The installation, which launched on Friday, is described as an immersive journey ‘to the outer reaches of scent’: customers pay £65 and, after answering questions to determine their tastes and habits, are guided through a series of ‘sensorial chambers’ and eventually presented with a 50ml bottle of their signature scent.
The project builds on a 2011 installation created by The Future Laboratory and Campaign for London Design Festival, titled Sweet Shoppe, where visitors were asked to complete a series of seemingly random tasks before being given one of 27 treats based on their responses.
There are dozens of possible perfume combinations at the Fragrance Lab, each created by Givaudan, and the choice of scent given to customers depends on their behaviour at each stage of the experience. Chris Sanderson, co-founder of The Future Laboratory, says products are matched to shoppers using a complex profiling and segmentation matrix that took around four years to build.
We can’t give too much away, but it’s an intriguing retail experiment: customers begin by ‘checking in’ at a suitably futuristic reception desk and are guided to a cluster of iPads, where they are asked questions about their shopping habits and perfume tastes. They are then asked to select preferred images from a series of triptychs to determine a range of factors – including whether they are shy or outgoing, whether they follow trends or set them, and if they wear scent for themselves or to please others.
Shoppers are then given an iPhone with a pre-recorded audio track and a set of headphones, and guided by voiceover into a series of rooms. Each presents a different set of objects and a new sensory experience: one houses a chest filled with unusual smells while another explores the connection between scent and memory through a series of objects.
Customers are invited to touch, sniff and interact with products at every stage. At the end of the experience, they are greeted by a member of staff in a dreamy white room, where they are asked to smell vials holding variations of their signature fragrance.
A series of follow-up questions are asked to determine the final choice of scent and customers are then given a personal ‘prescription’ detailing their character and the key ingredients in their perfume.
If your visual preferences are at odds with your personality, this could throw up some interesting results: anyone working in visual arts, for example, is bound to be drawn to experimental imagery but not all will be trend-setting extroverts. Additional questions from staff are designed to address anomalies, however, and scents are tailored to reflect individuals’ mindsets and behaviour.
It’s an impressive piece of retail design from Campaign, who worked closely with The Future Laboratory on branding, products and installations. Each room has a distinctly different feel, each fragrance comes in different packaging and the monochrome graphics and branding offer a sleek and contemporary take on the idea of the science lab.
“Ultimately retail needs to be more fun, but in a focused, considered and relevant way. We wanted the experience to go beyond consumer expectations of a ‘fragrance lab’ and define the future of the retail experience,” says Campaign creative director Philip Handford.
“We’ve designed a number of sensorial projects that combine scent, visuals and sound [such as Sweet Shoppe and a travelling bar, Mojito Embassy, for Havana Club] but none so intelligently defines consumer participation and consumer segmentation,” he adds.
For anyone who dislikes answering questions about their favourite smells or sniffing tester sticks, the Fragrance Lab is a fun, innovative and surprising way to shop for perfume. The process is determined through a detailed database, but the installation design and sensory touches add a little theatre and mystery to the experience, and it’s the kind of interactive installation more luxury brands should be offering.
Handford also believes high street retailers could create similar experiences, adding: “It obviously works well within the luxury sector, due to its bespoke nature, but I think the concept of this type of retail solution is that its forward thinking, and this can be tailored to the product. I would love to explore other areas where this could be applied.”
The Fragrance Lab is open until 30 June – to book a ticket see selfridges.com/fragrancelab