Scenting Sargent – matching portraits to perfumes

The opening of Tate Britain’s Sargent and Fashion exhibition is more than an opportunity to view some of the most famous portraits in the world: it’s an invitation to spend time with people who began as acquaintances – faces you recognised, who played a perhaps minor moment in your life – and leave having made several roomfuls of dear friends.

There are so many connections between other art-forms and fragrance – music and literature being the most usually cited – but pairing portraiture and perfume was an emotional connection impossible to resist. It’s because (as those of us obsessed with fragrance readily understand, and which anyone can feel deep inside when a certain smell triggers an emotional response within them;) a scent can communicate with such aching, soul-baring intimacy; telling complete strangers things about ourselves that we’d never otherwise overtly express.

Partly, the intimacy one feels in Sargent and Fashion comes from seeing the paintings up close and in person. The way these people (mostly women, in this exhibition) meet your eye, often challengingly, or sometimes deliberately evading your gaze. Intimacy, too, in the way he painted them – mostly these people were very close friends within Sargent’s social circle, and this fact absolutely leaps off each canvas in the vivacious vibrancy and liveliness with which they’re depicted. There’s tenderness at times, and humour, too. A vulnerability or a twinkle in the eye that can only be achieved through decades of a deep bond between painter and sitter.

 

John Singer Sargent in his studio (Madame X in the background)

 

We, as visitors, get to feel truly included in this partnership while viewing the exhibition. And the shortcut to our deeper understanding of the people behind the paint is partly thanks to the clothing and accessories displayed alongside the portraits. Many of them are the very outfits the sitters were wearing while he painted them, and we learn from the exhibition notes and signs beside the displays, that not only did Sargent keep costumes and props in his studio, but that on numerous occasions Sargent designed many of the outfits himself – in collaboration with esteemed couture fashion houses such as Worth. It wasn’t a case of ‘come as you are’ when turning up to Sargent’s studio to be painted. It was far more ‘let’s show these people who you REALLY are.’ As the introduction to the exhibition guide states:

 

‘Sargent and his sitters thought carefully about the clothes that he would paint them in, the messages their choices would send, and how well particular outfits would translate to paint. The rapport between fashion and painting was well understood at this time: as one French critic noted, ‘there is now a class who dress after pictures, and when they buy a gown ask ‘will it paint?’’’

 

At this point I have to allow myself a rant. Not about the exhibition – which I adored, and which I shall think about for many years to come – but about some of the reviews by art critics I’ve read since attending the Press View. In their opinion, the extraordinary artefacts detracted from the portraits and were entirely unconnected to our understanding of Sargent or the sitters. They describe the clothes and accessories, variously, as ‘old rags’ and ‘glittery baubles’, or ‘belonging in Miss Havisham’s attic’. And the undercurrent of these reviews very strongly comes across as ‘these are women’s fripperies, therefore utterly bereft of meaning or importance.’

To arrive at this conclusion is – quite apart from being disgustingly misogynistic, and in the same patronising lineage as literary critics dismissing Jane Austen’s work as historic ‘chick lit’ because it dares to document the lives of women – to miss the point of the exhibition entirely. The clue was in the name, after all: Sargent and Fashion. The clothing was even capitalised in the title to help them.

Women have always been especially judged on what clothes they wear, and in this exhibition the point is made – again and again, if you care to comprehend – that the sitters and Sargent liked to subvert this power play in the colour and cut of the clothing, in the positioning of their bodies. They were judged for these choices contemporarily, too – several of the portraits causing shocking scandals and what we’d now understand as ‘being cancelled’. Most notably with the famous (and swoon-worthy) portrait of Madam X, for which, as this brilliant Varsity article on the infamous portrait explains:

‘Sargent initially depicted Gautreau in a tightly silhouetted black gown, with chained straps doing very little to conceal her pearlescent shoulders and décolletage. In fact, originally, Sargent chose to drape one strap down Gautreau’s arm; this inadvertently caused further outrage. To spectators past, it was a brazen attempt to barely veil Gautreau’s body, suggesting that if one strap can breezily slip, so can the rest.’

The clothing has nothing to do with the portraits? No importance? Tell that to Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, who was lacerated by public opinion to the point where, as the Varsity article recounts:

‘Even Gautreau – a woman fiercely aware of her beauty, and inclined to weaponise it for advancement by becoming the archetypal ‘Parisienne’ – felt that it was best to anonymise her painted figure: thus Madame X was born.’

 

 

 

 

These spectacularly cloistered critics failed to appreciate the importance Sargent himself placed on the clothing – let’s reiterate the fact he DESIGNED many of the outfits himself, or carefully positioned the clothing and angles we can view them from; choosing to deliberately drape and conceal, or otherwise starkly reveal his sitters. And little wonder they missed (or elected not to place value on) the many examples of how important these clothes were – they spent very little time actually looking at the portraits or the clothes, or the numerous signs next to them explaining the significance. Instead, they gathered in tiny, tutting cabals during the exhibition, loudly discussing which other exhibitions or parties they had, or had not, been invited to.

#notallmen, but sadly, the ones I saw doing this all were. Ironically, I overheard them discussing what outifits they were going to wear to various fashion event parties that evening. But these were their clothes – men’s clothes – so presumably were of significance to them.

I shan’t link to their excoriating yet ultimately vacuous reviews because it lends them more credence than they’re due. And I needn’t couch my words, because they’ll never bother reading something so frivolous as an article matching PERFUME to portraits. Fragrance, I feel pretty confident in assuming, is something they would similarly sneer at as being bereft of cultural and emotional value, so equally pointless in examining. Those of us who feel otherwise are lucky in having our lives enriched by art in more ways than they could ever comprehend.

Let’s allow them to tut away to their heart’s content, and instead go and see the exhibition, and then imagine if we knew what fragrances the people in these portraits had also chosen to wear! Or what scent they might select, were they around now. Such consideration adds further layers which might reveal depths even Sargent never got to know. Which perhaps they never even truly realised about themselves.

Fragrance can do that. The right scent, worn at the right time, can disclose intimate secrets or conceal us in a cloak of intrigue. A perfume can be a worn as a kind of emotional X-Ray, or played with like choosing a costume from a dressing-up box.

 

 

The women in these portraits, we learn (and FEEL by smiling along with them), were not passive, wilting muses – they were accomplished artists, poets, academics, and philosophers in their own right. And they were in partnership with Sargent, with the fashion designers, and with us as we look at them and feel something that goes beyond the gaze to a complicit understanding. Just as wearing a particular fragrance can announce to the world who we are inside, or dictate how we want others to feel about us – transcending words and going straight to the soul.

When we take time to select a scent based on our emotional response to it – or gather whole wardrobes and toolboxes of them – we go beyond passive consumers to being in a relationship with the perfumer, the packaging designers, the experts and consultants that recommended them, and the people who then smell that fragrance as we waft past.

In pairing perfumes with Sargent’s portraits, then, I hope it helps you feel an even closer companionship to the people portrayed in them, and a have deeper understanding of the mood each scent can similarly evoke. And I urge you to try this for yourselves next time you’re in a museum or art gallery – or meeting friends in your own social circle. Wonder how you’d scent them, and then reflect on what this tells you about them, about the fragrance, and even what this reveals about our own levels of perception and interpretation.

Having gained a greater closeness to Sargent the man (not just the painter), and to the people (not only the portraits) during this exquisitely soul-enriching, emotional conversation of an exhibition, I feel he’d have approved. Indeed, he’d likely have had fragrances specially commissioned, worked on exacting briefs for the perfumers, and suggested precise tweaks to the perfumes’ formulae – the better to reflect the people behind the layers of paint, and further shaping our understanding of them.

Without such bespoke examples, what follows are the perfumes I felt ‘matched’ the personality of five portraits that particularly spoke to me. Indeed, there were so many other fragrance pairings inspired in my mind (and still bubbling away) by seeing this exhibition, that I’ll need to do a Part Two to stop them invading my every thought. But for now, what I really want to know is – which portraits would you decide to match, having got to know them at the exhibition; how would you scent them, and why would you pick that to evoke their character, the clothing, and the mood of the portrait itself…?

Sargent and Fashion is at Tate Britain until 7 July 2024. [Free for Tate members, and worth every penny if you’re not]

 

 

 

John Singer Sargent Lady Agnew of Lochnaw 

Outwardly the very picture of femininity, in both the sitter and the scent there’s a strong backbone that runs through the centre. Gertrude is surrounded by a froth of delicate, transparent material, but she sits on a hard-backed chair and meets us with a direct and judging stare. In Apres L’Ondee a spring garden of rain-soaked blossoms feels encircled by a high fence. The violet in it is cool, almost frosted, but has survived the storm. You may admire the garden, but the casual passer-by will not be invited inside.

Guerlain Apres L’Ondee £108 for 75ml eau de parfum guerlain.com

 

 

 

John Singer Sargent Ena Wertheimer 

Sargent and Ena were great friends, their rapport and her amusement vibrating through this unconventional portrait, and the stance apparently all Ena’s doing. She came to his studio, grabbed a broom and began fencing with it. Her heavy opera coat becomes a Cavalier’s uniform (or a witch’s cloak, given the subtext of the broomstick). In Moonlight Patchouli, inky black velvet is suddenly spotlit, bathed in a phosphorescent glow, dusted with iris – a focus on warm skin dominating the darkness.

Van Cleef & Arpels Moonlight Patchouli £145 for 75ml eau de parfum harrods.com

 

 

 

John Singer Sargent Mrs Hugh Hammersley (Mary Frances Grant) 

A fashionable hostess of salons, Mary looks so happy to see you, but would like you to understand she has a lot to do. The extraordinary depth of colour and texture in her gown are discussed in this Metropolitan Museum of Art feature, but her vivacity and poised opulence are obvious. I tried not to use this scent in this piece, but it had to be hers. The striking depths of rose, raspberry and patchouli are hugely impactful, filled with beauty, power, and a presence that lasts long after you’ve left a room.

Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady from £60 for 10ml eau de parfum fredericmalle.co.uk

 

 

 

John Singer Sargent Dr. Pozzi at Home

A blaze of passionate red, this man might appear a dandy, but he’s incredibly intelligent. He may look casually attired, but the drape of his dressing gown and the meticulous pleats of the white linen shirt dramatically contrast the swathe of scarlet. Habit Rouge is devilishly handsome and knows it. Dynamically woody, a hint of animalic magnetism balanced by almost soapy neroli and jasmine; rendered irresistible by the creamy warmth of spiced vanilla and moody patchouli in the base.

[P.S. I also attempted not to use Guerlain twice in my matches, but the body craves what it needs, and Pozzi’s needed this.]

Guerlain Habit Rouge £81 for 50ml eau de parfum guerlain.com

 

 

 

John Singer Sargent Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) 

The largest space in the exhibition is given over to Sargent’s most famous portrait, room for captivated crowds to gather and gaze, elongating their bodies and arching upwards, echoing her position, desperate for her to turn and look back. Virginie adored this painting, as did Sargent, but her life was scandalised by it. In Santal Majuscule, we’re invited to worship the sandalwood, acres of creaminess suggesting an expanse of bare skin. A pared back elegance which nonetheless skewers with longing.

Serges Lutens Santal Majuscule £135 for 50ml eau de parfum sergeslutens.co.uk

 

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Chanel’s Glorious Jasmine Fragrances: A Scented Retrospective

As we saw in our last feature, Chanel meticulously grow and harvest their jasmine in Grasse, exclusively for use in their fragrances; and so after looking in great detail at how this process is achieved, we thought it time to dig even deeper and explore just some of the glorious Chanel fragrances we’ve so loved wearing over the decades.

And what better time to re-acquaint ourselves with them than during the much-anticipated (and sure to sell out) Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto exhibition at the V&A in London, opening 16 September 2023…?

 

 

 

Chanel N°5

The legendary, almost alchemically intriguing mix of jasmine and vivacious aldehydes has ensured No5 always transcended fashion: No single flower can be easily identified in its construction – not ylang ylang, or that luminous jasmine, or rose, nor those bubbly aldehydes, nor any of the other 80 or so ingredients in its closely-guarded formula. Over a century ago, it was certainly unlike anything smelled before, and the abstract effect has kept it relevant, decade after decade.

From £71 for 35ml eau de parfum chanel.com

 

 

 

Chanel N°5 L’Eau

Sun-drenched, thirst-quenching and filled filled with freshness, this is a beautiful modern play on the classic, with a fizz of aldehydes dancing on lemon, mandarin and orange atop a honeyed shimmer of jasmine and luminescent ylang ylang. As the opening chords drift away and the floral heart warms on the skin, a thrum of warm cedar and vetiver mellow to a harmonious trail of soft white musks. Glorious.

From £71 for 35ml eau de toilette chanel.com

 

 

 

Chanel Chance

‘Allow yourself to be swept up in the whirlwind of Chance’ says Chanel. And, oh, what a sparkling wonder this is – the eau de parfum an ‘Unexpected Floral’, created by Jacques Polge, like wearing an entire constellation of scented stars. The heady absolutes of exotic jasmine and Iris are warmed by vanilla and more pronounced than the eau de toilette. White musk weaves mystery, and as it warms Chance becomes even rounder, ever more generous and entirely enveloping… like a new love (or the reigniting of an old flame).

From £71 for 35ml eau de parfum chanel.com

 

 

 

Chanel Coco Mademoiselle Intense

Perfumer Oliver Polge constructed his composition around a far higher proportion of patchouli leaves atop a richly resinous amber base, swirled through with toasty tonka bean and addictive vanilla in their absolute (strongest) form. Lovers of the original need not fear – your dose of Sicilian orange and Calabrian bergamot is still there, as are the fulsome garlands of rose and that stunning, sunny jasmine in the heart. The character is definitely even more mysterious, wavering between the freshness and a minxishly seductive trail that lingers all day.

£102 for 50ml eau de parfum chanel.com

 

 

Bleu de Chanel

The stronger parfum concentration of their bestselling Bleu de Chanel, crafted by Olivier Polge (whose father Jacques composed the original), is certainly recognisable, yet cleverly rebalances the wood and citrus notes, upping the sandalwood that follows the freshness, with gloriously undulating waves of bright jasmine, aromatic lavender and geranium notes, and the powerful cedarwood heart beating throughout. Intensely wonderful – and wonderfully intense.

£136 for 100ml parfum chanel.com

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Givaudan create 1950s fragrance for new Makeup Museum

We’re delighted to see so many museums re-opening, and now anxiously await the launch of the new Makeup Museum in New York – a place we want to visit even more now we know that Givaudan have created a special 1950’s-inspired fragrance to scent the space…

Having signed up as an official sponsor, Givaudan were comissioned to make a fragrance to set the scene for the Makeup Museum’s debut exhibition, entitled ‘Pink Jungle: 1950s Makeup in America.’

Emily Bond, head of Fine Fragrance North America at Givaudan, explains the reason they’re making this a multi-sensory space is because, ‘Perfume has always been an integral part of beauty. It is important to showcase fragrance in this exhibit.’

‘We want people to know the story behind a fragrance,’ Bond continues, something that digs deeper than just a pretty bottle and shows ‘Who created it, how it’s developed, and how techniques have evolved over the years.’

It was Givaudan Perfumer Caroline Sabas who was tasked with creating the perfume, and she’s made an exclusive 1950s-inspired fragrance, suitably named ‘Pink Jungle’, which will be used to scent the exhibition space.

 

But what will the perfume smell like, we wonder? Well both Givaudan and The Makeup Museum aren’t revealing the notes as yet, so as not to spoil the scented surprise, but you can head to our fragrance history page for the 1950s to read about the types of fragrances popular then, which may well provide us with some clues.

Our next question is: will we be able to buy the fragrance to fully live our glamorous 1950s boudoir dreams? We’re certainly crossing our fingers and praying to the perfume gods!

Written by Suzy Nightingale

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