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Apr 14, 2015
Brera’s beautiful Botanical Garden is home to an exhibition about scent and experience for this year’s Milan Design Week. Organised by creative think tank BE OPEN, The Garden of Wonders includes an exhibition of scents that have defined historical eras, a showcase of new perfume bottles commissioned to explore the future of scent, and a series of sensory installations that reimagine the packaging, settings and smells of forgotten luxury perfume brands from around the world.
For The Houses of Wonders, eight design studios have taken on the identity and history of closed perfume brands. Equipped with ranging degrees of documentation – from rich archives to entirely lost histories – the designers were free to imagine the scent, setting, packaging and scenario for the brand they were paired with. The results are each housed in an intimate room-set, boxed so that visitors must step inside one or two at a time to observe them.
Tord Boontje imagined Czech brand Waldes et Spol (Scent and Psyche) as a bohemian conservatory, where crafted fans gently waft the scent around lush furnishings surrounded by potted plants. Fernando & Humberto Campana applied their signature rustic touch to French brand Biette, encasing an undulating white perfume bottle in a cave-like setting.
Paired with Italian brand Bertelli, Dimorestudio created a room clad floor-to-ceiling in glossy tiles, dotted with falling water.
Lissoni Associati, paired with American perfume house Lundborg, created dozens of identical apothecary bottles, which line the walls of the space. A laboratory-inspired installation in the centre illustrates the handcrafted origins of the perfume as well as its botanical sources.
Nendo interpreted Russian brand R. Koehler & Co through two perfumes, one hot and one cool, which are displayed in a clinical, stark white setting. Blue-purple and red-orange tubes snake through the perfume bottles to differentiate them.
Jaime Hayon’s portrayal of British brand Boissard sees tubular lighting pieces and distilling apparatus displayed atop a marble bench. Characterful vases, rounded seating and stacking glass pieces combine with a striking colour palette of black, white and plum, for a modern take on elegance.
Front’s mesmerising installation presents French brand Guyla as a twinkling night sky. The beaker-style perfume bottle is the centre of a room full of darkness, lit up by bright white dots of light.
Jean-Marie Massaud’s take on Bertif has a strong sense of tactility. Four perfume bottles are presented, each made over in a different material: glossy silver, cold white marble, warm turned wood and smoked glass.
A Vision In A Box considers the future of scent design: ten studios have created luxury perfume bottles that respond to themes including the ritual of applying perfume, the placement of the object in-store and at home, and the importance of touch.
Thukral & Tagra’s submarine-shaped bottle celebrates the decorative appeal of perfume packaging, and its prestigous position at the centre of the dressing table. GamFratesi’s bottle design is inspired by a bell; each time the perfume is dispensed, a small sound is created by the movement.
Werner Aisslinger’s design resembles a stylised pine cone, with hexagons interlocking around the bottle, while Karim Mekhtigian has combined contrasting colours and finishes, topped with a bright metallic cap. Victor Vasilev’s is the most minimalist of the showcase. The perfume bottle is transformed into a linear metal sculpture, its function indicated only by the spray atomiser on its side.
The final part of the exhibition, A Journey Through Scents, runs through the cultural history of scent, from prehistory to the late 20th century, to explore how a smell can reflect and define an era – with samples for each chapter. From the rise of Oriental scents and the spices that came into vogue from the Silk Road, to Coco Chanel’s groundbreaking Chanel No. 5 and Thierry Mugler’s all-conquering Angel – and, through it all, the power of the smell of skin, the most primal scent of all.
The Garden of Wonders is open until 24 May 2015 at Orto Botanico, via Fratelli Gabba 10 / via Brera 28, Milano.
– Sarah Housley
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