Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent
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A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent
21 Jun – 17 Sep 2017
Mon, Tue, Sat & Sun 10.00-18.00 (last admission 17.00) Wed, Thu & Fri 11.00-20.00 (last admission 19.00) Except 06, 07, 12, 13 & 14 Jul and 10, 11, 16, 17, 18 & 23 Aug when the exhibition will be open 10.00-18.00 (last admission 19.00)
East Wing Galleries
East Wing

Multi-sensory exhibition featuring ten extraordinary perfumes and their pioneering creators, who have radically changed our perceptions of fragrance over the last 20 years.

Discover a vibrant new perfume scene, the contemporary cult perfumes shaking up scent culture and the unseen works of art worn on our skin. Contemporary perfume provocateurs are dispensing with traditional high gloss communication concepts, gender boundaries and conventional notions of good taste.

(c) Kim Keever, Courtesy Waterhouse & Dodd

From the self-taught to the classically trained, the exhibition explores perfumers reworking their palette of ingredients to construct original and outrageous signatures which assault all of the senses. Seeking out visceral, surprising and sometimes unsavoury smells such as smoke and sweat, they evoke unexpected places or moments, rather than simply trying to mask our own odours. No longer anonymous figures working behind the scenes for big brands; the selected perfumers have opened up and are celebrating their craft with a global online community of fumeheads. Providing insights into processes, engaging in discussions and even taking inspiration from customers, they have offered a much more accessible approach to perfumery that’s unlike anything seen before.


The first 5 perfumes and perfumers to be announced include:

Sécretions Magnifiques by Antoine Lie for État Libre D’Orange (2007)
One of the most notorious scents of the 21st century, Sécretions Magnifiques was created to provoke “the pinnacle of sexual pleasure” with smells of semen, sweat, pumping blood and saliva – notes never seen before in fragrances – and intentionally designed to be divisive.

El Cosmico by David Seth Moltz for D.S. & Durga (2015)
David Seth Moltz is a Brooklyn-based perfumer, who is known for drawing upon American history and geography in his liquid language.  El Cosmico is an olfactory representation of the cult campground of the same name, situated in the tiny Texan town of Marfa, described as “the biggest little art town”.

Charcoal by Lyn Harris for Perfumer H (2016)
Founder of Perfumer H, Harris has brought a new edge to British perfume, pioneering the use of naturals back into perfumery. Charcoal marks Harris’ talent for finding beauty in the raw elements of life and nature. Deeply engrained in her sense of nostalgia, Charcoal is an interpretation of her childhood in Yorkshire and reminiscent of time spent with her grandfather on his smallholding in the Scottish highlands, the fragrant aromas of the damp outdoors and a house filled with the scent of smoky fires. The perfume provides a simulation of charcoal through a meticulous balance of wood, resins and balms – including cade, cistus abs, juniper, cedar, patchouli and frankincense – creating something familiar, yet unexpected with this olfactory combination.

Lyn Harris - Perfumer H

Molecule 01 by Geza Schoen for Escentric Molecules (2005)
The scent that made synthetic molecules desirable and sexy rather an industry dirty secret.  Schoen presents a ‘single aroma chemical’ – Iso E Super – which fans believe enhances their own skin scent.  It is adored and addictive to those that can smell the aroma; many are unable to detect it at all and think it is all a myth.

Purple Rain by Daniela Andrier for Prada Olfactories (2015)
While Purple Rain was purposefully not given a familiar flower name and Andrier remains evasive about the full fragrance notes, it is an iris-based scent - a recurring theme in Andrier’s work.  The sumptuous scent of iris was popular in early to mid-20th century perfumes and Andrier has led a modern renaissance of the flower in fragrances, with a twist on the traditional. By defying the traditions of names and notes, it is hoped that it will spark free associations of the subconscious mind, with the individual wearer deciding on its inclusions and the memories it triggers.

'Smell is a way of understanding that nothing is lost.'

Daniela Andrier, perfumer

Perfume begins with a brief overview of the origins of modern perfumery and an introduction to the historical innovators of the industry, before taking you on a journey through a series of interconnected rooms in which you can fully immerse yourself in the stories of the ten signature scents.

The exhibition explores the work of perfumers at the forefront, propelling perfume into more daring olfactory and creative directions, challenging classic definitions of scent and reshaping the mainstream market.

Image: Laboratoire Kleber © Givaudan

Conceived and curated by Claire Catterall, Senior Curator at Somerset House, and co-curated by Lizzie Ostrom, aka Odette Toilette.

Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent
In association with Coty and Peroni
With additional support from Givaudan