The recent Fleeting – Scents in Colour exhibition at Mauritshuis in The Hague is the latest testament to the power of fragrance in consumer engagement. Fleeting is the first interactive digital tour accessed via QR code, allowing visitors to smell the artworks remotely with commissioned fragrances corresponding to each piece. Every scent was developed by IFF around a particular theme (and partially inspired by actual formulas from the 17th century), such as pomander perfumes, Dutch sewer canals, grocer shops, and linen bleaching fields, with 8 scents in total.
In-person, pedal-activated fragrance dispensers are placed near the artworks. Each room of the exhibit focuses on smell represented in a wide variety of roles including as an economic growth factor, health diagnostic tool, and indispensable part of religious ceremonies. “All the smells had to come together into a composition that overall is coherent with the artwork and that it is not pleasant in a deliberate way—it has to tell the story in the painting … The unconventional use of materials and fragrance technologies was a creative challenge, which is why I really like this project, because it takes perfumers to apply their skills and craft into completely unexplored territories,” Bernardo Fleming, Scent Designer at IFF, tells Esscencional.
The collaboration between fragrance brands and cultural institutions extends beyond an opportunity for intellectual stimulation or creative challenge; the partnership provides opportunity for brand awareness and image building. For fragrance manufacturers looking to engage consumers (and potential clients) in new ways, such adventures can be a useful marketing tool. For consumer brands, the art connection can give their company a competitive edge.
This year, IFF celebrated World Art Day with the publication of Artists of Perfumery, profiling 29 perfumers, as well as Instagram Lives with perfumers and artists. Back in 2012, the Museum of Arts and Design hosted The Art of Scent exhibition, an exploration of olfactive arts history through 11 commercially released fragrances. And Somerset House staged its Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent exhibition in association with Coty and featuring support from Givaudan.
This culture-focused approach has proved equally helpful in product development and retail endeavors. Consumer brand Vivinevo designed its 3,400-square-foot Beijing boutique in an art gallery format. Floral Street recently announced a four-year partnership with the Van Gogh Museum to release fragrances inspired by the artist’s individual pieces, beginning with Sunflowers, 1889. Niche brands such as Perfumer H and Frederic Malle have retail presences employing an interior design approach that exceeds what you would see at the average fragrance counter, and understandably so given each of their above-average price points and consumer audience.
Celebrating perfumery as an art form has built a cult following amongst consumers who are looking at reputation and associative value, beyond the prospect of simply smelling good with a mass-market available product. Artisanal fragrance has undeniably been taking an art-first approach to scent from day one, but what is changing is the increasing fusion of the art and fragrance world, the former giving more cultural heft to the latter, rather than simply dismissing it as a consumer product, and the therein resulting engagement of conglomerates and larger brands within that space. Many people say that a good fragrance will take you on a journey—the question is which companies will become the tour guides and which will fall back as simple spectators.
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