In true procrastinator form, I went to see “The Art of Scent” exhibit, curated by former New York Times scent critic Chandler Burr, at the Museum of Art and Design on Sunday, the last day of its four-month run. No other museum has ever celebrated fragrance creation as an art form before, but perfumers absolutely deserve to be called artists. They spend months (or sometimes years) designing scents that are loved and worn by people who want to express themselves a certain way or evoke a certain memory or mood. Consumers pay good money for fragrances and connoisseurs collect them. And some scents are considered classics that never go out of style. It’s about time perfumers got their due. Here’s how the exhibit showcased the talents of a select group of gifted noses.
The whole thing was set up in a small-ish gallery on the fourth floor of the museum. Right away, I was sucked in by a scrolling introduction of the show, which was projected onto the floor. It reminded me of Star Wars.
Nestled inside of the stark white walls, there were 15 mini caves, one for each of the featured scents, which included Chanel N°5, Angel, L’Eau d’Issey, Pleasures and Light Blue. Periodic bursts of fragrance were emitted from the caves, but you had to lean in to get a good whiff.
Next to each sniff station, a short summary of the fragrance faded in and out on the wall (lots of projectors were involved in this exhibit).
Another area of the gallery documented the making of Lancôme’s iconic scent, Trésor. During the process of creating a fragrance, a designer will develop different versions (based on direction from the client) called “mods.” The mods get tweaked and tweaked some more until the juice is perfected. This section of the show allowed visitors to sample four different Trésor mods and compare them to the end result.
I got to play perfumer at a table set up with a bunch of raw ingredients to smell and mix. I could see how easy it would be to get completely lost in trying to concoct the perfect blend of notes.
While all of this was going on, the back wall featured a rotating projection of words that described each featured scent’s aroma and vibe.
“The Art of Scent” was really well done and I hope MAD decides to take the show on the road. Did you get a chance to see it in New York City? For those that don’t live in NYC, would you check it out if it came to your town?