Essence of Mildew? Eau de log flume? Or how about semen cologne? Perfume is getting quirkier – or so says exhibition ‘Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent’, a new show at London’s Somerset House.
According to co-curator Lizzie Ostrom, the days of wanting to smell of pleasing floral notes are long gone. Instead, some people are seeking out fragrances that evoke memories and experiences.
“We’ve also got a fragrance which smells of different bodily fluids, so from blood to sweat to milk. That one is again not a traditional perfume but it’s saying something really interesting about why we wear perfume, what are we covering up, what are we wanting to flaunt and, again, that one has a real cult following because it’s a bit risque.”
On display at the exhibition are scents a long way from your usual duty free products. Few of the perfumes on show are household names, though they are real products, on sale to the public.
Ostrom says many of the fragrances tell a story far deeper than a mere smell, instead inviting people to see their perfume choice as an holistic experience, interesting rather than just pleasing.
“Traditionally we wear perfume because we want to smell nice and we probably don’t put much thought into it. We’ve got a bottle at home, quick splash in the morning, off you go,” she said.
“But there is another way to wear perfume, which is to see it as a real experience, as something that is perhaps telling us a story, taking us on a journey somewhere and that we might want a perfume to be interesting rather than just pleasing.”
The perfumers behind these unusual smells are being hailed as artists, with curators calling them ‘perfume provocateurs’.
But it’s not just quirky fragrances on display, with some classics also being celebrated, like Calvin Klein’s CK One from 1994. The first gender neutral fragrance in the west, it’s credited with starting the so called ‘clean’ scent trend.
Retired perfumer Alain Garrosi, on hand to explain fragrance to eager exhibition goers, explained that perfume tastes change due to what is going on in society.
Garrosi claims that when a society is in financial turmoil, the public will seek out more exciting smells in order to forget their problems.