NEW YORK — Of all the things that stood out at Prabal Gurung’s show last year – the clear plastic curtain, the satiny pencil skirts, the mannequinlike models – fashion editors still recall the one thing they could not see: the smell.
The runway show, which took place at the Skylight at Moynihan Station, was scented with a syrupy sweet perfume, which had some in the front row holding their noses.
“Although it didn’t distract my attention from the clothes, it was quite strong and unexpected,” said Marina Larroudé, the market director of Style.com.
Scented runways, it seems, are the latest way designers try to bring their fashion fantasies to life. Among those who planned to scent their shows this week were Peter Som, Joseph Altuzarra, Juan Carlos Obando, Calla and Sir New York.
“Adding a scent to the show will enable us to communicate a full story,” said Obando, the women’s wear and accessories designer who commissioned 12.29, a scent-branding company in New York, to create a jasmine-and-woodsy smell for his show Thursday. “It will transport you and allow you to experience the collection in a very personal and intimate way.”
Likewise, Altuzarra, who used scented candles last year, has again enlisted Diptyque, a French candle label, to perfume his show.
“Having a scent element in the show definitely complements the experience,” Altuzarra said. “We felt that subtly scenting the room prior to the show with the interior scent spray elevated the space in a nice way without it being overpowering.”
The olfactory dressing borrows a page from retailers.
“Scent is something that retailers have employed for years, so it’s not a surprise to me that designers have started to incorporate it into their presentations and shows,” said Eva Chen, editor-in-chief of Lucky magazine. “It’s just another layer to the world and the ambience they are creating.”
Sir New York plans to use a frankincense-and-sandalwood scent at its show next Wednesday.
“When a scent is too strong, like at the Abercrombie store, it’s suffocating and I start getting impatient and irritable,” said Auston Björkman, Sir New York’s designer. “But when a scent is pleasing to me, I feel warm and relaxed and want to stick around. For this collection, we want to create a futuristic moonscape to complement the collection, which is called Black Moon.”
Scented runway shows are not entirely new. Robert Gerstner of Aedes de Venustas, a fragrance shop in New York, scented a Bill Blass show in 1997. He has also provided scents over the years to Giorgio Armani, Michael Bastian and Giambattista Valli.
“It puts the guests, in a very subconscious way, into exactly the mood the designer wants them to be,” Gerstner said. “It completes all senses: see the show, hear the music, smell the mood.”
More recently, fashion designers have requested custom-made scents, such as when Rodarte commissioned 12.29 to create a smoky campfire scent for its spring 2011 show.
“At that time, people had sprayed fragrances and room scents at shows, but no one had ever created a custom scent to diffuse,” said Dawn Goldworm, a former nose for Coty Beauty Europe, before starting 12.29 with her twin sister, Samantha Goldworm. “Everything was supposed to happen all at once: the lights, the music, the smoke machines and the scent, and the entire Gagosian Gallery was supposed to be filled in 30 seconds. It was insane.”
As Samantha Goldworm said, “Brands are struggling to differentiate themselves these days.”
“You have to win a place in consumers’ heart,” she added, “and we are exploring how you can do that with scent.”