When scent becomes too much in retail environments and place making: fragrance awash in experience design

Image courtesy of Warner Brothers (Inception)

Abercrombe & Fitch, conflict and protest — a Fierce objection
You might recall a time when, strolling at a store, you found the layering of scents to be nearly impossible to bear. The baring, or bearing, of scent as a selling device is something that might be commonplace, yet the challenge is how it’s done. And in the parlance of meeting retail sales goals, the notion of hitting the aisles to lay scent on passersby is commonplace. That misting lends itself to the most cloudy fogged scenting that it becomes nearly unbearable.

The challenge is how to tell the story of a scent without spraying the retail guest. What might be supporting the theory of delivering sales figures in terms of items sold, the challenge is that the complete overburdening of the scents — and the senses that respond to them creates a storm of scents; this alone can be sufficiently confusing that most buyers will be forced to either know precisely what they are looking for, or avoid the area altogether. Perfume locations in retail often are over scented long before the retail traveler makes their way there.

A solution might lie in delicacy — defining the retail merchandising in a manner that more holistically empowers the story, without overloading the environment in which the story is told. For example, a retailer might consider the concept of mini merchandising storytelling locations, built containments, that expand the “pad” of the story, without completely forcing that scent on the explorer. Disciplined use of scent strips/mouillettes, and the removal and disposal of them, storytelling that tells the story of the brand — kiosk-like narrative — might offer better endorsement. Three spaces that offer discipline in terms of scent management would be Nordstrom (median), Bergdorf Goodman (more luxurious) and Harrods | Haute Parfumerie (luxury) and Shiseido’s Serge Lutens Les Salons du Palais Royal (most luxurious). Perhaps too, added to the mix of extraordinary sensitivity, Santa Maria Novella Firenze. All have significant sales from perfume, but all have scent environments that are disciplined and carefully managed (to varying degrees and audiences) — and fulfilling the possibility of brand-storytelling. Speaking with architect and retail designer, Dawn Clark AIA LEED®AP (formerly of Nordstrom, a designer at Harrods, Seibu and other luxury stores — some of which we’d worked together on) about the nature of store and beauty related design — particularly fragrance — she noted, “designing any retail space is about evoking the desired emotional response through sensorial experience. with fragrance, we are working with the most powerfully conected sense to emotions – the sense of smell. it’s intensely personal – and linked to the notes of the fragrance. The room should resonate with scent and emotional evocation – sensual, healing, powerful – which may mean mirrors or translucency or darkness or saturated or lightness. the design of the space is the multi-dimensional realization of the fragrance within.

Scent place ingredients: Transparency | lucency | drama | restriction | distinction | enclosure | storytelling

Bergdorf (Perfume Shrine)

Nordstrom (Mitzi)

Harrods (Roja Dove | Haute Parfumerie)

Shiseido (image)

Officina Profumo & Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella Firenze (Girvin)

The issue of store design, fragrance sales and brand management becomes an intriguing challenge, but it can take on renewed difficulties when it’s too much, and laden with the premise of possible poisons — scents that are built with ingredients that might be toxic, let alone burdensome to the nose. Recently this emerged with protest.

I’d written in the past about the blow through of retail environments — scents wafting out — like a beckoning call to shoppers. With blaring music and young hunks ( and betties) sauntering at the doorway, backed with giant framed imagery, the A&F fragrance fiercely wafts to the street.

Abercrombie shopfront / retail opening, 5th Avenue, NYC (image)

Some call this incredible retail — I’ve written about it, as well: the concept of sex, story, scent and sentience finds notations on Hollister, written in 2009. Cool space, but overwhelmed with poorly managed distinctiveness when it comes to fragrance sales.

Aside from blogging, others note anger. New York writer, Emma Grady, offers that “members of Teens Turning Green–a national movement of teenagers who support a sustainable future; the California-based students decided to protest A&F’s signature fragrance (Fierce)–don’t worry, they wore surgical masks to avoid breathing the fragrance. This event comes on the heels of an earlier revelation, the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) report that revealed an average of 14 chemicals that secretly lurk in popular perfume products, Grady notes, “Diethyl phthalate–a chemical linked to sperm damage in adult men and abnormal development of reproductive organs in baby boys–is among the ‘complex cocktail’ of synthetic chemicals in common fragrances.”

Here’s the EWG overview analyses that reveals their positioning review:

According to Grady’s communications with Lisa Wertheim, TTG program director, Teens Turning Green took to the streets to protest the spraying of A&F’s fragrance, calling it “toxic trespassing,” also also to rally support for The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010, which could help regulate chemicals in cosmetics. The protest went “well.” Their letter to the manager can be seen in a video that outlines fundamental objections.

The notion of over the top (counter, in the aisles and out the door) scent dominance might become a bigger issue — but design, quality of ingredients, a new leaning to niche fragrances that are all natural could change this perspective.

That remains to be scene.

Scent, dispersal, design, place, sensation — it’s a complex amalgam, but with adherence to a new discipline of ambient care and sensitivity, design, administration, change is in the air.


SCENT MANAGEMENT | S t r a t e g i e s

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