Behind the Aesop scent experience, ‘Nostos: Records of the Self’
Linking scent and memory
It was a Tuesday evening, on the 22nd of August to be exact, when we made our way to the National Museum of Singapore. While it was near closing hour for the museum, the area was still abuzz as a crowd gathered at the front of the building—they were waiting to catch Convolutions, a mesmerising light show that was to take place on the façade of the museum, part of the Singapore Night Festival that was in full swing at the time.
Also part of the night festival was 'Nostos: Records of the Self', held at Gallery 10 of the museum. The moment we stepped in, there was a quiet but pleasant sense of detachment from the festivities outside. The gallery was transformed into a makeshift dark room, with the main source of illumination being countless of lightbulbs hanging over 10 handcrafted steel wells. These wells hold water infused with three different essential oils, whose scents gently permeate the space. Coupled with an atmospheric soundtrack, it made for a tranquil, meditative environment.
Trust Aesop to stage an immersive, olfactory experience that transports you into an oasis of calm, even when you're in the heart of the city. According to Aesop Head of Creative Marsha Meredith, 'Nostos: Records of the Self' was designed to "foster an environment for lasting impressions", and that it surely did. Intrigued by the thought process behind this scent experience that was beautiful in both visual and senses, we speak to Meredith to find out more:
Take us through the 'Nostos: Records of the Self' experience.
"'Nostos: Records of Self' is a scent experience created by Aesop that harnesses scent generated by light to create an intimate journey of respite and reflection in conjunction with the Singapore Night Festival's tenth anniversary. It marks Aesop as the first in Asia to exhibit an evocative sensory experience powered by light held at the festival.
Through the scent experience, we hope that attendees have an observation of their emotional connection to the scent and the impact it has on their sense of wellbeing. As scent is tied to memory, or rather, is the language of memory, offering a scent for association allows guests to return to the festival, long after the lights have died down."
What inspired the theme of it?
"We are intrigued by the significance of scent and its connection to memory. To further expand on this, the word "nostos" is a theme used in Greek literature that refers to homecoming or a return. When paired with the Greek word "algos" meaning ache, the two words form the word we know today as 'nostalgia'—a feeling for which scent plays an evocative trigger. The experience at the Singapore Night Festival may be a one-off for some, but the fragrance will linger in the minds of many, if not all attendees offering the possibility of a 'homecoming' or a 'return'."
How is the location of the sensory experience a factor in creating the experience?
"Aesop has always been a strong supporter of the arts, so we greatly welcomed the National Museum of Singapore's invitation to take part in the festival's tenth anniversary. As a company known for its plant-based and laboratory made formulation, the experimental space of Gallery 10—where the traditionally binary ideas of art and science are both celebrated and deconstructed—seemed an apt location.
To speak on the exhibit itself, the room will be dark, gently illuminated by a series of hanging light bulbs. The low lighting is twofold; the reduction of visual stimuli heightens the other senses—specifically scent—and the bulbs themselves emit heat, warming the essential oils that are located immediately below. The experience is also heightened with atmospheric sounds representing memory. A combination of the sight, smell and visual components create a moment of respite from the world."
How did you decide on the three scents for this experience?
"The scent is inspired by one of Aesop's first Body Balms called Relax. This scent formulation was selected to establish a relaxing environment, helping visitors feel at ease. Aesop is well known for our use of essential oils whose evocative aromas form the essence of our products. During formulation, essential oils are selected primarily for the benefits they deliver to the skin and hair; their aromas are merely an incidental outcome.
Bergamot and Sandalwood are frequently used in Aesop products, and Olibanum appears in several of our skin care formulations, namely the Lucent Facial Concentrate and Perfect Facial Hydrating Cream. Together they create an invigorating blend with a warm lingering base and a bright top note of citrus.
In developing this scent experience for the Singapore Night Festival, we wanted to ensure there was an association between the scents used and the formulations for which we are renowned, while taking the liberty to be able to play with the aroma and create a fragrance purely for sensory means."