Saskia Wilson-Brown founded the Institute for Art and Olfaction in 2012. She gives us a whiff of the surprisingly complicated process behind perfume blending.
What got you interested in making your own perfume?
I was working in media and film, and the internet made everything so easy. Scent felt like a meaningful medium. It’s so fleeting and intangible. You can’t get it digitally. It’s visceral.
What’s the blending process like?
You usually end up doing 5 to 30 trials. Most people who talk about scent lack the language. Of- ten the conversation is like, ‘It needs to be a little bit harsher.’ If
one scent is rhubarb and one is animalic, both are harsh—what kind of harsh do you want?
You’ve worked on some pretty bizarre scents. How do those come about?
Typically an artist will approach us and say, ‘I’m doing an installation, and I want the smell of screaming children, or the city at dusk.’ It’s pretty abstract. I advise them and help them translate ideas into smells. You want something dry and dusty? Try Norlimbanol. Something ethereal? Try Iso E Super.
How do you measure out the different notes of a scent?
The scale measures in grams or milligrams—0.15 grams of a scent can make a huge difference, sort of like when you add too much salt and dinner’s ruined. It’s pretty meditative—not to get hippie-dippie, but there’s something really present in it.
932 Chung King Rd., Chinatown, artandolfaction.com.
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