In Depth

Perfume: A Sensory Journey at Somerset House

A new exhibition explores scent through installations about ten perfumers and charts the fashions of fragrance through the decades

This June, Somerset House will open a series of scent-based installations into the East Wing Galleries. The four-month long exhibition, Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent, will showcase the inspirations and skill of modern perfumery through the work of ten perfume pioneers over the last 20 years.

The selected perfumers are iconic within their craft and have influenced the industry through groundbreaking creativity and experimentation. Interactive installations bring each to the fore, communicated to visitors through visual, auditory and tactile references that explore the traditional craft as a contemporary art form.

Upon arrival, the audience are introduced to an overview of 20th-century perfumery starting with L’Origan de Coty, a French fragrance released in 1905. It started a sweeping trend throughout Paris and was the first perfume to demonstrate that it was possible to create a fine but affordable fragrance that would appeal both to the upper classes and to the less affluent, changing the way scents were sold forever. The timeline ends with the clean and minimalistic CK One, the first gender-neutral perfume to hit the market in 1994.

Perfume installations of the ten selected pioneers thereafter will encompass a range of visuals from artists such as Laziz Hamani, Martin Klimas and Kim Keever, encouraging the audience to fully recognise the influences behind each of the perfume designers. As the story of each scent unfolds, visitors are taken on an olfactory voyage, from dry, sandy deserts to the Scottish highlands. During this multi-sensory experience, Somerset House invites the audience to share their own interpretations of each installation, and will provide each visitor with an individual notebook on arrival asking them to record their personal journey through the fragrances.

Ending the experience is a 20th-century perfume laboratory that will investigate the science, skill and talent behind the contemporary artists and their fragrances. Each week, from Thursday to Saturday, perfumers from Givaudan will undertake three-day residences that will provide an insight into creating a scent from scratch, offering visitors the opportunity to talk to scent designers directly about their interpretations of the work. 

The ten perfumers to exhibit are Daniela Andrier, Mark Buxton, Bertrand Duchaufour, Olivia Giacobetti, Lyn Harris, Antoine Lie, Geza Schoen, Andy Tauer and Killian Wells.

Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent will run from 21 June until 17 September 2017 in the East Wing Galleries at Somerset House. Tickets £11; somersethouse.org.uk

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