The Untitled Series – Chandler Burr Wants Us To Smell For Smell’s Sake

Chandler Burr, the curator of The Department of Olfactory Art at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design, the scent editor for GQ magazine and the former scent critic for The New York Times, is creating a project on OpenSky that’s never been done before. He’s bringing scent to life online.  It’s called the Untitled Series.

On the 1st of every month Chandler will choose a perfume that’s already on the market, some famous and some from niche collections. From this scent, he will remove all marketing – no bottle, no package, no brand, no name and will put the scent in a 50ml lab bottle – allowing you to experience these scent works as scent and nothing else. He will give shoppers only the guidance of his carefully chosen words to understand each and determine if the fragrance is right for them.  His goal is to both enable and encourage shoppers to rethink perfume as a work of art, free from all visual cues and marketing techniques. Scents include those from the late 19th century to last week, in all styles and all by the greatest scent artists in the world.  

There will be only 100 bottles available in the series, each month. The first fragrance called S01E01 (Season One Episode One) and will launch today, Friday, June 1st on OpenSky and the identity of the scent as well as more about the artist who created it will be revealed to shoppers on the last day of June.  The series will continue with a new launch on the first of every month and a subsequent reveal on the last day of each month.”

– from the press release

I believe this is a great idea. No visual aids, no influence, no suggestive power of marketing and branding. Only you and your nose. I hope Chandler’s effort will be honored and many people will dare to take part in such an experiment.

My only gripe is that a 50ml bottle is whole lot to buy. (But then again that is always my problem, isn’t it?) But I think many people would be bolder and more prone to let themselves experiment with this unlabeled, untitled fragrance if it came in a smaller and therefore more affordable size.

I’m looking forward to reading Chandler’s descriptions of each perfume.

Are you interested? What do you think?

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52 Responses to The Untitled Series – Chandler Burr Wants Us To Smell For Smell’s Sake

  1. Lady Jane Grey says:

    I was quite enthusiastic (and still am), when reading about Open Sky earlier this week. I myself work in Sales&Marketing, probably therefore I’m completely opposed to our marketing based world, where humble quality often doesn’t count, but a perfectly marketed tosh will be a winner and takes it all. For instance, the whole world of celebrities without any talent, but with perfect “package, brand and name marketing” (it even arrived to books ! yes, I’m looking at you, 50 Shades of Utter Rubbish …).
    O.K., rant over now. Go, Chandler, Go !

    • Olfactoria says:

      How great to hear that from you, a marketing specialist. Go, Chandler, indeed!

    • andreawilko says:

      Laughed at the 50 shades of utter rubbish, could not agree more, load of old tosh and am kicking myself that I actually fell for it and bought the book,, albeit on kindle so I can delete it and pretend it never happened. 🙂

      • Lady Jane Grey says:

        Ditto, a Kindle owner here. Already deleted (I couldn’t even bear the feeling to have it on my Kindle any sec longer !). They don’t employ book editors nowadays ?

    • Marti says:

      Ahhh…”the emperor has no clothes!” I haven’t heard such truth since last I read this! Your wisdom is rare and practically extinct and I just have to tell you how truly brilliant you are! P.S. this is my first comment, on any blog, of any kind, ever! I only care about perfume and usually ignore everything else. Or I should say “try” to ignore; there is no way to really ignore it. Always learning (or trying), Marti

      • Olfactoria says:

        Hi Marti,
        thank you for commenting! I’m not quite clear on the subject myself, since I admittedly am drawn to or distracted by the visual representation of a perfume time an again.
        Chandler’s approach sure has its merits though.

  2. I don’t know if I’m interested yet but i joined to see if I like it.
    portia xx

  3. Undina says:

    Do I understand it correctly and this is an online shopping site? Am I supposed to blind buy a 50 (!) ml bottle just on somebody’s say so?.. Please tell me I’m wrong and there is some anti-catch.

    • Olfactoria says:

      You are supposed to appreciate fragrance as art without the visual trappings. And yes, unfortunately you have to do so blindly. 😦 I believe Chandler Burr is very honest in his intent to share his passion and his appreciation for perfume as an art form. I’m equally sure that OpenSky wants to make money, it is a business after all. But there is no art without money involved in some way or another. Never was, never will be.

      • Undina says:

        I completely agree that art requires investments. But… I have so many “buts” that I probably shouldn’t take up space in your blog and make you to comment/deffend something which wasn’t your idea 🙂 I’ll see if I’m annoyed enough to actually write a post.

  4. Opensky should win an award for most confusing website….

    That said, I’m with you 100% – the idea of smelling without pretence or the distractions of names, labels, bottles, bells and whistles is an attractive prospect. It’s just that 50ml size that throws a spanner in the works!

  5. andreawilko says:

    I think it is a great idea, in theory, maybe we would not buy some perfumes if it were not for all the bells and whistles (Le Labo Vanille 44 I am looking at you) BUT the rub is buying 50mls of something you have no idea on, why not a small 5ml sample, you do not need 50mls of any juice to work out if you like it or not. I would happily take part in a programme that offered smaller quantities but count me out for 50ml bottles.
    Call me cynical but this sounds like some clever marketing to me.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Good thought, Andrea.
      I really wish it was a 10ml bottle or so. I’ll be curious to see how the programm is received with the general public (i.e. non-fragonerds).

      • Lady Jane Grey says:

        The question is, of couse, what the 50ml are going to cost ?
        I wouldn’t buy them f GBP 150.00, but for GBP 20.00 I’d be happy to play… After all, I (you, we) bought parfumes unsniffed already, and they weren’t really cheap either …

  6. Emma says:

    I agree it’s a great idea to remove all marketing, bottle design, packaging, mythology and mystique and experience the scent directly, unmediated. In execution, though, I’d thought it would be like an art installation in the museum, though, rather than getting people to buy things unsniffed from a website. Curious.

    p.s. I do get my boyfriend to dab a mystery perfume from my collection on my wrists, sometimes (when I’m not going to go out afterwards!) to try to get this same direct experience of a scent. But even then it’s hard for me to not just play “guess who?” and identify the scent, rather than experience it. I have been surprised a couple of times by the gap between how I *think* a scent smells, and how it actually wears on my skin.

    • Olfactoria says:

      It is a bit curious, but I can only repeat what I said in my comment above to Undina: Art needs to be financed too.

      It is indeed fascinating to smell blindly. We are so suggestible by the -all the accoutrements and notions surrounding a perfume.

  7. fleurdelys says:

    It’s an interesting idea, but a.) I don’t want to sign up with OpenSky so that they can bombard me with lots of expensive product suggestions that I have no intention of buying, and b.) nowhere in the article by Chandler does it say how much the fragrance will cost. I agree with all those who have said that 50ml is really too much – 15ml would be a perfect size (and probably a more reasonable cost, as well).

  8. Amy Bella says:

    Agreed – love the idea, but I wouldn’t buy 50 mls unsniffed even if the description was scrumptious. I wonder if the fragrance names will eventually be revealed?

    • Olfactoria says:

      The names are revealed at the end of every month (June 29 in this case), but I’m not sure if everyone can read the info or only those who bought it.

  9. chris says:

    I wonder if Chandler Burr’s project to experience scent as scentworks and nothing else, with plain bottles, no marketing or packaging was influenced by thorsten biehl’s biehl parfumkunstwerke series ?. Even the scents names are very similar, with biehl’s eo01 and Burr’s so1Eo1.

    • Olfactoria says:

      It is a similar concept in any case. Our very own Liam of Personal Odour also had this idea some time ago. Reducing perfume to just its olfactory part is an appealing idea.

  10. Tatiana says:

    A blind buy is a blind buy, even if Chandler Burr is saying this is a great fragrance. There are a lot of really beautiful fragrances out there, that for whatever reason, I personally just don’t want to purchase or buy. And 50ml is a ton of fragrance. I also don’t like sites that I can’t browse without having to register first. Let me take a look around first and then decide if it’s worth my while to divulge my email and other pertinent info to that site. I get enough spam and marketing materials in my inbox already, don’t need to add another piece to it. Complete and total pass on this one for me.

    • Olfactoria says:

      I totally understand your postition, Tatiana. It is a way to make the idea of perfume as art available to a very different kind of consumer though, and insofar I’m glad it exists.

  11. smellythoughts says:

    Had to read it like four or five times before I understood…
    So, at the end of the day, it’s most likely that people are going to try this once? No one is going to buy 50ml ever month surely. So if every customer spends $50 on average lets say, it would probably be a much more successful, informative, knowledgable and exciting project if everyone paid a starting $50, knowing that for the next few months, you’ll recieve say, a 5ml vial of a mystery scent, I’d sign up for that.

  12. Vanessa says:

    It is an interesting idea and I do admire the sentiment behind it up to a point. Yet like the lady I once met in The Tate Gallery in St Ives, who was standing in front of a surreal collage muttering: “I’m sorry, but when it comes to art I do like a bit of representation!”, I must admit “I do like a bit of perfume trappings”. Yes, I am routinely confronted by unidentified vials in my sample boxes which I have limited inclination to sniff. Knowing in advance what something is definitely enhances – or shall we say, “facilitates” – my enjoyment of perfume, even if it is a kind of cheating. Only this week I was rubbish in a blind test (not) identifying herbs. : – )

    • Olfactoria says:

      I see your point, V. The trappings can be a beautiful thing, and in the end I want them too, but as a exercise the “pure” approach has its merits.

  13. hellkelpie says:

    “I’m looking forward to reading Chandler’s descriptions of each perfume.”

    He’s posted a video at OpenSky describing the effect without ever approaching the composition. I certainly couldn’t buy 50ml of a scent which may well contain elements I don’t like, never mind the fact they won’t ship to my country anyway.

  14. Pingback: (Open)Sky is the limit? « Undina's Looking Glass

  15. Ronny at Scent & Sensibility already does this in the UK, and it’s a great way of learning about perfume and training one’s nose. She sends out an unmarked vial, 1-2ml of a fragrance every week, to one of the individuals who has signed up, then they have to report about it on the Facebook page. And she doesn’t make a charge!
    They are perfumes that she sells, so it is a good marketing strategy for her – and for us a great way to smell new things and interact with others about perfume.
    I wouldn’t want 50 ml of something I didn’t like, but what a bargain for something you do like….

  16. I think OpenSky is packaging this as an “exclusive” offer. You are paying $50 not just for the perfume, but for the experience, and to be part of an elite group (limited number of bottles) and for a chance to interact with Chandler Burr. All of THAT is what the price tag is for. I agree it’s a bit stiff for me, but hey, I’m just a plebe 🙂 I’d guess that as he releases each episode, the sample houses (Surrender to Chance, The Perfumed Court) will:
    a) Transcribe the content of his videos
    b) package smaller “blind” samples

    Once this happens, the layperson without the big bucks can enjoy the experience.

    I’m dead curious though! I went to Open Sky today and they are sold out of S01E01. Has anybody bought this? Or sniffed it? I’m so curious what people think of it.

    • Olfactoria says:

      The exclusivity is surely a big part of the deal, I agree.
      I hope to eventually get some feedback from US buyers, since unfortunately OpenSky only ships within the US.

      • Hey there! Just wanted to let you know that thanks to a friend on Basenotes who bought into S01E01, I now have a sample 🙂 To my nose – it is unisex, and very modern in style with a lot of transparency (a lot like something JCE would do). It opens with a burst of citrus (lime?) and overall has an effect a lot like a cologne – very summery, and something you can splash on. It doesn’t have a lot of sillage, and wears very close like a skin scent. As it dries down, it becomes pleasantly musky/nutty and to me smells a bit like sun-warmed skin. It’s nice! If you are still looking for something you can ”splash on with abandon” this might be the ticket 🙂

        • Olfactoria says:

          Thank you!
          I know what the secret perfume is, a friend identified it immediately upon smelling it. Do you want to know? *evil grin* 😉

          • Am I morally depraved if I say that I do, lol? ;D I already know what I think of it sans packaging, I like it, and now I’m dead curious and don’t know if I can wait another 10 days to find out! (so antsy). That said – I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else, either.

          • Olfactoria says:

            I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone either, I emailed you with the name! 😉

          • Melissa Baker says:

            Yes, I would like to know, too. I bought it. The reveal will be tomorrow, though, so I guess I don’t have long to wait…, but would love it if you would let me in on the secret. 😉

          • Olfactoria says:

            I’ll email you, Melissa! 🙂

          • Did you see? It’s Prada Infusion d’Iris Eau de Parfum! I never would have guessed, lol. I absolutely thought it was unisex 🙂

          • Olfactoria says:

            Very interesting! I like Infusion a lot, funny thing that my friend was so sure about L’Eau d’Hiver. 😀

        • The crazy part is that I have sampled it at the department store counter several times – and I liked it fairly well – but then thought…hmmm….no, maybe not for me. Not quite. Only okay. But after Chandler’s endorsement I thought, “Oh wow, this is gorgeous!” Also I NEVER would have guessed about the iris (which is a note I love, I still don’t think it’s very “iris-y” compared to say, Iris Silver Mist or 28 La Pausa). And, embarrassingly – I just learned how much of a snob I am, that now I think it’s so fantastic just because Chandler said so 😉 You know, smelling it next to L’Eau de Hiver – their construction IS very similar. But Hiver is much sweeter, warmer and fuzzier. It always makes me think of little snow white bunnies with angel wings, and also Jordan Almonds 🙂 Iris is similarly ethereal and transparent, but without that “warm fuzzy sweet” quality.

          • Olfactoria says:

            Chandler’s endorsement sure has some clout. I’m glad he uses it to promote perfume as he does.
            The idea behind Infusion and L’Eau d’Hiver is very similar, both are translucent, sheer, lightweight renditions of iris and heliotrope respectively. Lovely. That experiment shows how much we are influenced by brand – even by Chandler’s. 🙂

  17. Pingback: Chandler Burr’s Untitled Series – Mystery Unveiled | Olfactoria's Travels

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