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Perfume: Somerset House

by Ryan Ward August 24, 2017 3 min read

Perfume: Somerset House

This past weekend, whilst in London, I decided to check out the Perfume exhibition at Somerset House. Here in the UK, Somerset House is well known for showing films outdoors. Since it rains a lot here, they also have to do some stuff that's indoors. Cue the exhibitions.

I'd previously read about the exhibition but I wasn't sure exactly what form it would take. We were presented with cards, each with a grid and the numbers 1-10 on them. The point was to see if we could work out what was in each fragrance. 

From then on, each fragrance was like an installation on its own. One was a big white plastic box with the corners bevelled off and loads of holes drilled into it. These were what I called 'smell holes'. The reality though was that the fragrance was so light, I assumed what I could smell was the wooden frame hidden inside the box. As it turns out, I wasn't entirely wrong. This particular fragrance, Molecule 1 is based solely on Iso E Super, which is woody. Real woody. Thing is, when it's diluted, it's subtle.

Real subtle. 

Another room had some benches in it made of raw wood, still had bark on and everything. And it smelled smoky. 

Real smoky. I liked this room a lot. If you're a fan of smoky fragrances, check out Perfumer H here.

There was one room which was decked out in wood panelling, like something from the 70s. There were around ten chairs against the wall, spread out evenly with a small leather bag hanging from a chain above it. The bag is black leather with a steel lined hole in the side.

Normally, I don't go around smelling random gimp masks suspended from ceilings, but I'd paid my entrance fee and didn't want to seem weird by not sniffing it.

The bag smelled of leather (and not gimp). Perhaps it was a fresh gimp mask.

The weirdest, by far, was Dark Ride (aside from the bed that I sniffed). First of all, the thing to sniff this time was a psychedelic styled stuff bear, so that was weird. Then, the fragrance hits you. To be honest, it was evident when we entered the room but I ignored it initially as it smelled like chlorine. I figured someone was cleaning something nearby. But it turns out that Dark Ride is intended to smell like a waterpark. I can see that. But what sprang to mind was urinal blocks. So, might not be for everyone.

As we rounded the corner, there were two perfumers reconstructing fragrances that are readily available on the high street. I watched as she remade The Scent Intense and was shown (and allowed to smell) the base, heart and top notes that made up the fragrance. Each one unique and easily identifiable but together, became something else. Very simple yet very effective.

She explained that after a day or so, any fragrance that remains will be the base note, the very richest of the fragrances used in any perfume. Often this is a natural extract or isolated synthetic ether. 

The longest that can really be expected of any high quality fragrance is 24-48 hours maximum. This is the length of time in which the intended aroma will exist for. Anything after this point is most likely the base note. 

Interestingly, we were told that natural extracts, such as vanillin or tonka bean for example, are accepted more readily by the body as they are identified as 'edible'. This is partly why flowers and plants are used so widely in perfume as the body can accept the fragrance from them and the smell is magnified by the body's interaction with it.


Ryan Ward
Ryan Ward

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