Did you know that many consider Hungary Water, which dates back to the 14th century, to be the first perfume? Or that the 1982 mass market men’s cologne Drakkar Noir, which uses the same synthetic molecule that gives Tide laundry detergent its clean, fresh scent, was a work of 1980s industrialism just like techno-music?
You’ll learn — and sniff — the stories behind both those fragrances and more at the interactive exhibition “Timeless Scents: 1370 to 2013,” at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.
(Just hold off spritzing any of your own perfume before you go.)
The exhibition was created by Chandler Burr, curator of olfactory art at the Museum of Art and Design in New York City, who is also an author and the former fragrance critic for the New York Times.
Burr is an ambassador of the aromatic arts whose goal is to place scent in the context of mainstream art history, and establish its creators as equals to artists in other mediums.
For the show, he chose to highlight scents and their creators through time, from ancient myrrh to La Vie Est Belle, created in 2012 by Anne Flipo, Dominique Ropion and Olivier Polge for Lancome.
There’s not a celebrity mug in sight, because the scents are not presented in bottles or with any identifiable packaging. (“That would make about as much sense as it does to discuss the frames of a painting,” Burr says.) Instead, with the push of a button, scent diffusion machines blow out a poof of fragrant air that dissipates almost as soon as the nose can breathe it in, and you are forced to pay attention to the aroma.
Of course, no exhibition of perfume in the 90210 would be complete without noting Giorgio Beverly Hills, created in 1981 by M.L. Quince, Francis Camail and Harry Cuttler -- a scent “that both reflected and impacted its time,” Burr says, comparing it to such cultural touchstones as padded shoulders, Donald Trump buildings and Michael Bay films. And indeed, he’s right; it practically knocks you over when you smell it.
“Timeless Scents” is free to the public through Dec. 22 at the Lovelace Studio Theater at The Wallis. It’s open noon to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; noon to 7 p.m. Sundays; closed Mondays.
The exhibition is a companion piece to “Parfumerie,” the romantic comedy currently on stage in the theater, which takes place in an upscale fragrance boutique during Christmastime in 1937 Budapest.
“Parfumerie" ($49 to $129) is at the Wallis Annenberg Center, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd. (310) 746-4000 or www.thewallis.org.