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The Art of Scent

Artistic Inspiration

The Art of Scent, the first museum exhibition dedicated to exploring the design of perfume, is on display at New York's Museum of Art and Design (MAD).

The exhibition showcases twelve perfumes that profoundly impacted the design and aesthetics of olfactory art. These twelve perfumes date from 1889 to the present and were chosen for their impact on the art of scent. With emphasis on the perfume craft and the creators of the perfume, this exhibit analyzes the processes of the creators and provides insight into the major stylistic and cultural developments in scent design. In a specially designed installation by Diller Scofidio+Renfro, each scent is experienced individually in order to emphasize the distinct artistry and raw materials used in these creations.

The Art of Scent - A Hint of the Scents Through History
Showcasing the initial three of twelve historical scent points

Scent 1: Jicky, 1889, by Aime' Guerlain
(1834-1910), France

Born into a family of well-known scent creators in 19th-century Paris, Guerlain developed Jicky using 3 newly available synthetic raw materials, the same year as the Eiffel Tower was completed. Jicky allowed olfactory artists to free themselves from an exclusively natural scent palette for the first time in history.

photo credit: Guerlain

Scent 2
: Chanel No. 5, 1921, by Ernest Beaux
(1881-1961), France

Chanel No.5, noted as the first modern scent, was a revolution. Beaux built a traditional French floral scent, then wrapped it in new synthetics, creating the greatest impace on olfactory arts in the past century.

photo credit: Chanel

Scent 3: L'Interdit, 1957, by Francis Fabron
(1913-2005), France

As abstract art was becoming popular, offering newer artistic
offerings, Fabron developed L'Interdit using scents of flowers and
woods along with synthetics to evoke, not imitate art. As
counterpoint to Guerlain, who enhanced the natural world, and
Beaux, who reframed the natural world, Fabron sought to transform
nature into an olfactory abstract art form.

photo credit: Givaudan

Holly Hotchner, the museum's Nanette L. Laitman Director, describes the exhibition as a “game changer" for scent as an artistic medium. “At MAD, we are always looking to push the boundaries and question the hierarchies in art by exploring the materials and processes behind groundbreaking work. There has not been the exploration or recognition of olfactory art as there has been of art that stimulates the other four senses." Chandler Burr, MAD's Curator of Olfactory Art, reinforces this insight by divulging, “My goal for this exhibition is to transform the ways in which people respond to scent artists and their art."

Walking throught the exhibition, visitors will note a focus on the olfactory experience, and that the exhibition is almost void of all visual indicators. This encourages visitors to concentrate exclusively on their sense of smell.

In addition, visitors get a glimpse into the labor-intensive artistic process of creating perfume by showcasing the stages of development for one fragrance, Trésor by Sophia Grojsman, from the initial written brief to the final work. Working my way through the "mods" to gain further insight into the stages, I note that it's a brilliant display of the history of this scent. What is smelled at the first test site is nothing like the final test site, which is the familiar scent on the market. photo credit: IFF

The Art of Scent is exhibiting until February 24, 2013.

All photography courtesy and permission through the New York Museum of Art and Design
To read more about The Art of Scent or the New York Museum of Art and Design or to contact for more information, go to