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quinta-feira, 17 de dezembro de 2015

There's Nose Business Like Show Business: Fragrance in the Performing Arts, Part I

There's Nose Business Like Show Business: Fragrance in the Performing Arts, Part I

by: Luis E. Alipaz L.


Red-figured Attic volute crater dated between 410-400 B.C. by the “Pronomos Painter”, Naples, Mus. Arch. Naz. H 3240
Let's start at the very begining 
When preparing for the staging of plays, filming of movies or any other kind of performance, the directors in charge will usually take obsessive care of translating their vision into clear, usually two dimensional, representations of what they see in their mind's eye. More often than not they will have a group of assistants that will strive to condense their inspirations, feelings and ideas into a solid design.
If unexperienced audience members had to guess who is included in the roll call of this little army of creatives they would probably, with little thought, be able to name them pretty quickly. There's the costume designer, the scenic designer, the lighting designer, sound designer, etc.
Recently though, a new breed of designers has begun to make it's way into that inner circle of people who collaborate with that benevolent dictator known as the regisseur or stage director. Their design may not be as evident as the costumes and make up, but if done under a watchful eye (or nose for that matter), the result can certainly have a greater and longer lasting impact than the fleeting images that are burnt into our retinas after a performance.
I bet all of you olfactophiles know by now that I'm speaking, of course, of scent design. Although the presence of aroma in a performance setting can be traced to antiquity, it is only in the last decade or so that it is being recognized for its potential as an important part of stagecraft. So let the curtain rise on this small exploration of scent in the performing arts.
Smell has always been an integral, albeit unintentional, part of the performing arts. Going as far back as ancient Greece, the ritualistic nature of the theater meant that it was always accompanied by the burning of herbs, the smell of blood from a sacrificial lamb; libations were an important part of satires and comedies as they were performed in honor of the god, Dionysus, and drunk onstage in great quantities such that the smell of wine would also have been present in these early performances. Commedia dell'arte Scene in an Italian Landscape
Peeter van Bredael
Roman theaters were regularly scented with saffron to mask the aforementioned collection of odors. That pungent bouquet mingled with the smell of the crowds must have produced a truly unpleasant olfactory experience.
The middle ages brought us courtly entertainments in banquet halls, so the music of the troubadours was probably mixed with the smell of roasted geese and wild boars. 
During the late renaissance and early baroque, the traveling shows called commedia dell'arte were usually performed in markets, carnivals and dinning halls so the audience enjoying the stock characters of Arlecchino and Pulcinella probably had to endure the smell of rotting fish, produce and dinner as well.
18th Century Comedie Francaise, Wikimedia Commons
The high baroque gave opera to the world, one of the first non-ritualistic entertainment for the masses and with it the aromas of burning candles for lighting, sweaty crowds in smelly costumes, and scenery moving machines, not to mention the rotting smell of eggs that were used to bind lead based make up.
The use of smelling salts was also fairly common in these settings, as delicate audience members were said to swoon with the angelic voices, especially those of castratti, that sang the exuberant Händel and Vivaldi melodies.
General Blackbeard wounded at the Battle of Leadenhall. 1784. British Museum, London
The perfectly acceptable practice at the time of eating and drinking during the long opera performances, meant that, again, food had to be included in the smell mélange. No wonder the use of perfume became so popular during the 17th century!
It is therefore clear that people up until that time were used to having their nostrils assaulted by smell once they came into contact with the performing arts, most of the smells were unplanned and unintentional, of course, and it wasn't until proper theater etiquette was established and the air (literally) cleared inside performance houses during the early 19th century that a tiny place for the use of scent design was finally carved.
"Ombra Fedele anch'io" from the opera "Idaspe" by Riccardo Broschi
Scene from the movie "Farinelli" (1994)

Rimmel me this, Rimmel me that.

Eugène Rimmel
Photo: New York Public Library's Digital Library
One of the first true advances in the use of scent in performances came from a very usual suspect: a perfumer.
Eugène Rimmel was born in 1820 and his interest in perfumes was nurtured from a very early age. His father had been hired to manage a perfumery in London and after being apprenticed by him, at the tender age of 14, both decided to open their own perfumery business that at one point was housed in Gerrard St, Soho. In a matter of only ten years, Eugène's talents had become more than evident and he was being heralded as a trailblazer of the fragrance, cosmetic and healthcare industries. At that time his most famous achievement was the creation of an aromatic toilet vinegar that people used as a moisturizer. But his biggest contribution in the popular consciousness is probably his invention of the first non toxic eye mascara, still known as “rimmel” in many languages.

Of all his innovations the one that concerns us the most, though, is his patented “perfume vaporizer for balls, soirées, theaters, etc.” This didn't start as the creative, aroma designing venture that concerns this article but merely a way to give the patrons of the dance halls and theaters a pleasant scented welcome to these establishments.

Rimmel’s 1861 perfumed almanack, showing his perfume fountain
Bodleian Library & ProQuest
His vaporizer proved so popular that a newspaper clipping from that time celebrates the introduction of his scent contraption in at least seven different entertainment houses and on board the H. R. H. Prince of Wales royal steam yacht, no less. With such a distinguished patronage, an incredible imagination for the use of scent, and a shrewd mind for business Rimmel continued oiling his impressive publicity machine by including scented advertisements of his fragrances in the theater programs handed out at performances.

Rimmel’s 1861 perfumed almanack, showing his premises at 96 Strand
Bodleian Library & ProQuest
Unlike today´s fragrance strips or samples glued to a magazine page, the advertisement consisted of a credit to the House of Rimmel and a scent that was imbued in the whole printed program. His favorite scent for these programs appears to have been his “Royal Aquarium Bouquet”. Sounds refreshing.
Detail from a Vaporizer advertisement of 1862, listing the prestigious venues in which Rimmel’s vaporizer was used. JJ: Soap 1 (23) (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest
And now for the most interesting bit. From At least 1864 Rimmel's scents start being featured in the programs not just as mere advertising but as integral parts of scenes on stage. An 1873 playbill for a production of “Antony and Cleopatra” at Drury Lane lists three scenes of the first act: Scene 1 “Cleopatra's Palace”, Scene 2 “An Ante-Chamber” and the third one, in big bold letter “Cleopatra's Barge”. This being the infamous scene of Cleopatra's and Antony's meeting bears a description and a note that reads: “The perfume is produced by means of Rimmel's persian ribbon”. Another bill from a production called “Lady Belle Belle” Scene 4 “The orange Grove” at the Adelphi Theater reads: “In this Scene the Perfume 'Winter Flowers' will be introduced by Rimmel's Vaporizer”. Makes you wonder what the composition for these fragrances might have been.
Detail from New Adelphi playbill
Bodleian Library & ProQuest
It is unclear how the leap from fragrant ambience to stagecraft happened. Whether Rimmel was asked or he himself suggested a contribution to a scene in a play. What is known is that with the impending arrival of a new century and the brand new invention called cinema his ingenious use of scents would open the doors for the next step in the establishment of fragrance as part of popular entertainment and performing arts.

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