Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Scratch + Sniff

The other day I ventured across London to The Book Club in Shoreditch to provide a bit of historical context to a stunningly original way of thinking about - well, about loads of things: history, culture, gender - and last but not least, scent.

It's an event called Scratch + Sniff, compered by the fabulously named Odette Toilette. The theme for the evening was the 1920s - a time when synthetics took over the perfume world, rendering classics like cologne and rose and lavender water hopelessly old-fashioned. Modern men and women in the 1920s wanted to smell like cigarette smoke, aeroplane fuel, leather, imaginary flowers - even each other. Famously, Charlie Chaplin wore Mitsouko - one of the few 1920s fragrances still easily available today, a potent oriental that today is seen as a woman's fragrance.

My favourite was Habanero (I think), which was created to drop onto cigarettes like a room fragrance, though I think Odette told me in one of our talks before the evcnt that the perfumers were trying to make a smell that evoked Cuban maidens rolling cigars on their virginal thighs. There were bowls of coffee beans on the able to smell when you got nasal overload, the olfactory equivalent of crackers at a wine tasting.

The best thing about the night was the way it provoked conversation, and made you think anew both about what you were smelling and why you responded to it as you did. One especially celebrated 1920s scent made almost everyone think of vintage shops, but in a good way - it was the most popular on the night. The scent was intended to recreate the smell of a brothel.

I haven't got out much over the past few years (as the fact that Shoreditch is foreign territory to me proves), but I can't remember when I was last in a room so buzzing with common interest and enthusiasm, and wonder at experiencing something new. Somehow looking at things through the prism of scent gives new shape to them - the 1920s is a relatively obvious one, but upcoming topics include the Movies, Scent & Creativity, and Scent and Masculine Identity. Bravo Odette Toilette.

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