A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Perfume…
It’s no wonder they say scent is the strongest tie to memory. The sensorial experience of the Perfume Exhibit at Somerset House took us on a journey through not only the history of fragrance, but also personal history as we smelled our way through the exhibit, composed of ten individually unique scent rooms. Each room encapsulated a different fragrance experience that took you through time and incited a different memory… memories so vivid, they can only be triggered by scent. Upon arriving at the beautiful courtyard gallery in the East Wing at Somerset House, we were immediately surrounded by a display of classic perfume bottles from fashion houses known for their iconic fragrances. From Jean Paul Gaultier to Calvin Klein, we’d go on to discover the story behind them and the complexity of each fragrance.
Equipped with notepaper and pencil, we set out to explore and were encouraged to discover each mystery perfume that filled the room by interacting with the tactile art installations, while we scribbled down our initial reactions to the aromas.
Fragrance, similar to the written language, evolves over time, but always means something personal depending on how it’s conveyed and to the person who it’s directed toward. Although the Prada perfume ‘Purple Rain’ by Daniela Andrier was launched in 2015, the immediate scent of it in room number five instantly took me back to my ten year old self rummaging through my mother’s walk-in closet, where her vintage jewelry and handbags adorned the shelves and her YSL Opium and Chanel No. 5 were placed on her vanity. You could almost touch the memory.
Some fragrances, you just can’t place. There’s a hint of the familiar mixed with ambiguous notes that make you question whether you’ve experienced these before. However, the carefully considered surroundings of each of the fragrance rooms along the tour amplified each distinct scent so that you could really take in the whole experience through both your nose and your eyes.
We followed our noses through the fresh linen billowing in the wind, the strewn bedsheets and the polished woods, immersing ourselves in every element of sight, sound as well as smell. Surrounded by different textures of leather, sand and charcoal as well as colours, patterns and scenes to evoke certain eras and moods, our senses were heightened on the dynamic and nostalgic journey round the gallery. We were even taken right back to childhood and given a paintbrush to express our perception of the smells onto paper with colourful paints!
What’s most fascinating is how a given fragrance, composed of thousands of compounds, chemicals, ingredients, etc. can mimic an exact memory, of which there are millions, at any given time. How can a particularly complex permutation of ingredients replicate such a distinct moment in time?
But that, I suppose is the magic of fragrance. It’s the ability to transcend time. It’s the ability to transport you somewhere you’ve never been before. It allows us all to take some time to remember.
Blog written by Simi. Photography by Nicola and Holly.