Perfume As Cultural Object – S1, E7

In times of crisis, we turn to art, but what about perfume? The term encapsulates the kaleidoscopic wheel of smell, therapeutics, pleasure, plant medicine, aromatherapy, science, and chemicals. Ok, I’m being uber-liberal with its definition, but the ability to use scent exactly how you want can be the catalyst for great change. In the face of austerity, what can seem obviously extravagant is anything but. Smell is our past, our present, our future, made even more potent because of its invisible, malleable, and mutable nature.

Even those who are scent averse can’t deny that by the very nature of being alive, smell is the backdrop to life. From laundry detergent to candles, herbs, and spices used in the kitchen, fruit scratched and peeled, the aromatic symphony follows us longingly. And so I couldn’t be more excited to talk to my guest this week, Saskia Wilson Brown, a true renaissance woman if ever there was one.

Saskia started her career in music video production. From 2007 to 2011, she headed the outreach & development department at Al Gore’s Current TV before founding The Institute for Art and Olfaction, a non-profit arts organization devoted to experimentation, access, and cross-media projects with a focus on scent. Of The Institute and its inception in LA, she has said: “Los Angeles is the most postmodern of cities, the future-facing home of a thousand ideas that would have felt strange and audacious, anywhere else: The aerospace industry and the movie industry; fast food, lowriders, and Disneyland. This city popularized Korean tacos, method acting, satanism, fad diets, botox, yoga cults, gangster rap, neon, Mickey Mouse, red carpets, and reggaeton. Here, you can live and make a living in the most esoteric ways. Indeed, innovation and synthesis, populism, and sophistication are all core requirements to survive and thrive in this city. If we play our cards right, we might help instigate things yet to be seen: An aerospace engineer might collaborate with a perfumer to create a scent for outer space, a designer might develop a typeface around the idea of ‘gourmand,’ or a prisoner might work with a molecular biologist to create the scent of fear at midnight.”

Talking with Saskia left me feeling hopeful about our capacity to create and endure. Oh, and I can’t wait to visit The Institute’s perfume garden! See you there!



The Institue for Art and Olfaction:
The Emperor of Scent:
Odette Toilette:
Luca Turin, Tania Sanchez:
Fundamental by Rubini:
John Biebel:

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