Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scents at Somerset House 

Smell. One of the five senses. A sense of smell is incredibly important. It creates emotions, and memories, which is what ‘Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scents’ at Somerset House explores through its highly interactive and artistic perfume exhibition. 

The exhibition begins in a room with perfumes in glass cabinets from each decade over the past 100 years, including ‘Opium’ (1977) by Yves Saint Laurent, which had a spicy, oriental scent that was introduced during a decade that embraced casual conversations around sex and illicit thrills, ‘No. 5’ (1921) by Chanel, a crispy, floral fragrance for the modern Jazz age, and incredibly rare vintage perfumes such as ‘L’Origan’ (1905) by Coty and ‘Chypre de Coty’ (1917). 

Having the viewer interact with and smell the perfumes throughout the exhibition is an exciting way to create a relationship between the displays and the viewer on a personal level. Scent is a very personal thing and each person’s sense of smell and emotions regarding smell vary. 

Perfume-making is an art form. Creating the perfect mix and balance of scents is a mixture of scientific knowledge and artistic sensibilities. Perfume-making can be compared to cooking; add too much of something and the perfume is ruined, add too little and you needn’t have added it at all. 

Each room is set up differently in accordance to the perfume being displayed. The methods of sampling the perfumes is varied in an incredibly creative way, to relate to the theme of the room. Rooms with beds have the perfume wrapped in pouches in the bed sheets. A room with a campfire atmosphere has a metal bucket with the perfume in black pouches representing coal while another room has a church like atmosphere with the perfume hanging from small pouches in confession booths. The different environments and atmospheres created to surround the scents accentuate their potency.

The eighth room in the exhibition holds a table with paints and brushes to convey the concept of the viewer painting the images and feelings that the perfume makes them feel. The reasoning behind having the viewer paint their thoughts and feelings relates to the creator of the perfume being an artist and incredibly creative themselves.

Another room has a photo booth with brightly coloured teddy bears. The viewer is invited to take a bear and smell the perfume while having their photograph taken. The purpose of having this setup is to create the fun, pop aesthetic of the 1980s, when the perfume featured was released.

At the end of the exhibition, there is a workshop presentation showing how smells can affect a person’s taste. Sweets are handed out to the viewers who are then handed various scents to demonstrate how certain smells can remove or change a taste. 

This exhibition is a stunning must see, as well as a must smell! It is a perfect opportunity for viewers to completely immerse themselves into the complex sensory art of perfume. 

'Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent' is on at Somerset House until 23rd September.  More information may be found here.