Summer Series Part 2: Shalimar Showdown

Welcome to Perfume Polytechnic’s Summer Series. I’m taking a break over summer from writing new posts, but instead of stopping publishing altogether, I want to share with you some of my favourite posts from this year and earlier. I hope you enjoy reading them; you may even come across something you missed the first time round!

Today I’m sharing a post of mine from early 2015, Shalimar Showdown: The Originals and The Flankers Battle it Out, in which I compare and review eight different kinds of Shalimar (vintage, contemporary, different strengths and flankers) and one vintage Emeraude. It was fun to write and I hope you find it fun to read!

Shalimar Showdown is my most read post on Perfume Polytechnic. It’s interesting to read if you like Shalimar but don’t know which one to buy, or if you’re interested in collecting many of the different Shalimars, or even if you just want to find out what some of the differences are between them all. Obviously I haven’t reviewed every Shalimar there is: I do hope in a future post to review a few more of my vintage bottles and also the Shalimar flankers that have been released recently. But for now, pour yourself a cuppa, find a comfy chair, and enjoy the journey that is Shalimar ShowdownContinue reading

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Shalimar Showdown: The Originals and The Flankers Battle it Out

And the winner of the prettiest bottle award goes to...

And the winner of the prettiest bottle award goes to… Shalimar Parfum Initial L’Eau Si Sensuelle.

Shalimar by Guerlain is my favourite fragrance of all time. It is the fragrance that got me interested in the notion of fragrance as an olfactory art, so I owe it a lot. So many words have been devoted to the history of Shalimar, the making of it, and the many versions of it over the 90 years it has been in production, that I hardly need to go into much of that now. Instead, here is a bit of trivia about this much loved fragrance:

  • Shalimar was created in 1925 by Jacques Guerlain.
  • Shalimar is similar to Guerlain’s own Jicky (1889) with a mega-dose of vanilla added, although rumour also has it that it was based upon the formula for Francois Coty’s Emeraude, created in 1921.
  • Shalimar is often called the Queen of Orientals, or the reference oriental fragrance.
  • Shalimar is one of Guerlain’s bestselling products.

You can read more about the Shalimar and Emeraude connection over at The Perfume Vault, and ponder the origins of this iconic fragrance. If you want to look up the particular notes and ingredients used in Shalimar, Emeraude, or any of the flankers from my review, head on over to Fragrantica. It should be noted that this blog post is more for the seasoned perfume aficianado, in that it assumes some knowledge of Shalimar and its flankers, and how they smell.

Yesterday afternoon I tested eight versions of Shalimar, including four flankers, and one version of Coty’s Emeraude. I didn’t include Jicky in my survey this time, although it is remarkably similar to Shalimar.

I sprayed the originals on my left arm, and the flankers on my right. I wrote my initial impressions down over the first five minutes or so after spraying, and then came back to the fragrances after a period of about ninety minutes to see how they developed and changed over time.

The Originals

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Shalimar Originals and Emeraude by Coty

Emeraude

Emeraude Cologne Spray

1. Emeraude Cologne Spray by Coty

I have a vintage bottle of Emeraude – I’m guessing it dates from the 80s by the look of the bottle and the lettering on the sticker underneath. As far as Emeraude goes it’s not very old and it may not be the best version out there. Coty sold out (financially and creatively) a long time ago and sadly their classic and iconic fragrances have all but been destroyed over recent decades. However, this version seems quite good and it’s an interesting reference point to start my adventure from.

At first spray: it’s very much like Shalimar, but is softer, lighter and more powdery. There is less of the discordant harshness that I find in Shalimar, which is what I think makes Shalimar a great fragrance. I smell Johnson’s Baby Powder here, a zesty bergamot and a hint of fresh lemon is well blended with the vanilla and amber, and I also detect opoponax. If I didn’t know this was Emeraude, I might mistake this for a vintage (20-30 years old) Shalimar, in an EDT concentration. It’s yummy, but it’s not outstanding!

After ninety minutes it smells quite wan. The amber is there, as is a touch of baby powder vanilla, but any interesting qualities have faded and it just smells simple and a bit stale. My guess is Coty was already using inferior ingredients (compared to Guerlain) during the period this bottle was made. It just doesn’t cut the mustard in comparison to any of the Shalimars, sadly. Maybe one day I’ll get to smell an older, better Emeraude.

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Shalimar Eau de Toilette from 2000

2. Shalimar Eau de Toilette refill bottle from 2000

On first spray: this smells harsher than the Emeraude. It’s much more complex and I immediately notice a touch of civet, an unmistakable fecal note. The bergamot has a real edge to it, which contributes to the harshness. It’s much stronger than the Emeraude too. I smell leather, but it’s not concocted from birch tar; it has a softer, gentler, new leather handbag smell. The bergamot, amber and vanilla are the most dominant notes in the first few minutes, more or less equally.

After ninety minutes this is really interesting and is still moderately strong on my skin, which is great for an Eau de Toilette. It’s quite savoury for a Shalimar, and I can smell distinct layers of fragrance notes hovering over one another: amber at the base, a powdery soft vanilla in the middle, and a muted, yet still present bergamot adding a little bit of pizzazz up the top. This is good stuff.

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Shalimar Eau de Cologne c. 1990s and missing its label

3. Shalimar Eau de Cologne c. 1990s

Wowzers! At first sniff this is harsher again; there’s almost a hint of bug spray, and a very sharp leather note, but it quickly calms down to become a soft and rounded scent. The bergamot is much softer than in the Eau de Toilette. I’ve heard that natural, untampered-with bergamot was more rounded and complex than the version used in fragrance today, which has had its potentially skin-harming photosensitive molecules removed from it. I wonder if it’s been used here? It certainly doesn’t have the screechiness of the bergamot used in the newer versions of Shalimar. Overall, this version of Shalimar is much quieter in volume, being a cologne (the weakest concentration of fragrance), and the ingredients are more blended. I almost get a hint of licorice here, which is odd: I’ve never noticed licorice in Shalimar before! As with the Eau de Toilette (EDT), the bergamot, vanilla and amber are equally blended together, with no one note dominating. This is a divine skin scent. I’d love to splash it on lavishly all over and have someone think this was how I actually smelled, naturally.

After ninety minutes this has almost gone. A faint whisper of vanillic amber is barely detectable in the crook of my elbow.

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Shalimar Parfum from 2010

4. Shalimar Parfum from 2010

The first big difference I notice between this and the other Shalimars is an overtly strong, warm animalic smell. It’s civet again, but here it’s immediately dominant. Then a fresh, lemony bergamot swiftly rises up and hovers above the sweetly warm animalic smell. Amber appears and tussles with the civet for dominance. The vanilla sits there in the background quietly, supporting the composition. This is a very sophisticated and well-balanced fragrance. It’s strong, but as there is less alcohol in this parfum-strength Shalimar and a correspondingly higher proportion of delectable, smelly ingredients to enjoy, we don’t have to wait very long for the alcohol to evaporate before we can dive in, nose first, and enjoy the fragrance. Shalimar parfum is rich and refined.

After ninety minutes this is a cuddly, warm, sophisticated joy to smell. It’s faded quite a bit, but an almost sweet, vanillic amber wafts up from my skin. The civet has toned down considerably (only adding warmth, but no poopiness to the mix) and the bergamot has left the room entirely.

This is a scent that I use on special occasions only. It’s beautiful and well crafted.

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Shalimar Eau de Parfum, current version

5. Shalimar Eau de Parfum – current version

This is the exact fragrance (year and concentration) that got me excited about perfume, and which made me realise that fragrance can be an olfactory art. It’s the version of Shalimar that I wear most. But do I still love it the most, after this showdown?

There’s something quite rough and intense and dark about this brew. Goodness, I do love it so. I smell not only quite a strident bergamot and a touch of lemon, but rough, masculine woods, leather made from birch tar, smoke, strong amber, and quite a bit of civet. It’s so exotic and passionate: a mix of fresh and almost fetid, sweet and savoury, light and dark. The vanilla is only just starting to peek its head out at about two minutes in. At this stage the Eau de Parfum could be a unisex fragrance. Perhaps it’s this straddling of camps that I like about Shalimar: it’s such a great mix of so many seemingly contrary things that it’s not easily classifiable or even describable.

After ninety minutes this is still a complex and beautiful fragrance. It’s faded a bit, but is still quite noticeable with my nose a good six inches or so from my shoulder. Any rough edges have faded, and the vanilla is rising up to take on a starring role, alongside the ever-present, very dry and savoury amber.

I’m at the half-way point now, so I take a break for my nose’s sake. My left arm smells incredible, like it’s been coated with lemon meringue tart and Johnson’s Baby Powder. I feel lopsided with fragrance on only one side of my body!

The Flankers

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The Flankers

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Shalimar Ode a la Vanille Sur la Route du Mexique from 2013

1. Shalimar Ode a la Vanille Sur la Route du Mexique from 2013

I get an intense civet burst at first spray and almost a hint of cumin-like body odour deep in the background. I’m trying to smell the chocolate that’s listed in the notes but I’m struggling at this stage – perhaps all I can smell of it is a powdery, earthy cocoa smell, very faint. The bergamot is quite strident again and reminds me of that used in the Eau de Parfum (EDP). It’s on an equal footing with the civet and the amber is strong too. This flanker is very similar to the current EDP version of Shalimar at first spray, but with certain elements skewed or enhanced, especially the civet. If I didn’t know it was a flanker, I would probably just think it was another version of Shalimar that I didn’t already know well. It mellows reasonably quickly and the sweeter lolly-tones are emerging a couple of minutes in.

About ninety minutes in this fragrance has mellowed significantly and the animalic elements have blended beautifully with the caramel and chocolate notes, both of which are quite prominent now. It’s like a warmer, sweeter, lolly shop version of Shalimar, with amber and vanilla still intact, but in the background.

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Eau de Shalimar from 2011

2. Eau de Shalimar from 2011

Holy lemon starburst! This is lemon sherbet lollies and bright golden sunlight and a zesty bottle of sweet lemonade being opened on a hot day, all at once! The fizz! The sweetness! Underneath it all, like a layer of bedrock, is the signature Shalimar trademark blend of vanilla and amber, but it’s quite well disguised on first spray. This is edible!

Ninety minutes in this is more diminished than I would like: it’s now a soft, lovely melange of lemon, amber and vanilla, but it’s only sniffable about an inch from my skin.

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Shalimar Parfum Initial Eau de Parfum – current version

3. Shalimar Parfum Initial Eau de Parfum – current version

Oh! This is so dark and rich and intensely delicious. This fragrance, while it shares a name with Shalimar, is not particularly like the original. Its darkness, richness and complexity equals that of the current Shalimar Eau de Parfum, even if the two do not smell particularly closely related. I visualise dark purple velvet swathes of fabric when I smell this. Shalimar Parfum Initial contains enormous quantities of iris and molasses-infused caramel, which delightfully combine to give the impression of licorice. There’s a hint of bergamot, and though it’s kept in the background, it certainly creates a frisson with the warmer ingredients, including the ever-present vanilla and a rich, almost savoury amber. While this flanker contains gourmand ingredients, it’s far too complex and interesting to place firmly in the category of gourmand. Oriental-gourmand, perhaps?

After ninety minutes the licorice note has toned down, to leave a lovely combination of dark caramel and savoury amber. The iris is still strong and compliments this duet, and is now displaying a powdery quality that wasn’t present earlier.

And the winner of the prettiest bottle award goes to...

Shalimar Parfum Initial L’eau Si Sensuelle from 2013

4. Shalimar Parfum Initial L’Eau Si Sensuelle from 2013 (Eau de Toilette)

This is a flanker of a flanker of a flanker: first there was Shalimar Parfum Initial, then Shalimar Parfum Initial L’eau, and then this one. Shalimar Parfum Initial L’Eau Si Sensuelle is, confusingly, the same fragrance as Shalimar Parfum Initial L’Eau; apparently it was merely repackaged in 2013 in a gorgeously girlish pink frosted bottle with an impossibly soft feather tassle. This fragrance also wins the contest for the silliest, longest fragrance name in history. But apart from all of this, SPILSS, as I shall now call it, is not a complete frippery. The iris is much softer here than in Shalimar Parfum Initial and shares centre stage with a more buttery caramel. As a result, the licorice effect is much more subdued in this version of the fragrance. Bergamot plays a supporting role here too, though it’s much subtler than in any of the original Shalimars, and vanilla is also in the background. Where has the amber gone? I’m not sure I can detect it at all, nor am I certain that it’s meant to even have any.

After ninety minutes this is a softer, sweeter version of Shalimar Parfum Initial. I smell mostly caramel and a soft powdery iris. It’s lovely and is moderately strong for an Eau de Toilette after an hour and a half.

And the Winner Is…

So, which Shalimar wins the showdown? Both the original Shalimar Eau de Parfum (current formula) and the Shalimar Parfum Initial Eau de Parfum tickled my fancy the most. Shalimar EDP is complex, rich and interesting, remains interesting through its development and drydown, and exhibits a range of qualities and ingredients that create both friction and harmony. It’s a perfect blend of opposites, and it works incredibly well. Shalimar Parfum Initial is not quite as complex but is equally distinct in character as Shalimar EDP, and yet they are both dark and intense creatures. I love how the edible, gourmand ingredients of Shalimar Parfum Initial are offset with more classical perfume ingredients such as iris and bergamot. Again, it’s a beautiful blend of somewhat oppositional forces that somehow coalesce to create a marvellous composition. These two favourite versions are followed closely by the utter beauty and warm sophistication of the 2010 Shalimar Parfum, with its balanced and elegant use of exquisite raw materials.

There is no doubt that I love and enjoy wearing every one of the fragrances I’ve reviewed today, and this has been such a fun and educational experiment for me. I’ve been able to study, for the first time, the subtle and not-so-subtle differences and similarities between various versions of the original Shalimar and some of the flankers. I have a new take on all of them thanks to this exercise and I do hope it’s been interesting for you too!

Which Shalimar is your favourite? Do you own a version that I don’t have? If so, or if you have a different take on things, let me know in the comments box below!

How Does Hyper-Natural Smell? Scent Chemicals at Chandler Burr’s National Gallery of Victoria Exhibition

Yesterday I revisited the Chandler Burr scent exhibition, Hyper-Natural, at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne, Australia. To recap, the Hyper-Natural exhibition showcases seven fragrances by Guerlain, presenting them in scent stations, or “pods” in the garden at the rear of the NGV. Each of these pods contains pools of each fragrance, and also the synthetic scent chemical (molecule) used prominently in each of these fragrances. There is also some curatorial information inside each pod (which I draw from in this post) about each scent chemical and fragrance and the significance of the chemical and how it is used in the completed fragrance. I gave an overview of the opening events of Burr’s exhibition a few weeks ago, including the Keynote Address and a curator’s tour. You can read that post and see some great photos of Hyper-Natural here. You can also visit the NGV website to read about the exhibition.

Today I want to talk about how Hyper-Natural smells. For those of you who don’t live in Melbourne or who don’t have the good fortune of being able to visit Hyper-Natural, I want to describe to you how the scent chemicals (molecules) in the exhibition smell. The Guerlain fragrances themselves are generally easily found in department stores and will be well-known to many of you, so I won’t spend too much time describing them here. We don’t often have access to the isolated chemicals or ingredients used in perfumery, however, so it is a treat to be able to smell them and describe them to you, so you can share in the experience of Hyper-Natural.

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One of the scent stations at Hyper-Natural, with Chandler Burr standing to the right of the “pod”.

Before heading out to the garden to sniff the exhibition, gallery patrons are encouraged to pick up a card containing tear-off strips to dip into each scent chemical and fragrance, to facilitate the sniffing process.

Cards to tear off, dip and sniff.

Scent Station 1 – Scent Chemical: Coumarin / Fragrance: Jicky

Coumarin is the common name for scent molecule 2H-chromen-2-one. It was created out of necessity, at a time (the 1800s, in Europe) when it was hard to source certain raw, natural perfume materials. Coumarin is supposed to smell like the tonka bean from South America. It was synthesised by an English chemist in 1868 and was used by perfumer Aimé Guerlain in Jicky in 1889.

What does coumarin smell like to me?

Coumarin does smell like tonka beans, an unusual ingredient I’ve been lucky enough to find and smell at a boutique spice shop in Melbourne called Gewurzhaus. I’ve also eaten it as a flavouring in white chocolate, where it imparted a soft, vanilla-like taste. For a scent chemical, coumarin actually smells very natural. It has a subtle almond, marzipan, creamy vanilla kind of smell.

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The inside of Scent Station 1: Coumarin/Jicky

Scent Station 2 – Scent Chemical: Ethyl Vanillin / Fragrance: Shalimar

Ethyl Vanillin was created by chemists in 1872. It is described by Burr, in the curatorial notes, as a more powerful version of natural vanillin. This chemical is a good example of a “hyper-natural” smell: it’s like the natural smell that it references, but is amplified. Because of the strength of the chemical, Shalimar only uses 2% ethyl vanillin, yet the vanilla note in Shalimar, for those of us that know it, is very dominant, testifying to the strength of ethyl vanillin. Jacques Guerlain created Shalimar in 1925; rumour has it, he added a quantity of ethyl vanillin to Jicky to create Shalimar. Whether or not the creation of Shalimar was this simple (there are other differences between the compositions of the fragrances too), Shalimar does smell like a more vanillic version of Jicky.

What does ethyl vanillin smell like to me?

Like coumarin, this scent chemical also smells very natural, but as Burr says, it is more intense than natural vanillin. To me it is a sharp, savoury, strong, natural-smelling vanilla.

Scent Station 3 – Scent Chemical: Sulfox / Fragrance: Chamade

While this scent molecule is extracted from a shrub, it doesn’t smell particularly natural. At Chandler Burr’s Keynote Address, audience members had different ways of attempting to label this smell, with the general consensus being that the smell is strong, fruity, chemical, yet not particularly nature-identical (unlike coumarin and ethyl vanillin). In Chamade, perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain balanced out the “oomph” of this synthetic ingredient with large quantities of similarly powerful ingredients such as blackcurrant and galbanum.

What does sulfox smell like to me?

To me sulfox smells like a slightly funky version of passionfruit, specifically the inside of passionfruit skin, after you’ve cut it open and eaten it with a spoon, crossed with a faint, chemical, burning smell, like that of burning rubber.

Scent Station 4 – Scent Chemical: Polysantol / Fragrance: Samsara

Sniffing station 4: Polysantol / Samsara. At the curator’s tour with Chandler Burr and the NGV’s Ewan McEoin.

Mysore Sandalwood, much used in perfumery, has been over-harvested, leading to a world-wide shortage and the need to create synthetic versions of this very popular fragrance ingredient. Polysantol is just one of the synthetic versions of sandalwood to have emerged, which each representing a facet of the natural material, but unable to replicate natural sandalwood in its entire complexity. Burr considers polysantol to be an abstracted, streamlined version of sandalwood, stripped of its cedar and tar-like aspects. Polysantol is a starring note in Jean-Paul Guerlain’s Samsara, a gorgeously creamy, rich fragrance that combines faux-sandalwood and jasmine in a heady and comforting combination.

What does polysantol smell like to me?

Polysantol smells like a creamy, slightly fake version of sandalwood. It’s almost a little sickly sweet and too cloying on its own. In Samsara, the jasmine provides a balancing counterpoint to this sickly aspect of the scent chemical.

Scent Station 5 – Scent Chemical: Cis-3-hexanol / Fragrance: Aqua Allegoria Herba Fresca

Cis-3-hexanol is a green-smelling scent chemical. As Burr explains in the exhibition notes, there have been other green-smelling scent chemicals before, but cis-3-hexanol is unique in that it smells strongly of cut grass, crossed with the smell of an unripe (green) banana. In Aqua Allegoria Herba Fresca, perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain uses cis-3-hexanol in combination with other green plant smells, such as mint and green tea, to create a hovering, floating, fresh scent that most certainly references nature but is somehow abstract at the same time.

What does cis-3-hexanol smell like to me?

Cis-3-hexanol smells like a chemical, hyper-natural version of cut grass to my nose. It is also a tad earthy and hints at the cool aspects of crushed peppermint. I can also detect a faint burning smell in this chemical.

Scent Station 6 – Scent Chemical: Methyl cyclopentenolone / Fragrance: La Petite Robe Noire

This scent chemical is considered a “maple lactone”, and, according to Burr’s exhibition notes, is used “to generate sugary caramel notes without associations of fairy floss.” When perfumer Thierry Wasser was working on creating La Petite Robe Noire (The Little Black Dress), he wanted to represent the colour black in the fragrance. As methyl cyclopentenolone has a very deep, dark smell, Wasser chose to use it in La Petite Robe Noire.

What does methyl cyclopentenolone smell like to me?

Methyl cyclopentenolon smells like a deep, earthy, almost-savoury, synthetic maple syrup. It is a touch woody, and burnt-smelling, like a burnt-sugar topping on a crème brulée.

Scent Station 7 – Scent Chemical: benzaldehyde / Fragrance: L’Homme Idéal

Benzaldehyde has actually been around for quite a while, as far as scent molecules/chemicals go. It was created in 1832, and is, according to Burr, notoriously difficult to use because of its intensely strong smell of bitter almond. In L’Homme Idéal, Thierry Wasser has balanced the intensity of this ingredient with coumarin (from Jicky) and ethyl vanillin (from Shalimar), no doubt rounding out its strength with these other, slightly softer gourmand notes.

What does benzaldehyde smell like to me?

Benzaldehyde has a glorious, rich, true marzipan smell. It’s a tad sweet and while it smells a bit like coumarin, is much richer and more intense. As I continue to smell it, after a few minutes I detect a strong cinnamon facet to this chemical. The aldehyde component (aldehydes give fragrance ingredients lightness and help them to “float”) helps to create an overall impression of a floating, hovering, sweet, spicy, cinnamon-infused almond tart filling. It’s incredible, dark, rich and gorgeous, and is my favourite scent molecule in this exhibition.

In Summary

I hope that this report of my own impression of these scent chemicals and a brief discussion of how they were used in the corresponding Guerlain fragrances has helped to evoke a sense of what it is like to experience Chandler Burr’s Hyper-Natural. Have you been lucky enough to smell any of these scent chemicals yourself in another context? Have you been to Hyper-Natural, and if so, what did you think of these ingredients? What did they smell like to you? I’d love you to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Bibliographical note: I drew upon the curatorial/exhibition notes from the NGV’s Hyper-Natural exhibition in order to write this report, however, the opinions stated about each scent chemical are my own.

Chandler Burr’s Hyper-Natural Exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria

Chandler Burr’s Hyper-Natural exhibition in the garden at the National Gallery of Victoria

Chandler Burr’s scent exhibition Hyper-Natural: Scent from Design to Art opened recently at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). I attended the Keynote Address given by Burr on the evening of Wednesday, 24th September. Burr and co-curator Ewan McEoin introduced us to the key concepts behind the exhibition, and Burr spoke at length about his own philosophy of scent-based art and design, interspersed with discussion of the materials and fragrances that are on display in Hyper-Natural.  The talk was somewhat free-form and very high-energy. Burr riffed without notes or script, pacing up and down the stage with a headset microphone on, interrupting his address periodically to introduce to the audience, one-by-one, the seven synthetic scent molecules and related Guerlain fragrances from the exhibition. Each fragrance in the exhibition uses one of these scent molecules, some of which are nature-identical, which means that they are intended to mimic a natural smell, such as sandalwood or vanilla, while some are new smells entirely, devoid of intentional reference to existing smells.

Here is a short snippet from an article Burr wrote in The Age prior to the exhibition – it encapsulates some of the concepts behind the exhibition:

In 1969 Jean-Paul Guerlain designed a work entitled Chamade with the synthetic p-Mentha-8-thiol-3-one, which smells like a neon fruit salad of sulfury mango and guava powered by the nuclear radiation of the Fukushima reactor. [Note: Yes, I actually want to say this, and yes, the shock is the point.] It is a shocking material, and it let Guerlain create a work that presented these natural olfactory aspects not as natural but as hyper-natural. Which is why my exhibition, in which you will smell these molecules and these works, is called Hyper-Natural.

Text quoted from this article in The Age, September 19, 2014.

Burr speaking at the Keynote Address

During Burr’s address, a group of volunteers and staff busily dipped perfume blotters (tiny white cardboard strips used to test perfume) into large silver flasks of fragrance and scent molecules that lined the stage in front of Burr and handed them out to the audience. As we sniffed each of the blotters, Burr told us what they were, and interacted with the audience: asking us whether we thought the molecules smelt like something else (natural or otherwise), and if we could identify the Guerlain fragrances. All of this was interspersed with copious amounts of audience chatter and with interesting morsels from Burr about the history of scent, anecdotes about famous perfumers, and opinions and assertions about fragrance and the arts. It was an action-packed, fascinating and lively talk, and was followed by questions from the eager audience and a preview of the exhibition.

Hyper-Natural at night

At night-time, in the garden behind the gallery, on a rainy evening, the exhibition emitted an ethereal, fantastical energy. Mist was pumped out into the air around the garden, which, along with the rain, darkness, and aromas emanating from the installation, created a magical and intriguing atmosphere. The installation consists of seven numbered pods: these are white, minimal, column-shaped sniffing stations, one for each molecule and the corresponding Guerlain fragrance. Information about each molecule and fragrance is inside each pod, with the fragrances and molecules lying in small, circular, liquid pools within. A sheet of tear-off fragrance blotters is provided (with the name of each fragrance and molecule on it) so that you can dip a blotter into each pool and have a sniff. Moving from pod number 1 to number 7 is also a chronological journey, starting with Jicky (1889), and ending with Guerlain’s recently released L’Homme Idéal (2014).

The paired synthetic scent molecules and fragrances are as follows:

  1. Molecule: coumarin / Fragrance: Jicky (1889)
  2. Molecule: ethyl vanillin / Fragrance: Shalimar (1925)
  3. Molecule: sulfox / Fragrance: Chamade (1969)
  4. Molecule: polysantol / Fragrance: Samsara (1989)
  5. Molecule: cis-3-hexenol / Fragrance: Aqua Allegoria Herba Fresca (1999)
  6. Molecule: methyl cyclopentenolone / Fragrance: La Petite Robe Noire (2009)
  7. Molecule: benzaldehyde / Fragrance: L’Homme Idéal (2014)

Sniffing station no. 1 – Jicky (1889)

The following day, I got to view the exhibition again, and took part in a short curators’ tour with Chandler Burr and Ewan McEoin. The tour was a brief, 30-minute walk around the exhibition, stopping at each station to sniff, with Burr discussing each scent molecule and fragrance as we went along. It was, more or less, a clear and concise re-run of the concepts and information from the Keynote Address the previous night.

Curators’ tour

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Hyper-Natural during the day

It was lovely to see the exhibition during the day and to watch members of the public interacting with the materials. Children seemed to love it, and enjoyed running around the garden, using the mist-generators as makeshift hurdles. Hyper-Natural is a fun, interactive and informative exhibition. It’s a great introduction to scent, the science and design that goes into it, and its history. Sniff it or miss it!

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Hyper-Natural during the day

More details about the exhibition can be found here. Hyper-Natural runs until the 30th November. You can read about some of Chandler Burr’s ideas behind Hyper-Natural in this article from The Age.