LONDON — London’s Somerset House is pushing the boundaries of how people experience scent and perfume with its latest exhibition, “A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent.”
The show spotlights 10 contemporary perfumes through a series of experiential installations that invite visitors to discover the inspirations and ideas behind a scent.
Each installation frames the scents in a different way — sprayed on the sheets of a bed, on stuffed animals, or as part of a set that replicates the scene of a confessional and evokes the smell of frankincense.
Among the highlights is an installation inspired by the water-themed rides in Disneyland, translated into a photo booth where visitors can take selfies with stuffed animal toys scented with chlorinated water notes.
In another room, a single bed on display shows tousled white cotton sheets infused with a sharp scent of blood, sweat and saliva. What activity could have been going on there?
“Nowadays it is not so much about wearing perfume to smell nice or to give a good impression to other people. Today, it is much more about wearing perfume for ourselves or to be taken on an olfactory journey,” said Claire Catterall, the show’s curator.
To enhance the idea of a “multisensory experience” the installations don’t mention the brand or perfume names they represent. Instead of using traditional captions to explain each display, the show invites visitors to document their own impressions of the journey by filling the untitled tableaux with words that immediately come to mind as they experience each scent.
The perfumes, which are only revealed at the end of the show, range from Daniela Andrier’s Purple Rain, to Geza Schoen’s Molecule 01 and Lyn Harris’ Charcoal.
“Perfume is not so much about fashion anymore. It’s not about accessorizing an outfit,” said Catterall. “It’s much more than just a bottle we see on a glossy advertisement or in duty-free shops in Gatwick Airport. The exhibition is very much about changing the way we think about scents today.”
The exhibition also includes an overview of 20th-century perfumery, highlighting 10 of the most impactful perfumes, such as L’Origan de Coty from 1905, Shocking Schiaparelli, which originally came out in 1937 and CK One by Calvin Klein from 1994.
The show is small and tightly edited and housed within the East Wing Galleries, with their grand windows and burnt wooden floors. The aim was to create a sense of intimacy as the visitors experience the different scents on display.
During a preview of the show, the perfumers in attendance also took the opportunity to address the issues they have been facing with the European Union’s antiallergy restrictions, which have often forced them to reformulate their fragrances.
“I’m producing my perfumes myself in Switzerland and in Europe. The European Union is extremely strict when it comes to perfume and we are constantly readjusting products,” said the perfumer, Andy Tauer.
Lyn Harris, Founder of Perfumer H added, “Regulations are a big problem for every perfumer. I find it quite intense. Everyone is so conscious about how perfumes are made. In a way it is protecting the consumer, but there’s so little that we can get through.”
The exhibition will run, along with a perfume laboratory, from June 14 to Sept. 17.