Thursday, 7 September 2017

Review of PERFUME, A SENSORY JOURNEY THROUGH CONTEMPORARY SCENT

https://www.somersethouse.org.uk/whats-on/perfume

I was going to write a much longer review of this, because there is so much to it if, like me, you are fascinated by smells. However, it closes in a few days, so I wanted to get this out there to encourage other smell fiends to go.

This is an exhibition about modern perfumery using ingredients that imitate a far greater range of smells than the traditional flowers, fruits, woods and musks. These perfumes imitate, amongst many other things, creosote, bodily fluids, hot desert air, chlorine, stagnant water.

Thee are ten perfumes in this exhibition. Each has its own room, themed to the perfume; the blurb mentions the idea of creating 'narratives' with perfume. That may sound pretentious, but bear with it - there is something very interesting going on here. Here's the room for Giacobetti's En Passant, an outdoorsy perfume.
Each perfume is presented without comment other than the silent commentary of the room's design. We are given cards to write down our impressions. At the end, we can go to two rooms where there are descriptions of what each perfume is 'about', with further samples. So the show also has the delights of a mystery tour. Here's a card with a few of my comments on it.


Of the ten, there were three I particularly liked. One was set in a church-like room, hymnals in the back of old wooden seats, a screen which suggested the confessional. Redolent of frankincense, one of my favourite scents, it was to be sniffed from leather bags. This was Avignon, by Comme des Garcons. To me, it suggested sex in a church.

Another was set with a work bench littered with strange things. The perfume had a creosote-like note and was sniffed from tetrahedral structures that suggested a high-tech/magic mix. This was El Cosmico, by Moltz.

The third was Molecule 01, by Geza Schoen. Uniquely, amongst all the perfumes I've ever smelled or studied, this had just one ingredient, Iso E Super, a molecule discovered by the perfumer. This substance is bigger than most smell molecules, a poor fit for many smell receptors, so not everyone can smell it. I could, my companion could not. Delicious, but not much use except as a talking point!

Unsurprisingly, considering how extreme these scents were, there were two I disliked. One a little - Dark Ride, which just stank, really, and the truly offensive Purple Rain, which was the most aggressively cloying scent I've ever smelled.

The exhibition catalogue has essays about each perfume and an introductory essay by notorious amateur perfumer Brian Eno. That's how I found out about this exhibition, being an Eno fan.

If you like weird scent, book a ticket! Now!