By  on October 6, 2011

With a 3,700-square-foot installation in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, Sephora and Firmenich are hoping to transform the way that consumers think about fragrance.

“Sensorium: An Immersive Journey Through Lucid Dreams From the Sensory World” opens to the public today and will remain open through Nov. 27 at 414 West 14th Street. It is designed as an interactive, multipronged multimedia experience designed to explore the emotions and instincts behind scent, noted Sharon Rothstein, senior vice president of marketing for Sephora.

“With fragrances, like everyone else, we’ve had to rethink the category,” said Rothstein. “Over the last five years, statistics have shown a dramatic decline in fragrance use. This is intended to educate consumers and remind them what’s magical about fragrance.”

Added Debra Butler, vice president of creative marketing for Firmenich: “Over the last 10 years, unit sales of fragrances have dropped 40 percent, while prices have gone up 40 percent. In 2008, you had to do about $108 million in sales to have a number-one launch. Now it’s $54 million.”

The Sensorium is based on a similar concept Firmenich has done for the last dozen years for its industry clients, noted Butler. “We’ve done it for major clients to excite and inspire them — but we’ve never done it on this magnitude and scope, and we’ve never done it in a consumer-focused way,” she said.

Six distinct “experiences” are incorporated into the journey, with interactive displays, film, storytelling and three-dimensional art. First is a time line of important dates in fragrance, from before the birth of Jesus to the present day, along with visual cues such as raw ingredients and video monitors. Next, visitors enter a sensory deprivation room, of which there are eight in the installation. These closet-sized rooms, padded in white egg-crate foam, contain a looped audio featuring people who have lost their sense of smell, a condition called anosmia — which also affects one’s ability to taste. A red lollipop is placed in the room beforehand and visitors are told to taste the candy, which is completely flavorless, dramatizing the experience of not having a sense of taste.

Next is a room with six pieces of art engineered to emit scents — among them, the beach, bacon and eggs and fresh-cut grass — that share space with looped videos evocative of the smells.

The next room has the “lab of emotions”: four stations, representing Addiction, Comfort, Fun and Confidence. Each has three juices created by Firmenich perfumers especially for the installation. Headphones blare music complementary to each emotion.

In the “Lucid Dreaming” room, visitors stand in front of one of four stations, each with a unit to smell and a video screen depicting a particular emotion: wonder, hope, creation and floating. Consumers sniff through a nosepiece, triggering the video screens to display changing graphics tied to breathing.

The last stop is a fragrance bar — quite literally, a bar counter with four “flights” of scents. The four fragrance families — Playful, Polished, Casual and Addictive — each have scents sprayed on the inside of a clear wineglass marked only with a number from 1 to 6, representing tonalities of scent, including fresh, refined, petally and warm.

Consumers smell all and choose their favorites.

“It is a process similar to that of a wine tasting, in which consumers will smell unbranded scents, discovering preferences based on emotion instead of marketing messages or bottle appearance,” said Allison Slater, vice president of retail marketing for Sephora. “It’s fascinating because we see how things not actually part of the juice — like marketing and bottles — influence consumers’ perception of a fragrance. The Sensorium also gives consumers a new language for fragrance.”

The scents being tested at the fragrance bar are available for sale at the Sensorium, and consumers are invited to visit Sephora’s new Meatpacking District store. Even outside windows get in on the act: Scratch-and-sniff graphics are festooned on the outside windows, and signs encourage passersby to stop and take a whiff.

While tickets to the exhibition will cost $15, visitors can redeem that $15 toward a purchase at Sephora, sephora.com or in the fragrance bar at the Sensorium.

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