In late 2012 a creative centre called the Institute for Art and Olfaction was set up in Los Angeles by super-driven, Fine-Art graduate Saskia Wilson-Brown. The institute’s mission, essentially, is to provide a democratic space where people interested in perfume can learn and experiment. The IAO is really a first-of-its-kind and in its short existence has brought together a bunch of interesting artists, scientists and perfume-makers to develop really unique, scent-related projects.
It’s a giant leap for niche perfumery and maybe precisely what’s needed to push the world of scent beyond its traditional boundaries.
Ode: How did the idea for the Institute come about?
Saskia: Well, I was working on a documentary about scent and in my quest, what I found was that I wasn’t able to learn about it in a consistent manner anywhere in California. There are a lot of classes you can take but there’s no more extensive structure for anyone wanting to take it further. Plus, my background is Fine Art and I thought it’d be really interesting to combine that with the education and see what people came up with.
It’s a very awesome idea. How’s it going?
It’s going well. The cool thing about it is that it straddles art and scent so everyone seems excited about it. California certainly isn't the centre of the perfume industry so people here are extremely excited to have something more institutional as opposed to another trade or organisation.
You're creating an archive of contemporary scents, which is great. Will yours be the only archive in existence?
There’s a couple of places archiving: the Osmotheque in Paris has an extensive collection and I imagine some of the big chemical companies are keeping records, but to my knowledge there's not another contemporary one.
Will people have access to it?
Definitely eventually. It’s still very early but that’s the idea.
There seems to be a rise in interesting scent-based art projects and scent-related marketing. It's what you do there regularly and I was wondering, of the six or so that you've completed, if you've had a favourite?
The first project we did was probably the most illuminating for me. We worked with Perfume maker Josh Meyer (the man behind the Imaginary Authors project) and film maker Mark Harris, to create an intense scent based around the idea of 'cult', which was explored in his film. As an art project it didn’t go too deep – it was pretty simple really – but I think your point about the rise in interest in this sort of thing is completely salient. I’ve been seeing more and more stuff around it and the response to this oblique approach to using scent in a more creative way seems to be pretty positive.
Are there a lot of smaller, independent perfume brands in Los Angeles?
Oh yeah. for sure! That's really big here - particularly a lean towards the naturals. There are a lot of people who associate aroma-chemicals with big bad corporations so as a sort of political act they go for the natural, artisan approach. That's fine but institutionally we're agnostic since, for us, the intention is to create knowledge and access to the tools of the trade in order to do something interesting with scent. We are friendly to all - Switzerland if you will.
Are there any perfumers you'd suggest as ones to watch?
There’re so many. I’m working with a guy right now for a project we’re launching in August. His name is Bret Leonesio and he does Smell Bent. Like me he wanted to learn about perfume and couldn’t really find any good channels so thought, "fuck it, I’ll teach myself". He’s a great young guy involved in this really fun scene and his perfumes are just really amazing.
His packaging is really unique too! Do you have a large collection of scents?
I’m getting there. Every time I work with different perfumers I explore their collections so I’m getting a pretty extensive collection of my own.
It’s pretty overwhelming in terms of what’s out there.
It’s crazy. There’s so much. That's why I think that the curation of blogs like yours is so important – contextualisation is essential. That middle area - the high end which is still independent and real is so crucial.
It's really fascinating, as is what you're doing over there. Can't wait to hear about all your projects of the future.