perfumer named Harry. We had several attempts and I described the type of scent I wanted. I needed the scent to have body and definition, as opposed to being something that was very silent and undefined – this was to allow for a successful material interpretation of the scent; because if it was quiet and did not have many facets, I don’t feel the design response would have been engaging or understandable.

In the end, we created a super heavy, dark and dusty scent, with a veil of Dorinia rose that glistens on tops, eventually drying down to something quite powdery. It is a scent than keeps changing, and shows new sides, and that is what I wanted- for it to fleet between these quite dramatic moments.

Stage 2– I then spent time responding to the scent. Thinking about the colours it evokes, the journey of the scent and how it develops over time, its weight, texture etc. (all of these elements that are both tangible and intangible, but once sprayed and in liquid form, this sense of physicality is no longer present). I also got those around me to tell me what the scent evoked for them and any memories, and the responses were so varied and unexpected- depending on their age, location etc.

In terms of the colours… Initially these super dark charcoals and blacks, quite scratched on surface, as the scent isn’t forgiving or a wallflower, but it shouts, and these tones reflected the intensity of the smoke. Also, a refined selection of bitten pink and metallic blush, reflecting the Rose when it is both shrouded in smoke and at its most brightest, clean stage. An abundance of mid tones that do not necessarily sit under the ‘pink’ or ‘grey’ heading, but instead are quite unsure of their identity, and shift between the 2, reflecting the transiency and ephemerality of the scent, and how it develops so much.

And in terms of the materials, using heavy wool felts in super flat, monotone charcoal and gunmetal coloured metal aspects, to reinforce the weight of notes like the agarwood, karmawood and white birch, and then contrasting this with delicate degrades of embroidery in metallic pink that shimmer on the surface, like the softness of the rose.

Stage 3– The design work was then taken to Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays, who spent time understanding and looking and touching the materials, and trying to create a connection between their physicality, and the array of ‘ingredients’ at the facility. One of the most prominent and interesting elements that Sarah picked up on was the use of gunmetal coloured wire that lay on top of the wool felt in a regimented, slightly aggressive way, and how its edges ‘poked’ out of the surface.

She wanted to use a note that had the same ‘pokey’ feeling – eventually opting for pink and black peppercorn- due to their instant ‘hit’ that knocks your head back when you smell it. This was such an exciting part of the project, as it was great to see the way that a professional perfumer is able to interpret the visual and aesthetic, which is the job of a designer.

The work was an experiment that had materials at the heart, how to tell a story in a multisensory way. It is about sensitivity, and it is also quite romantic…’

Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, Kensington, London, SW7 2EU
12-6pm, 28th June- 1st July (closed 29th June)
Located in ‘Textiles’

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent opens at Somerset House… follow your nose!

The perfume world has been abuzz with news of the Somerset House summer exhibition –always a treat, this one had fragrance fans practically fainting with pleasure at the mere prospect…
Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent seeks to explore modern perfumery in an artistic setting – bringing together (hashtag alert) #PerfumePioneers renowned for their challenging, ground-breaking work. Treated to a press preview yesterday, we packed into the East Wing Galleries and couldn’t wait to follow our noses…

10 landmark fragrances greet visitors in the first room of the show

Somerset House say: ‘These pivotal perfumers have been carefully selected by Curator Claire Catterall and Lizzie Ostrom, the fragrance writer also known as Odette Toilette, for the creativity and ingenuity they bring to their work. Whether self-taught or classically trained, each perfumer within the exhibition challenges a long-held convention in scent-design – from creation and communication, to gender and good taste – pushing their craft in daring olfactory directions.’
The 10 perfume provocateurs in the exhibition are a veritable who’s-who of contemporary perfume: Daniella Andrier, Mark Buxton, Bertrand Duchaufour, Olivia Giacobetti, Lyn Harris, Antoine Lie, David Seth Moltz, Geza Schoen, Andy Tauer and Killian Wells… We could list all the perfumes featured but don’t want to spoil your scented surprise, because as you walk in you’re handed a blank sheet for impressions. And knowing what they are definitely shapes your impressions.
The room setting for Daniela Andrier’s Purple Rain for Prada

So what can you expect? Well, again, we don’t want to give too much away – this truly is an exhibition where you need to encounter the scents first hand (well, nose). But during your fragrant travels you will encounter rooms reflecting the inspirations of the scents in their design – from the heat of the desert to the wild Scottish Highlands, with a lover’s boudoir (ooh la la!) followed by a trip to a Catholic confessional, and even a water theme-park! Each fragrance is experienced in a differing, uniquely interactive way, and taken out of context (with no bottles or perfume notes guide) you really are forced to challenge your expectations and concentrate on the smell alone.
It’s not all about the newness, though. Homage is paid to the classic perfumes that have shaped the way we feel about fragrance, fittingly arrayed in the first room you come to – an olfactory time-travel through ten of the most trailblazing scents of the time, one for each decade of the 20th Century.  Beginning with the legendary L’Origan de Coty (1905) – a hallmark perfume, now out of circulation, but specially recreated by Coty for the exhibition – this whisk through the ages ends with ck one (1994), the original ‘unisex’ fragrance that gave us the whole ‘clean’ scent trend.
An original bottle of Coty’s iconic L’Origan

At the end of the exhibition there’s even a mini perfumers’ lab, complete with noses going about their business of carefully creating fragrances, weighing the materials and more than happy to explain the process and let you sniff as they do.
A working Givaudan lab has been transplanted to Somerset House

Following our noses all the way to glorious gift shop, we must admit swooning somewhat at the plethora of perfume books, scented postcards (genius idea!) fragranced pens – with, we’re delighted to report, many of the fragrances available to buy.
Blogger/journalist Persolaise makes sure to exit via gift shop

If the world of fragrance used to be a stuffy old secretive place, we believe the past few years have seen a tide-change, with perfumers stepping out from their laboratories and becoming superstars in their own right. The Somerset House exhibition is a fragrant tour de force that continues this wave of accessibilty: the very ethos of The Perfume Society, in fact!
The organisers worked in association with Coty and Peroni Ambra, with additional support from Givaudan and Liberty London – clearly many hours (weeks, months… years!) have gone in to making this a feast for all the senses.
We cannot urge you enough to go along and sniff for yourself.
Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent 21st June – 17th September 2017/tickets £11 (or £9 concessions)
Somerset House, East Wing Galleries
Written by Suzy Nightingale
Pictures by Jo Fairley
A confessional has been created for Bertrand Duchaufour’s incense-rich Avignon

Paints and a classroom have been chosing as the setting for Andy Tauer L’Air du Désert Marocain