1883 Magazine

Scent is a powerful object, capable of evoking a distant memory, lost love, happier times, the sun, the sea and not least of all contributing to a very personal and individually unique response.

Taking this at the starting point for the new summer exhibition at Somerset House, Perfume: A Sensory Journey invites visitors to walk through a serious of installations for an interactive approach to scent. Each room - of which there are ten in total - includes visual, auditory and tactile references to the identity and influence of the perfumer. Installations reflect the inspirations of the scents in their design; from a sandy desert to the Scottish Highlands, a Catholic confessional to a lover’s boudoir and invites visitors to rely wholly on their noses and visual representations to garner an idea of the notes included within a scent.

The experience, void of the generic text panels, is peculiar yet thoroughly enjoyable. Walking through each room is akin to walking through a dream-scope of the perfumer’s imagination, with visual representations often striking and thought provoking through their discreetness or randomness. The outcome is incredible, forcing the viewer to slowdown, pause for thought and rely heavily on their felt response to understand the journey they are on. Only after experiencing each installation is the full story of the scent revealed, so audiences can bring together their personal interpretation with the intention of the perfumer.

One of the striking things about the selection of work included is the lack of sexualisation or playing on “sexual norms”. Simply put, each perfume on display lacks categorization into either male or female-based scents. Was this intentional? Claire Catterall, Co-Curator of Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Cotemporary Scent said: “Gendered perfumes are purely a marketing ploy. There is absolutely no reason why one scent should be worn on a woman and another on a man – it makes no sense. Floral scents smell great on men, and woodier, so-called ‘masculine’ scents smell fantastic on a woman. In the 21st century, especially with the niche brands, there is no such thing as a gendered scent – they are all unisex.”

The selection of each perfume was therefore based on their creativity and ingenuity they bring to their work. Examples include the provocative scent by Antoine Lie’s 2007 creation Sécretions Magnifiques for tat Libre D’Orange (recalling the height of sexual pleasure with the smells of semen, sweat and milk), David Seth Moltz, El Cosmico (2015) (inspired by the rough landscape of the Chihuahuan Desert) and Prada Olfactories Purple Rain.

At the end of the exhibition visitors will get a chance to learn more about scent-making with The Laboratory: a fully functioning perfume lab that will profile the science, skills, tools and “ingredient” used by contemporary perfumers. Led by the prestigious Givaudan perfumery school, the lab hosts will create a new scent from scratch and allowing visitors to speak directly about the practice.

For more information head to www.somersethouse.org.uk
The exhibition runs from 21st June – 177 September 2017, with tickets priced at £11/9 (concessions).

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