Ever since she was presented with a bottle of strawberry-scented perfume on her fourth birthday, a bottle which was swiftly confiscated after she poured it over herself “and possibly tasted some of it”, Odette Toilette has been fascinated by fragrance.
A burgeoning perfume collection and an interest in the more esoteric ways of encountering scent ultimately led to the creation of Toilette’s now regular Scratch+Sniff events, which seek to explore and challenge the ways we think about perfume: relating it to historical eras, matching fragrance to food and drink, using it to inspire poets and authors, artists and architects. This is perfume as an art form, yes, but it goes deeper than that – inviting audience members to participate fully in the proceedings and bring their own stories to the table, making fragrance another form of communication and a way for people to share their own experiences.
“I was wondering why there weren’t any events about scent that treated the subject-matter imaginatively” Toilette explains. “In a fit of madness, or inspiration, I came up with an idea which I sent off to The Book Club, a venue opening in London that year, and said to be looking for slightly unusual entertainments. To my initial delight, and then panic, they said yes. I spent the next two months wondering if I could get out of the engagement, then told myself to stop being an idiot and to get on with it. So that February, with guest speaker, the wonderful Mr James Craven, the first Scratch+Sniff event took place. And it was just so much fun.”
From that first event, Toilette has developed an olfactory empire. “Since then, I have worked with many inspiring scent-enthusiasts to find new ways of bringing this subject to life, and the exploration never stops. There has been a Scent Speakeasy of illicit perfumes, nostalgia-trips to the perfumes of our teenage years, a collaboration between poets and perfumers, an ongoing monthly podcast all about smell and scented retellings of Greek Mythology. Now everything I work on is about how to create pleasure, new ideas, and even usefulness from scent and smell, whether that’s offering ways to delight in fine fragrance, or harnessing the power of smell to support people in their everyday settings, from pupils in school or for individuals living with health conditions like dementia.”
From a make-your-own lickable perfumes masterclass at Somerset House and perfumed walking tours at the Tate to a collaboration with the Royal Observatory Greenwich on the scent of outer space, no theme is too bizarre for these unique nights out. Describing herself as a ‘purveyor of olfactory adventures’, Odette’s gatherings appeal to perfume aficionados and newcomers alike. Nobody is going to haul you up on stage and force you to identify complicated ingredients – it’s not a Masterchef audtion. The atmosphere is always relaxed; a place to share, learn and explore.
Having been to several Scratch+Sniffs, PHOENIX are particularly excited about the upcoming event SIP/SNIFF: “an outrageous new tasting evening combining booze and scent”, hosted at quirky bar Stories on Broadway Market.
Co-hosts Odette Toilette and drinks expert Clara Rubin have trawled their shelves to source aromas and tastes with the most interesting and complex personalities. It’s up to attendees to compare them and find out how their perceptions and preferences are altered by combining the two.
“Our six scents are combined with six different spirits, and showcased in a series of themed pairings,” Toilette explains. “You’ll be sampling a range of drinks all by out-of-the-way producers, from Dark and Spiced Rums to a boutique Mescal and Bourbon. Throughout the night you’ll acquire a whole new language with which to express two of life’s best luxuries.’
Wonderful perfumes and top-notch booze? We’ll see you there.
TUE 22ND APR, 2014 7.30pm – 9.30pm. Tickets are £27.50 including booking fee, taking in an extravagant six measures of spirits including Gin, Rum, smoky Mescal and more. “Don’t feel you have to drink everything!” Odette assures us, but we kind of think it’d be rude not to at least try.