mardi 7 février 2012

Will ambient scents become the new frontier of fine fragrance?

Hotel Le Crayon, Paris, "Exquise Exquisse" room ©Jacques Lebar
Have you ever been in a room scented with orris butter? Or with Monique Rémy’s peerless narcissus absolute? You probably haven’t, unless you’ve been using your costliest blends as room sprays. But you just might, should a high-end boutique, hotel or club purchase one of the six scents of the “Les Exclusifs” collection composed by Antoine Lie for Scentys Fragrance Systems, which will then become its olfactory signature and be retrieved from the catalogue.

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?

Photos courtesy of  Hotel Le Crayon and Scentys Fragrance Systems

20 commentaires:

  1. Very interesting, as always. It's sort of the opposite trend of how music is experienced, with people going around in their own private sound capsules via ear buds (or their cars), instead of the old approach of ambient Muzak, portable radios, etc.

    Gaah, even worse IFRA restrictions - so glad I have nine lives of perfume stored up already! ~~nozknoz

  2. Nozkoz's comment on nine lives of perfume made me smile. That's how I feel too.

    Interesting discussion, D! I think that the luxury air care is another extension of the crowded market. In many houses, the home care is not the most prestigious project for a perfumer, unless it is Frederic Malle who comes calling. His collection is impressive. And a good quality candle takes some experience to make!

  3. Nozknoz, perfume you could say is a social media by definition, whether it is portable or in a specific space. It's shared perforce, as Kant already sniffed in 1790...

  4. Victoria, I imagine the prestige market will develop in that direction. It's interesting that people with an experimental bent like Lie and Laudamiel are working in the medium. A far cry from Febreze and Airwick!

  5. Hi Denyse, can you elaborate on the most alarming rumors regarding IFRA and EU laws? This made me worried, again, what ends up on the chopping block next... The "nine lives of perfume" (great concept!) applies to me too but it's still sad.

  6. Mikael, no, sorry, I can't elaborate yet as I'm waiting to speak to a reliable source later in the week. But it looks as though the EU list that appears on boxes is about to get a lot longer.

  7. I like the idea above and that precision diffusiors make things better. Although I kind of avoid all other scented things in a house or on myself when I want to have clear air to be able to smell perfume and its whole character. If there is ever to be something like that in my house it certainly will be somehing of better quality.

  8. Denyse, imho ambient scents may not be the road to the future, and probably they should not. We don’t enjoy to spread valuable pigments in a room (except if we are kids), we tend to prefer perceiving a masterful composition, a Mona Lisa or even two. Are ambient scents not a sort of waste? Do we have to fill big volumes to enjoy a signature smell? Our nose is a curious organ, that is hunting for a whispering gradient. Why drown it in a flooded pool? The sillage of a beautiful woman is working through evolving or fleeting gradients. A room filled 24/7 does not exert the same effect. And what about saturation effects on your receptors? And how about tolerability? I can see wearing myself an oakmoss composition by spraying a bit on my sleeve, but would I want to expose my lungs to more than a sniff? What I would love to see, however, are continuing experiments with new delivery modes, such as slow continuous delivery of Bottega Veneta in my purse, clever fragrance release through touch, gadgets that turn the pyramid-type development upside down, ways that enhance the 3D perception of components and compositions, etc. I wouldn’t mind to find a statue in a museum whose radiant beauty is significantly supported by the changing smells it mysteriously exudes.

  9. I go back and forth about ambient scents. On the one hand, I like the idea of scenting my environment, but on the other hand, part of the magic of fragrance for me takes place in the encounter of fragrance with human skin: the way things change and evolve due to the warmth of skin.

  10. Civiva, I don't typically scent my home either, though when I'm not testing perfumes I do burn candles. What I am envisioning is, rather than a "home fragrance", another way of living with a composition. One of the things I do though sometimes is spray a room with a fine fragrance, go out and come back. It's a good way of evaluating things that don't come out in the nose-on-wrist method.

  11. Jarvis, lots of fragrances now (though probably not the ones you prefer) are fairly static constructions: skin doesn't make that much difference. But I was thinking of a way of perceiving different nuances in space rather than time...

  12. Joey, you raise many valid points. But fragrance on skin also evaporates, and then you wash, so that it could also be perceived as wasteful. And a fragrance in the air, whether it is carried on skin or dispersed otherwise, still retains its form, unlike pigments spread around a room.
    And I'm sure your concerns about toxicology are zealously addressed by regulatory organisations.
    As for novel delivery modes, I'm totally with you, there are a lot of avenues to explore.

  13. In some ways I find this exciting. In other ways, I think the spread of ambient scents will bring our hobby under even greater scrutiny from anti-fragrance activists. And that scares me. Scent is something that you choose, I think, and forcing it onto people in public spaces seems unwise.

  14. Susan, I know what you mean! But the deed is already done: olfactory branding is all over the place. Just passing in front of Lush or the Body Shop, or in the French metro, of a croissant bakery, and you're hit by a powerful blast. I don't know a luxury hotel in Paris that doesn't have its signature scent.
    I was thinking more in the line of perfumes to be used a home for "contemplation", almost like hanging a picture on the wall (but with less commitment since you can air out the room and switch!).

  15. Denyse, you are right and apt, as always. Perfume is the original social medium, and I guess it isn't surprising that the times we live in are producing so many trivial tweet perfumes.

    Mikael is right, the impact of IFRA is still sad because of all the lost olfactory works of art that would have been created without these restrictions - stillborn perfume souls, as I think you've so chillingly described them before, Denyse.

    I agree with others that I don't like the idea of having ambient scents imposed on me, but Joey's idea of the luxuriously scented handbag and yours of olfactory works of art for private contemplation are wonderful! If IFRA somehow thinks that's less dangerous than perfume, then the 8th art may be saved. ~~nozknoz

  16. Nozknoz, I certainly hope regulations (and if it were only IFRA! but there's a lot more to it) won't reduce personal fragrance to tweets, and nothing but.
    Incense *was* the original perfume, and many cultures burn or diffuse their most precious scents. So I'd rather think we'll be adding to our catalogue of possible beauties rather than huddling outside cafés puffing on our Scentys Pocket thingies! It's a pretty cool gadget by the way.

  17. @Civava : You've found the words. I don't use ambiance perfume too, and that's maybe why I can figure myself to indulge me one day with a luxury room perfume device for 80€ one day.

    @Joey R: We must keep away from prejudices. All ambiance perfumes are not dull.
    Compared to spraying a perfume, that invaded the space and the nose with a lot of aroma, the light diffusion of a roomperfume allow more subtelties.
    If a "skin" perfume dies progressively on the skin, what makes its charm, the roomspray allow a constent renewal. The smell of delicate flower depend on the constant generation of fleeting molecules, that's why most perfumes and naturel coumpounds are failing to reproduce the original flower. Quick smells in a Mall boutique have made a devotee of me. "I believe"
    You say you'd be afraid to be hanted by oakmoss. I share your fear of one smell clunging in the room. But maybe we're wrong, a little aeration and the odor is gone. But your sleeves will keep one perfume many day fore sure!

    Actually, it can't be roomspray. We'll still use it to enhance the reality, not as a roomspray. I mean, not to cover the odor of cigaretts, or cat pee, or mold, or whatever people are using cheap roompspray for.
    I can't blame ultra luxe candle and roomspray. Because actually I blame myself first, I'm enjoying to offen most of my perfume my room. Which is quite cruel, because my conception of perfume is like dancing and festing outside. It reminds me that I don't go outside as often as I should, to more experience the world.
    I can dream of having wore my perfume all day outside, and being greeted at home by a cuddling smell.
    It is a bit like these home LED spotlight, that diffuse a nice blue beam, or whatever color, and change all the mood of a room.
    Giacobetti fragrances for Hotel Costes, under her IUNX brand, is this kind of cosy smell. The gardenia in malle, is a leafy waxy plush cuddling jungle of white and green.

    Even skin perfume : there are some that enjoy more when I smell them on other people than me. When the smell come to me than out of me.

    @Carmencanada : You're forgetting the soap shops. It can stink in a mall store. If I'm stuck more than 15 minutes in this shop, in the epicentrum, I begin to think of violent action in couterattac of the nose agression.

    Scented handbag? I put back my paper strip of "bois des iles" extrait back in my purse (the extrait are avaible a new), last time I paid my grocerys at "Carrefour", it makes the all place smell like Chanel. Very confusing. And my leather purse highlight a leather orientation in bois des iles I haven't seen before.

    Yeah, 9 lifetimes of perfume stocks. We're like cats.

    If the future turn apocalyptic, we'll organise résistance. We'll be selling "my little chemist" kits, with booklet of "Do your own mitsouko with oakmoss and photosensitiv bergamotte" to onslaught on other peoples's nose.
    "Boules puantes" d'Après l'ondée.
    Olfactive bomb. Terrorists!

  18. Julien, I'm all with you on making non-compliant scents, but we'd need a) the formula and b) the raw materials. The former will never be released and the latter, when non-compliant, may well disappear. And I'm not quite ready yet to switch to homemade blends... But let's not be apocalyptic! Though a topic I'm investigating right now is extremely alarming...

  19. ;)
    a) we're living in a world where "wiki leaks" exists
    b) the ingredients are still hugely produced out of EU an USA. Roses, jasmin, geranium, ylang-ylang, are to be distilled next to the fields. In countries like India, where Turin reported how indian soap and laundry could smell of nitromusk. IFRA is not their concern.
    Indeed, if european labo don't buy one ingredient from one species, it will be endangered, but still, I guess a production survived.

    (En passant, une petite pensée émue pour ces personnes, car c'est un travail épuisant et mal payé, ce n'est pas pour rien que l'ylang n'est presque plus produit à Mayotte mais sur les îles "non françaises" des comores)

  20. Julien, IFRA is not necessarily my concern either at this stage. The EU directive on cosmetics and REACH which regulates the importation of chemical substances (including natural essences) are a lot more alarming.
    Also, if the outlets for products grown outside the EU dry up there will be much less incentive to grow them.