The Future of Fragrance Challenge: Creativity Unbound with IFF, ISIPCA & RCA

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This summer we ventured further into border-less creativity and innovation as the final presentations from the Royal College of Art MA Fashion and the ISIPCA Master of Scent Design and Creation students poured in for our annually sponsored competition, “The Future of Fragrance”.

We initiated this partnership with the RCA 26 years ago with a dual goal: Encouraging young design talent to explore new approaches to the world of fragrance via the intersections of design, technology, commerce, imagination and innovation through various pathways including philosophy, intellect, market, material, image, language and science; to inspire fragrance creation and to think about fragrance differently.

Today, the IFF and RCA partnership thrives under the helm of our creative internal think tank, La Fabrica, designed to approach fragrance differently: Through partnerships with a network of renowned fashion schools around the world, such as the RCA in London, the Royal Antwerp Fashion Academy, ENSAD – les Arts Déco – in Paris, and the Rhode Island School of Design in the US, as well as  art collaborations, and a range of events to inspire, unite, challenge the world of fragrance. 

The Future of Fragrance

The challenge we task students in the RCA project is to re-imagine and transform the future of fragrance.

What does the future of fragrance feel, look, smell like, when all boundaries and preconceived ideas are removed, and tomorrow is envisioned by creative talent and unfiltered creativity? 

Sharegrance™: Fiction and reality come together in Marie Isaccson’s concept of scent for the gaming world. Working with IFF’ apprentice perfumer Viet Anh Ngo NguyenT, six amazing scents were created for the virtual life

The RCA students present to an exacting jury of IFFers, leading to a first selection of 9 students, followed by a second rigorous selection of three finalists and ultimately, one winner.

Over the course of the year, three graduating RCA project finalists (culled from 40 initial participants) were paired with graduating students from ISIPCA’s Master of Science, Scent Design and Creation, another of our programs, which teaches the foundations of designing scents.

The task this year was to collaborate and create while navigating the constraints imposed by COVID-19. 

The collaboration had commenced in the pre-COVID-19 world of physical interaction. A selection of RCA fashion students, along with program directors, Zowie Broach and Susan Irvine, visited ISIPCA in February and participated in a creative collaboration workshop with the MSc Scent students, led by creative coach Anne Stark Ditmeyer. 

Using a range of exercises that included mind-mapping and drawing the creative process, the students were armed with tools for future collaboration. However, even as the world retrenched, the collaboration continued. The students were located in England, the Netherlands, France, New York, and Sweden. The timetable was aggressive and tight – less than five weeks to connect, share ideas, brainstorm and for the ISIPCA student perfumers, develop trials that could be sent back and forth to their clients, the RCA designers, for modifications. 

With impressive and speed of light communication and responsiveness, and understanding from everyone – the collaborations proceeded until the big day arrived in July. 

Forty-seven Zoom attendees – current and past RCA students and previous competition winners as well as RCA, ISIPCA faculty and IFF executives – watched the presentations from the three finalist teams. 

Ellen Fowles, RCA Fashion creating a concept of “Breathe Better” - reusable face coverings to encourage the use and improve the wearer’s experience of masks as a key element in controlling the spread of COVID-19. Fragrances created by IFF’s George Tedder.

 Ellen Fowles, RCA, an adaptivewear designer who was paired with ISIPCA’s George Tedder, a trainee perfumer currently interning at our headquarters in New York. They presented first.

Ellen’s work focuses on inclusive design. She designs adaptivewear, clothing that functions for people with disabilities or the elderly. Ellen has co-designed and consulted with stroke rehabilitation patients, NHS staff, Alzheimer’s sufferers, Paralympians, and those living with Autism and other cognitive disabilities. 

This project, Breathe Better, focused on a design intervention - reusable face coverings to encourage the use and improve the wearer’s experience of masks as a key element in controlling the spread of COVID-19. 

George Tedder: “When thinking about what sort of olfactive landscape we wanted to explore, Ellen and I focused on how we could recreate experiences that Coronavirus has forcibly changed for all of us. Certain forms of dining, and entertainment are no longer safe, and so we must all wear a mask to protect others, while trying to reclaim a sense of normalcy. We designed the fragrances to help us do this: to give consumers a reason to wear their masks, and keep them on.” 

George incorporated materials from LMR Naturals by IFF to create three fragrance approaches: Calming, Energizing and Focusing. His palette included sandalwood and lavender oils for Calming, citrus, rose, and ylang ylang for Energizing and vanilla and myrrh for Focusing. 

George and Ellen also explored creating a product that could be an innovative way to heighten and restore the sense of smell – possibly for those suffering from anosmia (as a result of Covid-19 or through the aging process). This device could act as a smelling aid, like ear pods but for your nose. 

These ‘ScentPhones’ could be used to enhance your sense of smell in situations of your choice, and bring olfactory function into the predominantly audio-visual culture of social media, making scent accessible and enjoyable for people of all ages. 

Second to present were RCA’s Ely Yili Cao and IFF perfumer trainee intern, Oliver Riva, currently working at our office outside of Paris. Ely Yili Cao specializes in jewelry, eyewear and accessories. In addition, she is an authorized gemologist and appraiser.

The project represented her aromatic vision of scented eye wear and derivations of associated accessories. The team found inspiration in the bonding of fragrance and accessories and referenced a famous engraving by Nicolas De Larmessin,. He was 17th century famed artist, whose iconic ‘Habit du Parfumeur’ inspired a statue outside of the Musée international de la Parfumerie in Grasse, France. 

Ely’s design centered on scented accessories that attach to eye glasses with a heat point that is a scent activator. This could lead to a range of immersive shopping experiences with an increased awareness of scent, inspiring an aromatic vision of pop-up shops, lectures and workshops.

IFF’s Oliver Riva created two fragrances to bring to life Ely’s vision. The first is Granita al Mandarino: A Sicilian-inspired cologne created to evoke the feeling of waking up in summery southern Italy, evoking long-lasting citrusy freshness. 

The second fragrance is Ballet at the Bolshoi: A Russian-themed perfume, designed to convey the excitement and anticipation of an auditorium attending the Ballet. The tension revolves around a suede accord contrasted with fresh and vibrant spices sourced from LMR’s palette of naturals. 

Oliver worked with a palette of our fragrance ingredients: Vertonic™, Cristalfizz®, Orange Flower Absolute from Egypt, Turmeric Leaf Oil India, Cardamom Oil East, Saffiano™ and Vanilla CO2 LMR.

Both perfumes, an homage to the two original genres of perfumery: Scented leather-goods and the classic Eau de Cologne. 

In the end, the win selected by the IFF jury went to the third presentation: Marie Isaacson, RCA, MA Fashion Menswear partnered with perfumer trainee, IFF, Viet Anh Ngo Nguyen.

Marie explored the relationship between fiction and reality in her fashion designs. Marie’s practice is primarily about the relationship between the physical and digital space, as well as the interplay between fiction and reality.

The winning concept is Sharegrance™: Scent Within the World of Gaming 

Marie: “I’m fascinated by the interaction between the real and fantasy life and for me to experience our modern world is a combination of physical and virtual elements since we are constantly moving between them. My work has explored online alter egos and how people represent themselves in the real world compared to in the virtual world, with a focus on gamers and their digital portraits. With my work, I aimed to understand and represent the connection between the player and the avatar and to show the two extremes of one’s identity, one that is linked with the reality and the second that is not.” 

Marie elaborated on how use scent within the gaming world and an approach to sell products for the virtual life. There are 3 different directions of super powers - the repelling, the attractive, the challenge. 

Sharegrance™ offers building blocks. 

Viet Anh Ngo Nguyen created six fragrances for Marie Issacson’s concept “Sharegrance” - scents for gamers

Each building block is represented by accords – endless opportunities to extend the collection and introduce new powers to on-line avatars. There are also opportunities for Scent-cloud sharing. 

Viet Anh created six different fragrances - each color coded, available for purchase online or in person and create a stronger bond between players' online self and reality. 

Viet Ahn shared his creative approach: “The choices of inspirations are intimate, straightforward and can be easily perceived. We set our creative guidelines for the whole perfume collection to be conceptual, expressionistic, contemporary, different and playful. The scents have to be descriptive and convey the message as clearly as possible. They are new, strange and modern, and being artificial is acceptable as long as it’s needed to interpret the theme."

Ultimately, the scents still have to be wearable. Viet Anh’s palette for the six Sharegrance™ fragrances featured our ingredients: AmberXtreme, Arctical, Orivone, , Cosmofruit, Cristafizz; and naturals: Galbanum Oil, Cassie Absolute Egypt, Orris Concrete, Immortelle Absolute Balkans, Oakwood Extract, Vetiver Oil Java MD, Cypriol Heart and Sichuan Pepper CO2 Extract. 

Marie told us it was super exciting to work with Viet Anh and that each exchange of modifications brought new surprises and more inspiration.

The lead of the Future of Fragrance Challenge, Judith Gross, VP, Creation & Design, Branding and Marketing: “IFF is grateful and enthusiastic to see, that whatever the situation, fragrance remains relevant and that confinement has not limited creativity. We are discovering new relationships people have with fragrance fun/trivia, and that others are deeper and connected to fundamental issues. This reinforces the importance of continuing to position fragrance, conceptually as well as tangibly for the future.” 

In announcing Sharegrance™ as the winning concept, Judith added: “This concept goes beyond the current situation of how to bring together the worlds of digital and physical, sharing moods and living. In a world where we can’t hug, we can still share an emotion without physically connecting. This concept creates all the connections and transitions from one world to another, and particularly the olfactive interpretations bring us so far into the future of perfumery IRL (in real life). Super inspiring!” 

Explore our ISIPCA Master of Science in Scent Design and Creation in Partnership here.

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