Early this week, someone asked me what scent I was wearing. "Me!" I replied, with an air of absolute glee. I wasn't kidding: Thanks to the new Fragrance Lab at Selfridges in London -- a collaboration between Selfridges, trend forecaster The Future Laboratory and design studio Campaign, I now have a custom-designed scent based on my personality and character.
Designed to explore the customer’s response to specific stimuli, the Fragrance Lab is a one-of-a-kind, multi-sensory experience that "strips down to the visual, auditory and olfactory senses," Mark Tranter, the beauty buyer at Selfridges, explained to me. This ensures that the scent the customer receives at the end of her journey is as unique as she is. "[It’s a] true reflection of their personality. It's not a question of them choosing what scent they like, but which scent suits them best,” Tranter said.
The experience starts with a set of questions about your shopping habits, style and behaviors, followed by a walk through four different rooms designed to determine your character. At the end of the 15-minute journey, the customer leaves with a fragrance devised by Givaudan perfumers, the same people behind some of the world’s most successful scents – think Opium by YSL, J’Adore by Dior, and Lola by Marc Jacobs.
On a rainy Thursday morning, I headed into Selfridges to be one of the first to experience this immersive retail journey. Housed at the far end of the store, the lab was bright and white, with test tubes and cylinders lined up on shelves and dry ice-filled floors, creating a moody sort of fog. Assistants in lab coats mulled about with clip boards as the first few people filed in. After my initial greeting and questionnaire, I was instructed to put on a pair of noise-canceling headphones attached to an iPhone around my neck. I was then told to sit on a chair below some stairs and focus solely on the voice of my virtual guide, who definitely had a Matthew MacFadyen as Mr. Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice" quality. (Good start, right?)
I walked up the stairs and into the first room, where I was asked to look at myself in the mirror. From there, I moved on to a room full of odd jumbled objects, then into a wind machine, and finally through a dry ice window display, where I did my best to ignore the commuters outside gawking at me. That second room was my favorite, filled with objects like antique books, watches, and gems in glass jars -- which I was asked to sniff. I chose a glass jar filled with green shredded paper, not for the look, but for the smell: A beautiful, refreshing scent.
Finally, it was time for my assessment. I was greeted by a lab assistant who proceeded to ask me questions about why I made the choices I did -- and based on that brief conversation alone, he formed a full, eerily accurate evaluation of my character. I was blown away. He seemed to know everything, down to my dark sense of humor, how I subtly follow trends, and how I like to get my point across but never push it on others. I half expected him to bring my mum out and tell me they'd spent the day chatting about me!
When all was said and done, I was given my “prescription” : Fragrance Two Five Seven, an "intoxicating fragrance" that reflects my “alluring and extroverted character.” It’s a fruity and floral scent with notes of rhubarb, pink peppercorns and blackcurrant. (I need to mention here that, personally, I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as an “extrovert.” The final written assessment wasn’t quite as accurate as the verbal one -- it felt a bit like a generic fortune cookie.) It's worth noting that if you totally hate your signature scent, Selfridges will offer you a couple to choose from within the scope of your "personality matrix." And if you really hate it, you'll be offered a refund.
I left the Fragrance Lab that day with my new scent -- along with a new perspective on my shopping habits. We all have those beauty or style icons we try to imitate when buying for ourselves, but in this case, everything was stripped back. As Tranter explained, "There are many factors at play when it comes to how a customer makes a fragrance purchase, from the advertising and packaging, to the celebrity endorsing the product." In this situation, it was just me and what I like -- not who I would like to replicate, or my loyalty to a specific brand. The experience in itself was truly as refreshing as the perfume I came home with.
The Fragrance Lab is open now through June 28, and tickets cost £65 (~$110) with a full-sized bottle of your scent included. (There is also an express service available with no need to book in advance.)