A fragrance collaboration with Floris London Perfume house.


The modern era, the Anthropocene, is defined by what is lost: we are witnesses to a disappearing environment and a changing climate. I imagined scent as a means of capturing that which is ephemeral. Specifically, I was inspired by the scent of rain. Petrichor* is a scent of dissonance: the dry earth and rock meet the wetness of rain 1 drops. As there is change in rainfall patterns, this scent phenomenon evolves to reflect longer droughts and increase in erratic floods. Evoking what may soon be a lost experience by capturing its scent can trigger memories of this phenomenon. Scent is processed in the limbic system part of the brain, the same processing location for emotion, mood and long term memory. Here is the most powerful trigger of nostalgia.
Exploring this connection, I worked with the craft of perfumery to create a sensory experience that parallels a natural process. My project is a biomimetic design, design inspired by and intentionally imitative of a natural process. Since the brain archives and then recalls scents in association with memories, perfume is an ideal trigger of nostalgia and consciousness of the fleeting. My aim is not only to evoke the memories of a vanishing phenomenon but to inspire consciousness of its ephemeral nature and fragility of our environment. Musk scent is most similar to that of geosmin and is, therefore, the base of the perfume. Every perfume is designed with three layers, and all ingredients are relevant and singular, just like colors on the color wheel. The top notes, the first noticed scent when the perfume is sprayed, are musk, patchouli, and orris. These three scents are earthy, woody, dirty and are located on the scent wheel in between the woody and oriental notes. The heart, middle, notes are developed when the perfume is in touch with your skin, for my perfume I choose fig, ozonic and musk (floral and fresh on the wheel). Fig has the balsamic smell of decay that mirrors my perception of petrichor. The ozonic scent is modeled after the hydrous, chilled ozone scent that balances out the sweet sourness of the balsamic scent and the power of the musk. Finally, the end notes are the scents that linger for hours to come, the fig, apple blossom and musk. Expert perfumer, Penny, and I worked to find opposites on the scent wheel, the ripe sweet fig, enhanced by apple blossom, contrasts with the earthy, dirty musk scent. The fruitier scents represent the parallels between rainfall and fertility; the contrasts in the opposing scents encapsulate the dissonance of the petrichor phenomenon (the parched earth meeting a flood of rain drops).
I created this scent to trigger emotional experience but also as a form of awakening and realization. As the earth warms, capturing contemporary petrichor serves as an artifact of today’s environment, which can be revisited and compared to in the future. What would the petrichor of the Amazon be like after the fires? Or the first rainfall on the Grand Canyon after its longest dry spell? My vision for the future is an expansion of the range of scent but also a broadening of the experience of the scent. I hope to connect the scent with art that evokes other senses to approach a kind of synesthesia. The art of scent too has a long history, from the artisan craftsmanship of Indian villagers in Kannauj who distill the essence of monsoons to the artist Sissel Tolaas who recreates scents from the DNA of extinct flowers. I hope to encompass the work of these artists, artisans and archivers if I translate this vision beyond my project, in trying to capture the yearning of the modern condition and the catastrophe of the modern climate.
*A term coined in 1965 by scientists who explained the components of the earthy scent of 1 rainfall, petrichor is a joining of two Greek words, petra meaning stone and chor referring to the fluid that flows in the veins of Greek gods and goddesses.The components were determined to be a combination of plant oils and soil bacteria which live in the soil. These release geosmin molecules, organic, earthy and primitive smelling compounds that are emitted into the atmosphere when the dry soil gains moisture. Raindrops falling on the ground splatter and eject tiny particles called aerosols. The geosmin and other petrichor compounds that may be present on the ground or dissolved within the raindrop are released in aerosol form and carried by wind. Thus, the raindrops are both scent and a vehicle for a scent phenomenon.