“The sense of smell accounts for 95 percent of what you perceive you taste when eating. You taste only 5 percent of your food—the rest comes from the nose,” asserted The New York Times perfume critic and author, Chandler Burr, who alongside Illuminum Fine Fragrances, hosted a lavish “scent dinner” at the brand’s Dover Street boutique in London last night. If you’re wondering what a scent dinner is, it’s basically a master class in perfume, with an olfactory “invisible dinner,” where under the guidance of Burr, I sniffed samplers and tried to deduce the origin of the scent. Combine that with haute dining where scents are translated into a tasting menu by chef Ben Spalding (who was trained under Gordon Ramsay), and the whole event is part pub quiz, part sensory adventure.
Illuminum, a brand that flies under the radar, was a natural choice for Burr, who is also a curator of olfactory art at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City. “The owners have a very conscious interest in their collection as works of art, and that is critical to me, because I really believe that perfume is an unidentified but bona fide art,” said Burr, whose passion about scent makes him nearly a perfume activist. And he’s not the only high-profile fan: The Duchess of Cambridge (i.e., Kate Middleton) chose Illuminum’s White Gardenia Petals to wear on her wedding day, and by doing so, quietly sent international sales of the perfume through the roof. With its use of premium and rare ingredients, along with a unique seasonal approach to scent, this label’s days of being “little known” are numbered. After all, as Burr explained, “Smell is the most primitive of senses—it speaks to our reptilian brain. When you smell something, your brain gets the same reaction as if you put a syringe full of drugs into a vein; it’s an immediate and powerful hit. Let me tell you, fragrance is mighty potent stuff.”