Perfume performances: creating character with perfume

When we dress up, choosing a character to play for a Halloween party, we think about costume, make-up, perhaps a wig or some props. But what about scent? We can become someone else for a while through the alchemy of scents.

October 23, 2020

Perfume performances: creating character with perfume

 

In her brilliant book Perfume: A Century of Scents Lizzie Ostrom (also known as Odette Toilette) writes about experiments with performance and scent. At the Elliott Theater New York, a play called Experience was shown in 1915 that featured actresses playing emotions, such as Passion, Slander and Intoxication. A specialist was brought in to create scents corresponding with these emotions, so that each actress could be sprayed with her particular perfume before emerging onto the stage. It was a resounding success: the actresses reported that the perfumes helped them embody their roles perfectly and viscerally.

 

This phenomenon wasn’t new even in 1915; people throughout centuries used scent to project their presence, establish their power, and make a statement. In the Tudor era in the UK the scent of a rose – which today has mostly delicate and romantic connotations – was actually an emblem of king Henry VIII, a symbol of royal authority. Scent was an indelible element of who the king was and formed part of his persona, just like in the case of more modern celebrities: think of how strongly we associate Marilyn Monroe with Chanel No 5!

When we dress up today, choosing a character to play for a Halloween party, we think about costume, make-up, perhaps a wig or some props. But what about scent? We frequently forget that perfume – which can make us feel dynamic, elegant or romantic on a day-to-day basis – is also a powerful tool for transformation, performance, play. Just like the performers of Experience, we can become someone else for a while through the alchemy of scents.

The characters we want to become for a festive evening are iconic, powerful and striking – the whole idea is to depart from who we usually are. Scents which would normally seem too much or too shocking can tap into all those un-explored facets of our personalities. It is part of the whole excitement of the evening to figure out what your character would smell like: a witch would be enveloped in a murky mist of smokey, woodsy and spicy notes; a mermaid would exude the salty, blue-green scent of the marine depths; behind a Great Gatsby-era flapper we might sense a trail of juniper berries reminiscent of a gin & tonic, and outrageous white florals like the tuberose.

 

What’s wonderful is that scent lingers in the memory so well, and can bring us back to who we were when we last wore it. Who knows, maybe the scent you create for your Halloween transformation will be something you can reach for throughout the year when some extra supernatural powers are needed, and when you want to feel larger-than-life. Or perhaps you’d like to become one of those iconic, memorable characters yourself, and create a completely unique perfume that will make you stand out every day?