| Check out the individual Headspace presentations and a film by Jane Nisselson

The Scent of Design

By Amelia Black / April 29, 2010

A designer who creates objects and spaces engages our sensations of touch, sight, and sometimes hearing. But what of our noses? Despite olfaction’s unmatched ability to evince memories and emotions—two essential objectives of design—smell is a relatively untapped medium in design practice. Combining scents with design was the challenge put to five designers, deemed “accidental perfumers,” by the organizers of HEADSPACE: On Scent as Design a symposium recently held in New York through the joint collaboration of Seed, Parsons the New School for Design, MoMA, International Flavors & Fragrances, and Coty. Selected for their diverse approaches to design, each “accidental perfumer” was paired with two professional perfumers from IFF and commissioned to explore how evanescent chemistries, when translated into smell, shape our experience of space and time. Though the participants chose to take their projects in radically different directions, they all came to the same conclusion: This is only the beginning. Many of the works you’ll see in this slideshow represent just the starting point for what promises to be a fruitful merger of olfaction and design.

Designer: Birsel+Seck
Perfumer: Celine Barel and Laurent Le Guernec

Yuka Hiyoshi and Ayse Birsel of Birsel+Seck worked with thier perfume team to explore the profound connections between memories and scents. They decided to craft odors based upon the concept of “threshold moments”—life experiences that are at once deeply personal and yet collectively shared by nearly all people. Hiyoshi and Birsel’s objects are designed to fit in the palm of your hand, playing on the powerful capacity of scent to capture a specific moment in time.

Designer: Birsel+Seck
Perfumer: Celine Barel and Laurent Le Guernec

To make the threshold moments physical in nature, Birsel and Hiyoshi created a series of pebble-like forms. Each pebble diffuses a scent associated with a specific threshold moments in a person’s life: birth, babyhood, puberty, sex, partnership, the empty nest, and death.

Designer: Birsel+Seck
Perfumer: Celine Barel and Laurent Le Guernec

Using just nouns and adjectives, designers Birsel and Hiroshi gave the perfume team a qualitative blueprint for recreating the threshold moments. When the perfumers returned with the fragrance oils, the scents were so on-target that neither of the designers needed labels to identify them. Birsel was impressed by how a deeply intimate scent, such as a room after sex, could be so universal that anyone could interpret its distinct aroma.

Designer: Toshiko Mori
Perfumer: Yves Cassar and Loc Dong

Architect Toshiko Mori built on the ideas of anti-gravity prevalent in her work to examine the natural development of a scent over time. She was paired with Yves Cassar, who is specifically adept at natural scents such as Turkish Rose, and Loc Dong, an expert in so-called “captives”— synthetic molecules that can freeze specific moments in a scent’s life.

Designer: Toshiko Mori
Perfumer: Yves Cassar and Loc Dong

Mori’s architectural work plays with suspension in space—like a water droplet between absorption and evaporation. Here, she applied this liminal concept to time, using perfume science to capture a single instant in a natural smell’s evolution—something she has dubbed an “ultra-natural” scent.

Designer: Toshiko Mori
Perfumer: Yves Cassar and Loc Dong

Capturing single scent moments is like trying to create new architecture—it demands a wholly new experience of space. For Mori, it was also the opportunity to create olfactory experiences that words and visual language alone have not yet documented.

Designer: Commonwealth
Perfumers: Jean-Marc Chaillan and Clément Gavarry

Not wanting to add more scents to an already odorous world, the Commonwealth design duo of Zoe Coombes and David Boira looked instead to the materials around them for inspiration. A pile of 100-year-old pine lumber proved pungent enough for further consideration. Using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, the IFF labs determined the chemical components of the wood.

Designer: Commonwealth
Perfumers: Jean-Marc Chaillan and Clément Gavarry

Normally, perfumers will use a database to translate intangible feelings, moods, or associations into actual scents. Commonwealth decided to reverse the process, feeding the lumber’s chemical information (see previous slide) into the IFF perfume database. The result was a list of feelings and associations that became a design brief for them: masculine, brutal, dark, chocolate, bloody, nostalgic, and burlap.

Designer: Commonwealth
Perfumers: Jean-Marc Chaillan and Clément Gavarry

The Commonwealth designers asked: What does this piece of lumber want to become? Drawing from the key terms that the database provided—masculine, brutal, dark, chocolate, bloody, nostalgic, burlap—they arrived at their answer: a butcher block.

Designer: The Majora Carter Group, LLC
Perfumers: Pascal Gaurin and Bruno Jovanovic

Since Majora Carter began her community activism work in the Hunts Point community of the Bronx, she has been interested in creating better living spaces for its inhabitants. Working with the Sister Thomas Apartments and Superintendent Sal Degundi, Carter and her perfumers experimented with creating aromatic community spaces that inspired feelings of rest and relaxation.

Designer: The Majora Carter Group, LLC
Perfumers: Pascal Gaurin and Bruno Jovanovic

By applying scent technology to the apartments’ HVAC system (Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning), Carter’s team and the IFF perfumers scented specific spaces within the building with non-toxic aromas like lavender. The project sought to counteract the negative effects of air pollution—the Bruckner Expressway runs just outside the apartment complex.

Designer: PROEF
Perfumers: (IFF, Holland)

Amsterdam-based Marije Vogelzang is an “eating designer,” a title and a job she invented for herself when graduating design school. At PROEF, her studio and restaurant/laboratory, she has been experimenting with the experience of foods for local residents and design connoisseurs alike.

Designer: PROEF
Perfumers: (IFF, Holland)

Delving into the realm of retro-olfaction, the experience of smell as flavor, Vogelzang considered the possibility of scenting the tools we use to eat. She created these wooden eating utensils, which allow users to taste the flavors of things they cannot or would not want to actually consume...

Designer: PROEF
Perfumers: (IFF, Holland)

...things like the tomato leaf, delicious to smell but poisonous to ingest.

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