The evolution of modern-day perfumery

The evolution of modern-day perfumery

By Erin Richardson

To fully understand and appreciate a fragrance, you must experience it. Your thoughts, your memories, and, of course, your sense of smell all play a part in your body and brain’s reaction to a scent.

The renowned scent expert Chandler Burr—author of “The Emperor of Scent” and former fragrance critic for The New York Times—draws on this concept with the recently launched and much anticipated exhibition, “The Art of Scent, 1889-2012” at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design. The exhibition showcases a dozen of the most notable scents from the 20th and early 21st centuries. But instead of taking the provocative, celebrity-obsessed angle, Burr (the Curator of Olfactory Art for the museum) distills the museum-goer’s attention to the creative works themselves rather than their paparazzi moments.

In appealing solely to our olfactory sense—pains were taken to remove all logos and marketing visuals from the exhibition to help one focus—Burr uses recognizable fragrances such as Ernest Beaux’s Chanel No. 5 (1921) and Estée Lauder’s Pleasures (1995), Aimé Guerlain’s Jicky (1889) and Olivier Cresp’s Angel, to illustrate how perfuming concepts have evolved throughout modern-day fragrance history.

The “Art of Scent” utilizes mechanical atomizers that provide bursts of concentrated perfume. The aim is to direct the exhibition goer’s attention to their own individual feelings in the experience of each fragrance. The exhibit culminates with a discussion area, which encourages onlookers to compare their own scent experience to that of others. It’s a concept that lends fascinating insight into the diverse reactions that can be elicited by a simple spritz of a well-crafted perfume.

The “Art of Scent” runs until February 24, 2013 at the New York Museum of Arts and Design, 

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Deborah Fulsang has spent the last two decades as a journalist covering news and trends in the worlds of style—in fashion and beauty, design and décor, food and entertaining. Her long-held love of fragrance led her to launch The Whale & The Rose, a destination for all things perfume-related. Now, when she indulges in a crazy-expensive bottle of fragrance, she can do so guilt-free. Well almost. It’s all in the name of research after all.