Creating my signature scent at the Chinatown nonprofit where art and olfaction intersect.
After becoming disillusioned with working in the film industry, artist Saskia Wilson-Brown decided to explore her interest in perfumery.
Unable to access the famously elitist, hermetic and incestuous fragrance industry, Wilson-Brown founded The Institute for Art and Olfaction (IAO) as a place for anyone to explore the art of scent and perfumery.
I’ve never been a big cologne wearing type of guy and definitely never liked to spend a lot of money on fancy designer scents.
Sure, you probably would’ve smelled a little CK ONE or Fahrenheit if you passed me in the hall during my high school days but as I moved into my twenties, the designer colognes were out and the cheaper more ‘natural’ smelling scents were in. “Hemp Hand Protector” from The Body Shop, “Grass” by the GAP and numerous other crazy concoctions became my go to scents throughout my 20s and 30s.
I think most people have probably dreamt about creating their own original signature scent at some point in their lives but there’s really never been an outlet for people to experiment with that.
That’s why I was super excited to check out The Institute for Art and Olfaction.
Located in DTLA’s vibrant Chinatown…
…amongst the numerous art galleries along Chung King Road…
Our class began with Saskia Wilson-Brown, who has a master’s degree in fine art from Central Saint Martins College in London, giving a brief history about the roots of modern perfumery and her journey that led to the opening of the institute in 2012.
We also got a short lesson about “notes”. Traditionally, perfumers build their fragrances to contain three levels, or “notes:” top, middle and base. These notes are created carefully with knowledge of the evaporation process and intended use of the perfume. The presence of one note may alter the perception of another – for instance, the presence of certain base or heart notes will alter the scent perceived when the top notes are strongest, and likewise the scent of base notes in the dry-down will often be altered depending on the smells of the heart notes.
Our small group was divided between two tables…
…and after a brief orientation and safety session…
…we were given a blank worksheet, droppers, and small plastic cups to begin our experimentation.
The lab has a wide selection of natural and synthetic aromamolecules to choose from.
However, in order to keep us from feeling overwhelmed, Saskia went ahead and selected 16 different scents (4-5 of each note) for us to work with during our session.
We then took the time to smell each one in order to narrow our selection down to the ones we wanted to work with.
I chose Frankincense, Texas Cedar, Musk Accord, and Amber, all of which are traditional masculine scents (at least to me they are).
After writing down the four materials on our worksheets…
…and labeling our bottles, it was time to create our signature scents.
Using droppers and small plastic cups…
…we experimented with different mixtures of the four scents we selected and marked the number of drops of each one on our worksheets.
By the end of the class I realized I didn’t like any of the mixes I had put together and actually preferred the original four scents I choose earlier on their own. What’s great about the class is you actually get to keep the four vials and whatever else you may have mixed. So what does stRAyNGER smell like? Well for the last four months it’s been a combination of Frankincense, Texas Cedar, Musk Accord, and Amber which I’m slowly running out of. Looks like it’s time to take another open session class so I can restock.
If you’re interested in finding your own signature scent, The Institute for Art and Olfaction offers a wide variety of programs for you to take, including “Open Sessions” that only cost $40 and allow you to take what you make home with you. For updates on all the IAO’s activities, including workshops, public programs, and collaborations they’ve done with artists, scientists and architects, please visit their website or follow them on Facebook. Tell them stRAyNGER scent you.