You often hear bibliophiles rhapsodize over that “old bookstore smell,” but up until now, art enthusiasts mostly had no way to experience their passion in an olfactory capacity. Museums tend to discourage visitors from getting close enough to paintings to take a big whiff, but what about those of us want to — nay, must — smell the Metropolitan Museum of Art?
The news this week is good indeed, as fragrance company Pura has announced a collaboration with The Met, introducing a line of six fragrances meant to encourage an extra-sensory experience of art across time and culture. A press release about the new perfumes says the scents offer “an entirely new way to experience The Met collection of 5,000 years of art.”
The line is both wearable as a personal fragrance and compatible with Pura’s in-room diffusers, so now you can refer to your living room as the Egyptian Wing. The six fragrances are available individually or in sets of two; for example, “Blue Water Lotus,” inspired by the lotus flowers depicted in carvings on the Temple of Dendur is paired with “Egyptian Sandalwood,” a musky, woody fragrance. There is also “Bamboo Forest,” which seeks to capture the essence of the Ming dynasty Astor Chinese Garden Court with fresh notes of bamboo, orchid, and plum blossom, paired with “Spiced Woods,” which “draws inspiration from a serene mountain retreat.” Finally, “Terracotta Rose” is an earthy fragrance that gestures to the work of Greek artisans, with salt and mineral notes under a flowery overlay, and is paired with “Perfume Immortelle,” which seeks to uplift Roman artisans’ dedication to detail, movement, and humanity.
And yet, it’s possible that this collaboration doesn’t go far enough. What other scents of the museum could an enterprising perfumer seek to capture? There’s “Fancy Decanter,” which could basically just be tap water but presented in bottles that emulate some of the vintage vessels in the collection. Or how about “Post-Ambergris,” which is a salute to the now outré perfume ingredient made of sperm whale bile (and also used to make several items in the collection!) “The Unicorn Defends Himself,” inspired by the Unicorn Tapestries (1495–1505), could be a whimsical mixture of funfetti cake batter, blood, and a note of manure. And of course, we could have “Volunteer Docent,” which is a proprietary mix of Bengay cream and White Diamonds.
But really, while the notion of art perfume feels slightly heady, it is perhaps no sillier than any other lengths we go to bring the timeless beauty of a museum collection home with us in the form of a postcard, art book, or lapel pin.
“Art has the power to create connections and transport people across time and place,” said Josh Romm, head of partnerships at The Met. “This program provides a new and exciting opportunity for fans of The Met to experience art, history, and cultures of the world from the comfort of home.”