A new exhibition at London’s Somerset House focuses on ten scents that have pushed the boundaries to create a buzzing new fragrance culture. Lizzie Ostrom, co-curator of the show, lets us in on the scene.
– Since 2000 there has been a real sub-culture in fragrance, with new types of perfumers, new concepts, new molecules, new accords. Until now, these stories have been discussed as part of a niche scene. Yet it’s no longer niche. It has begun to merge with the mainstream in a process you could call incorporation or appropriation, or maybe something else. The emergence of this new fragrance culture is exactly the kind of phenomenon that Somerset House are interested in illuminating.
It's not often that a perfume breaks out into cultural discourse like Molecule 01.
– We decided to do it through exploring ten seminal perfumes that show how perfume has changed in the past fifteen years. Some have a cult following, others are there because they are particularly important to the perfumer (like Purple Rain for Daniela Andrier), or because they present a radical or rebellious direction (like Dark Ride). We want to highlight milestone scents that confound expectations of what fragrance can be.
– Molecule 01 is essential to this exhibition. It's not often that a perfume breaks out into cultural discourse like this one. Maybe two or three per decade achieve that level of awareness and controversy.
– Each fragrance in the exhibition is presented in its own immersive space. I don't want to spoil it by saying any more. I would rather people come and see it for themselves. What I can say is that Molecule 01 is the most talked about, totemic perfume in the exhibition and the design of the space reflects its status and the way it is fetishised.
– Exhibitions are usually overwhelmingly visual. You're looking, looking, looking. But with this experience, the focus is on smelling, the voice of the perfumery, and to some extent tactile experiences. I think we've created a more contemplative experience, and also space to be aware of your body as you sample the scent. Each room reveals the energy of a particular scent. Some rooms are more passive, others more active.
Molecule 01 is the most talked about, totemic perfume in the exhibition and the design of the space reflects the way it is fetishised.
– I think there will be lots of buzz around the laboratory we have set up at the show. Here visitors can watch demos, sample aroma-chemicals, and have the opportunity to meet perfumers. As a curator, my personal highlight has been seeing how the designers at MUF have created furniture for each perfume. Very exciting!
– The future of fragrance is a hot topic right now and on 29th June, we are hosting , “Fragrance Futures’. Geza is part of the panel together with Charles Spence, Professor of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University and Timothy Han, who explores the relationship between sound and smell. No idea what they will talk about but my own view on the future of fragrance is that we’re going to move from new olfactory concepts (unusual styles, new molecules) to new contexts – where scent plays a much bigger role in art. So perhaps less about what we smell, and more about how we smell.
Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent at Somerset House, 21st June – 17th September. Find out more here: www.somersethouse.org.uk/whats-on/perfume