Fragrance Exhibits

I’ve been puzzling over Sephora’s “Sensorium,” a 3,700 sq. ft fragrance exhibit in New York’s Meatpacking District. When Sephora’s vice president of retail marketing, Allison Slater, spoke to the New York Times On the Runway blog this week, she said, “People aren’t as interested in fragrance, and sales are down. Our sales aren’t as bad as others, but still.”

That’s a comment she probably regrets—it’s a terrible way to introduce a fanciful and perhaps slightly intimidating fragrance gallery that charges an entrance fee. The ticket price is redeemable for $15 of merchandise in Sephora stores.

It’s open until November 27 and it’s co-sponsored by the fragrance house Firmenich, which may be best known for its fragrance site GiltCity, the online flash sale site, describes the exhibit as “a cross between a laboratory, classroom and art gallery.” It’s is selling tickets to the Sensorium for…$15. Not necessarily a deal, but they say that you get a private tour.

But the Sensorium will have to do for now, because the fragrance exhibit that Chandler Burr was supposed to curate at the Museum of Arts and Design has reportedly been delayed multiple times. Burr, the former scent critic for the Times and author of a couple of great books on fragrances, was hired by the Museum a year ago this month to produce an exhibit called The Art of Scent, 1889-2011.

It’s an ambitious, and for fragrance enthusiasts, really exciting project: the Museum’s second floor gallery will be devoted to a handful of landmark fragrances, including Guerlain’s Jicky and Germaine Cellier’s Fracas, which will be presented so that visitors can smell them unmoored from their bottles and accompanying marketing. The exhibit catalog will contain essays by Burr and samples of the ten scents.

It was supposed to open in October or November this year, but there hasn’t been any publicity for it so far. On the Museum’s website, there is no listing for it up through June 2012. Rumors in the fragrance community on Twitter have pointed to the possibility of a June opening. UPDATE: The Museum of Arts and Design’s VP of public affairs, Marisa Bartolucci, tells me that the exhibit is postponed until 2013. Very disappointing.

I discovered via Olfactorialist that Burr spoke in September at a TEDx conference in Budapest about three great fragrances: Jicky (1889), Chanel No. 5 (1921), and Santal Massoïa by Hermès (2011). This may be some of the material for the exhibit, and again, it will have to do until the real thing opens. A video of the lecture is below.

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3 Responses to Fragrance Exhibits

  1. I didn’t even know the exhibit was there. Thanks for the heads up.

  2. I only heard about it randomly in the Times. Not sure what they’re doing to promote it, or if it’s working. I want to go, but I’m skeptical of any marketing endeavor that charges consumers for the experience — even if it does mean a $15 gift certificate for Sephora. The damn thing should be free. And it strikes me odd that this is how Sephora confronts what it says is slow sales and a drop in interest in fragrances.

  3. As I said in an update above, I just heard from Marisa Bartolucci, VP of public affairs at the Museum of Arts and Design, that the exhibit has been postponed until 2013. That’s a long time to wait. Makes me wonder if there are some licensing issues, or if it’s a problem with creating the actual exhibit.

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