Is there a fragrance that sends you spinning straight back to memories of home whenever you wear or smell it? After attending a Lush Gorilla Gallery exhibition where perfumes were linked to the wider concepts of home, Sue Kim shares her story of love and loss and how creating a scent-filled home keeps those memories, the happy and the sad, alive for her
In 2017, I had the privilege to go to Berlin and Dallas to experience the touring Gorilla Perfume Gallery which was a joint collaboration between Lush’s perfumers (Simon Constantine & Mark Constantine) and a Dallas native artist named Hal Samples.
The immersive multi-sensory perfume gallery featured several fragrances from the collection, and whilst some were made available for purchase, others had been formulated specifically for the gallery experience.
As I moved around the different curated areas, the theme of ‘Home’ was apparent in reference to both our loved ones and our social crisis of homelessness and refugees. It moved me, in uncomfortable ways sometimes, because through the olfactory experience, it made me reflect on my current home situation and my childhood home as one does when a question so universal as “What is home?” is posed to you.
I had never known what ‘Home’ meant because the basic definition of home that a lot of people know (i.e. living with your parents until it’s time to leave the nest) didn’t actually happen for me. I left home at 15 and spent about two years without a home and at the mercy of my friends who generously allowed me to crash at their place.
So when I saw images of homeless people of Dallas as I watched the Samples of Society video, I thought how close to home that was for me: Without the generosity of those friends, I was very close to having to sleep on the streets and I probably would not be here writing a series on perfumery from the safety of my own home.
Blackcurrant Angel is an intriguing fragrance that combines sweet dark berries with what my nose detected as overly ripe fruits that reminded me of the nights I walked through alleyways of Philadelphia with friends. What a beautiful reminder for me to be taken back to that moment and that realisation of my current blessings of having a stable home.
Moving on from the topic of homelessness, another curated area featured Road to Damascus; a lush and gorgeous Rose and bitter orange perfume that was inspired by Simon’s experience of free movement restrictions as he was travelling through a checkpoint in Lebanon and witnessed for himself the harsh reality of refugees fleeing their home for safety. The social commentary behind Road to Damascus raises awareness of the same topic of those who do not have a home, and just as I had experienced after Blackcurrant Angel. I felt heavy-hearted for those who were enduring this and reminded of just how vulnerable we all are. I’m reminded how fragile life is and how we take any stability in our lives for granted.
Another perfume from the gallery that reminded me of Home was Sweet Grandma, a tribute and homage to film-maker Hal Sample’s grandmother. Sentimental and utterly nostalgic, Sweet Grandma offered a bold dash of what my memory knows as Lemon Pledge, a cleaning product that I remember smelling as a child. I had bitter sweet flashbacks of my family home, and there in my mind an image of my mother was conjured up. Just like Hal lost his grandmother, I was reminded of my early separation from my mother. Feeling overwhelmed by my own scent memories I quickly moved onto the next curated area.
I’m Home, a sweet gourmand perfume that smelled of delicious baked goods was created by Simon Constantine to resemble his own home after a long journey back from his travels. This fragrance was very similar to the vanilla perfume I’ve used for years to spray my sheets with at night. Instantly, I thought about my current home and how it would change forever now that I am separating from my husband.
What a beautiful and emotional experience the Gallery was for me with its insightful and moving representation of what ‘Home’ means; what ‘Love’ means; our deep need for belonging; our right to feel safe. The whole experience reached deep into my memories and I was reminded once more how powerful a medium Perfumery is when expressing not only our Art but our basic human needs. I believe Perfume is Art and beautiful art contains pain, as well as joy. The Gallery exquisitely blended the two together into Perfumery.
If you, like me, have moved around a lot or haven’t had a stable childhood home to reference as a happy home, you realise that home never was about a physical space but about an emotional one. We’ve all heard the saying “Home is where the heart is” and never before have I believed this until I recently lost my beloved dog, Oscar, whom I miss terribly. But I know he still lives here and in my heart where my love for him will always remain and I will remember him through the perfume that I sprayed every night before we went to sleep.