|Hotel Le Crayon, Paris, "Exquise Exquisse" room ©Jacques Lebar |
Using rare and costly materials to scent space rather than skin may seem wasteful or positively decadent. But it might just be that the future of fine fragrance lies in ambient scents. It may not be how we’d prefer to experience it, since in our Western cultures we see our sillage as a personal adornment and/or an olfactory badge. But as toxicology standards grow ever more stringent for leave-on products – the most alarming rumors are circulating on forthcoming EU laws and IFRA amendments – it may be one of the few outlets for using restricted materials in more than piddling quantities.
Ambient scents also offer lots of creative wiggle room, since they don’t actually have to feature skin-loving notes, something Frédéric Malle outlined when launched his home fragrances. If they are fairly complex compositions, they also afford a very different experience through the larger volume they occupy in space.
But above all, the market is nowhere near as saturated as it is with fine fragrance and its 1000+ yearly launches. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that perfumers and brands are increasingly turning to them as commercial and creative outlets – the maverick Christophe Laudamiel, for instance, has been working almost entirely in that medium, creating signature scents for public venues, an olfactory opera and more recently a “scent sculpture” exhibition at the Dillon Gallery in New York
Of course, it helps that companies are coming up with devices that diffuse scents more quickly and efficiently, without the hindrance of composing with ingredients that can withstand heat (as in candles), or send droplets into the air (like atomizers). For instance, the Scentys Fragrance System, which offers the device in three sizes, including the 12.5 cm high Scentys Pocket.
The scent comes in cartridges which are inserted into the device: the tiny capsules of perfume the cartridge contains are “ventilated” into the room by a fan. Because there is practically no “contamination” within the device since there are no droplets, various scents can be diffused throughout the day via the same machine.
Thus, the funky chic Parisian boutique hotel Le Crayon (depicted above), a spritz away from the Palais-Royal, offers a choice of five different home fragrances to guests for their rooms. The Scentys “box” can also be used to experience the sillage of a fragrance. Lancôme used it to promote Ô de l'Orangerie in bus shelters. Lalique picked Or Noir, an agarwood-based composition, to scent its flagship store on the rue Royale. The Museum of Perfume in Grasse has used it in interactive displays.
Of course composing a fine fragrance suitable for the type of diffusion involves a different approach, as Antoine Lie, who is a consultant for Scentys, explained during the presentation of the Exclusive collection. There is no classic pyramid-style development, since the ingredients are released simultaneously rather than gradually as the skin heats them. Which doesn’t mean you can’t do complex, compelling fragrances. For instance, “Poudre de Cuir”, one of the two samples offered to guests at the launch, lives up to its name (“Leather Powder”) by playing on the powdery leather facets of violet leaf, orris butter and Atlas cedar.
Perfume lovers may be nowhere near swapping their collection for an ambient scent system. But as a way to expand our experience of fragrance, or even just to test new products without resorting to blotters, it’s an interesting proposition.
And now, on to you: what do you imagine to be the future of ambient scents?