This year’s World Perfumery Congress had a lot to offer: an interesting lecture program, a glamorous location, industry friends old and new, not to mention amazing new things to smell. But I was especially interested in attending this year because it was the first year the WPC mounted an art exhibition to coincide with the event. So, when Bad Girls Perfume author Sarah Colton called me up and suggested we travel together, voilà! The stars aligned and I booked my ticket.
I’ve got to be honest, this was my first time attending the WPC, and initially the thought of going was quite intimidating. It occurred to me that everything about the WPC may be stratospherically above my head. Even the logo and the formality of the word “Congress” suggests “professionals only!”
Last year when a friend forwarded the open call for artists to exhibit at the 2018 WPC, I didn’t apply. I was skeptical. I wondered how art installations would fit into a corporate trade show environment. These are the biggest fragrance manufacturers in the world—Givaudan, IFF, Symrise, Firminich—with their own generous exhibition budgets and teams of creative thinkers, problem solvers, and perfumers, who are there to deal big-bucks with International clients. With sales around 3 or 5 billion a year—they’re going to be busy. But to assume that these big businesses would not be interested in art would be judgmental and short-sighted. In fact, two of the 2018 WPC selected artworks were supported by WPC exhibiting perfume manufacturing houses; mega power house Givaudan and the niche family-run house, Delbia Do.
How could I forget that only a couple months ago, I myself handed over an Art & Olfaction “Golden Pear” Award to artist Oswaldo Macia for his artwork Under the Horizon, and joining him on stage was IFF perfumer Ricardo Moya. They have worked together for years, and they are not an anomaly; mega perfume houses work with artists all the time. In fact, upon arrival to the WPC, while I was starring dizzyingly at the giant map trying to locate the art, Ricardo Moya greeted me with a warm welcome, double kisses, a party invitation, and not for a single second did I get the “what are you doing here?” vibes.
Still, giant perfume houses can collaborate on artist projects, but how do these artworks translate in the context of the WPC trade show, and who is going to engage? There were three selected artworks exhibited and I have chosen to briefly describe each below.
Ruvan: Explore the Expansion of Space
Photographer Ruvan drew visitors in by offering an escape from the hustle and bustle of big business negotiations. His virtual reality experience brought you to the Yucatan. The visuals and sound were ethereal and meditative, and incorporated an olfactory element—attached to the VR device was a piece of felt that was doused with one of four fragrances. The viewer gets to choose their encounter: Earth, Foliage, Air/Water, or Native Fruits. The scents were made by Derryl Do, of Delbia Do Fragrance Lab in New York, and are reflective of four main olfactory themes of the Yucatan; together they work as a balanced perfume. The scents, the audio, the photographs, and the subsequent Virtual Reality tour were taken from Ruvan’s recent Yucatan-inspired solo show at NYC’s Ilegal Mezcal Gallery entitled Explore the Expansion of Space.
Fabio Lattanzi Antinori: Dark Pools
This sculptural installation was beautifully camouflaged into the architecture of the building which may not have been intentional, but coincided with the theme of subterfuge perfectly. Dark Pools is inspired by the financial trading anomaly that happens on the Internet—dark pools. According to the supplementary text, three fragrance dispensing devices positioned at the top of the tallest pole will periodically disperse set amounts of each accord: Money, Trader, and Technology. All three perfumes, designed by Sergey Dziniruk, come together to create a complete perfume: Latency.
Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos: Dessine Moi un Arc-en-Ciel
Kosmatopoulos worked with The Givaudan Foundation to make seven fragrances inspired by the seven colors of the rainbow, exhibited at Musée Louis Braille, France in 2015 and The Institute for Art and Olfaction, LA in 2016. The artist collaborated with three of Givaudan’s in-house perfumers; Quentin Bisch, Natalie Cetto, and Guillaume Flavigny, as well as several blind people to navigate descriptions of colors through scent. Kosmatopoulos wanted to recall memories and feelings associated with the scents through rigorous exploration of temperature, taste and language. The colored markers were placed on the wall to create an overall color dot effect and were fully interactive; one could remove the lid and smell the infused fragrance.
It’s always delightful to see decision-makers in a corporate environment understand the importance of art in a business context. Creativity, freethinking and wild ideas actually move society forward. It’s no secret that forward-thinking people usually have the most successful businesses, choosing to collaborate with creative people who aren’t afraid of change. Kudos to Ryan Daily of Perfumer & Flavorist magazine for having the vision to incorporate art exhibitions into the WPC this year. I hope the WPC will continue to develop its engagement with artists in subsequent instalments.