Smell Festival is probably (one of) the first recursive event worldwide devoted to olfactory culture and expressly designed for a wide and heterogeneous audience. Born in 2010, it is not a perfumery fair conceived for business purposes, neither a meeting reserved to a select group of perfume insiders, or a one-spot event. Its is a yearly event that promotes new ways of addressing the universe of smell and to use its language in communication and creative contexts.
Ten years is a great period that has significantly changed the way our society considers the sense of smell and its importance in our lives. In this timeframe fragrance industry evolved as well as the habit of people in choosing perfumes and talking about them.
Francesca Faruolo, founder and artistic director of Smell Festival, shared with perfume journalist Giulietta Ptoyan her thoughts on how lives a trailblazing event in this exciting, ever-changing scenario.
What was your first thought when the last edition of Smell Festival has ended?
I felt a deep gratitude to all the people who have followed us in this adventure: our staff, sponsors, exhibitors, partners we have collaborated with, and the wonderful public. We live in an age where people are more separated than ever, absorbed in their individual lives, committed to making their business by themselves. Despite this, every Smell Festival reminds me how much can give us sharing of the same values.
What do you think about the last edition and how was your guests’ feedback?
I believe that in the beginning Smell Festival was very poetic, with a lot of space dedicated to art. Since a couple of years, our guests are mainly researchers and professionals who came from the academic field. The Festival has maintained its evocative capacity that continues to inspire people, but now we want to give greater perspective to the studies on the sense of smell that constantly emerge in different disciplines. This evolution has been possible thanks to the support of Moellhausen S.p.A, a company that distributes raw materials for perfumery and a fragrance house that appreciated our attention on the sense of smell in general, and not only in perfumery.
I believe that, this year, the atmosphere of the event, its almost intimate character and its exceptional location in an historical palace contributed to create once again that sense of rarity and refinement essential to enhance the experience of the public. While listening a conference, taking part to a workshop or discovering a selection of fragrances, people felt to be part of something extraordinary. I thank all the perfume houses that supported our vision, in particular Aquacosmetics – Molinard’s Italian distributor – who celebrated the Maison’s 170th anniversary at Smell Festival.
It became also interesting for the international press. How did you make it possible?
Being extremely focused on our topic, we have gained particular authority not only from the public but also from the Italian and international press. The result is that many journalists have become curious and dedicated television services, radio broadcasts and newspaper articles to us. This helped us to stimulate public opinion on topics that are not frequently debated, and to give visibility to some of our guests, such as philosophers, scientific researchers, niche fragrance creators, who are mostly unknown to the wide audience. The tenth edition of Smell Festival have been reported by the main national public and private broadcasting company (RAI 3, RETE 4 ), and even by the national TV news of Slovenia (=> look at the reportage).
This confirm the intuition I had 2010 when I create Smell Festival: perfume can be a powerful source of cultural suggestions and narrations, not just an easy way to entertain people.
How the public of Smell Festival have changed over the years? What did they want to see and hear – before and now?
Smell Festival has a peculiar and innate ability to retain its public: we have a group of enthusiasts that we meet every year during the event. They are passionate about new fragrances, they listen with pleasure to the stories of those who created them and are attentive to the interdisciplinary conferences that we propose. Every year the Festival also attract new visitors giving them the opportunity to discover for the first time the world of perfume and to get in touch with different studies and practices related to the sense of smell.
Our audience come from Emilia-Romagna and other regions of Italy, including Tuscany, Lombardy and Veneto. Someone even reaches us from abroad and in this case we offer a personal interpreter for workshop or conferences. At the first editions 60% of the public were citizens of Bologna that often attended a single conference and then disappeared. Now we have much more visitors coming from other cities of Italy and less “by chance”. They are not just “curious” but almost always have a strong reason to be present. The Festival fit a specific kind of person who read books, follow art exhibitions, festivals, concerts and is ready to travel to reach places where these activities are held.
To answer to the other part of your question: I haven’t a precise idea on what the public want to see, hear or smell. When I prepare a new edition of Smell Festival I just follow my personal curiosity, ignoring the supposed expectations of others. In a second moment, after this free research, I give form to my thoughts and findings involving possible speakers, and instil the same interest in collaborators, sponsors, institutions, press and public. I couldn’t make all this work without an authentic and intimate motivation that I nourish every day.
Can we talk about Smell Festival as a community? How it grew up, what’s happening now and what can we expect in the future?
We are a cultural association, this means that the democratic character and the values, of aggregation and social promotion are part of our history and our culture. We have hundreds of members throughout Italy; some are more active than others, but they are certainly a rather large population that shares our values. Since 2017, thanks to our new space in Verona, we have a physical touch point with them. Consequentially the communication with our associates has become much better and will be even more so in the coming years.
We are not an informal community like those on the internet. We have a real deed of incorporation and a statute, we are also registered. This means that we have precise rules to which we have to adhere and a lot of responsibility. Well before the Internet accustomed us to terms like “community” the associations already worked in their respective territories to promote culture, social relations and important values such as education, solidarity and assistance. Smell Festival and Smell Atelier are part of this great movement where the interest of individuals goes together with the common interest.
What can we expect from Smell Atelier this year? How about new courses, tutors, or programs?
We’ve already opened the registration for activities that start again in early September. Olfactory Training courses are scheduled, accessible to everyone to examine the sense of smell and discover the importance of odours in our lives. In Verona we’ll wait new students of Natural Perfumery school, while in Bologna the perfumery course “The Language of Perfume” is scheduled to January 2020. We will then follow a large group of students in creating their own fragrance to be presented at Smell Festival next year. In these weeks we are working on other projects. In particular, we are excited to take care of a new educational game and olfactory path for the new Chianti Landscape Museum in Tuscany.