Remember the last time you walked through "a cloud of perfume"? Whether you liked the whiff or not, it was the moment where you met a strong, overpowering, and enveloping scent for a split second and smelled nothing else. Your grandmother or possibly an ex-S.O. with questionable tastes in cologne might have come to mind. But think about it—you didn’t actually walk through a cloud, if we’re taking our favorite word "literally" seriously. Cartier perfumer Mathilde Laurent just changed all that, though. Working with a team of Germany-based climate engineers from Transsolar, Laurent brought her vision of a sensorial scent installation to life.
It’s called OSNI.1, and it’s a true perfumed cloud suspended in a transparent glass cube at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, France, created in an effort to help the public understand that fragrance is far more of a physical and emotional than spritzing a scent on your wrist and calling it a day—it should be an artistic and even emotional experience.
"The birth of the OSNI.1 came from the creation of the perfume called L'Envol. It’s actually the smell you get when you go in the clouds [of the installation]," explained Cartier perfumer Mathilde Laurent.
"This perfume was designed around the idea around elevation—intellectual elevation, spiritual elevation—and so the idea was to have one’s head into the clouds." What’s more, L’Envol de Cartier was created with the honey notes of mead, known to have been a drink of the residents of Mount Olympus, which happens to be the highest mountain in the country and also the home to the Greek gods.
"It’s also the idea of a creative renewal. To have one head’s into the clouds is a way of renewing one’s self and to find ideas and to reinvent one’s life," she added. So with a walk into Laurent creation, you get the physical experience that matches the mental state of dreaming for what could be—and let’s be real, you’re usually just getting that by building a new Pinterest board.
In addition, Laurent had the important goal in the creation of this installation to prove that fragrance is always more than a smell. "It’s a work of art that actually talks to one’s mind and one’s body," she said.
And it’s true. From the outside looking in, it’s mesmerizing to see a cloud suspended in the air of a square cube, and there’s no doubting it’s beautiful. But walking up to the top and being surrounded by scent while not being able to see your feet through fog, you have to take a moment and just stand there—because it touches on so many sense at once. Relaxed and surrounded by billowy air, you almost feel weightless.
So how does a cloud of perfume really exist? It's a very technical process of controlling the temperature and environment of the glass box. In this case, climate engineers created a layer of cold air on the lower part of the cube and a layer of hot air on top—the cloud lives in-between both of these layers. The fragrance is diffused through the upper layers of warm air, so when you get to just about the top of the spiral staircase, you start to smell the fresh, faintly sweet notes of honey.
But redefining the way fragrance is perceived and experienced has long been this perfumer's trait, even before clouds came into a cube. "At Cartier, we do not sexualize the perfumes because that means that there will be an olfactory character, and it would mean in order to come up with this cliché so to speak, we would have to use the same ingredients as the other brands," said Laurent. It’s the idea of wearing something that speaks to you regardless if it's made for a man or a woman—if you like it, wear it.
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"It would also mean that you would have to put man and woman in this ‘sex’ jail or prison so to speak, and for me, that’s exactly the contrary of what you do when you create. Creation for me is about opening up those boxes—opening up prisons and jails. It’s about fighting against any type of character clichés. And this OSNI.1 here is also there for that—in order to bring perfume out of its industrial prison."
OSNI.1 is open to the public until October 23 and is free after registration at the Bassin de Palais de Tokyo in Paris, France.