From 11 November, the Moooi New York Brand Store hosts the scent design experience created by Algorithmic Perfumery. We spoke to Anahita Mekanik, scent designer, about this innovative platform that empowers every human.
This interview is part of a series in which we sit down with creatives and in which we explore how they turn their dreams into reality.
Tell us, who or what is Algorithmic Perfumery?
Algorithmic Perfumery is the world’s first public artificial intelligence (A.I.) scent design experience at the crossroad of art, science and technology that creates unique scents based on your personality and preferences.
We are Anahita Mekanik scent designer, and Frederik Duerinck, artist-technologist and creator of Algorithmic Perfumery.
So, you let customers create bespoke perfumes with an AI-driven computer program and a special scent printer?
Yes! We’re on a mission to empower everyone to explore, create and play with scent. To let you connect more deeply with who you are and how you perceive yourself at that moment.
How did it start? How did you come up with such an innovative idea?
Frederik and I met in NY in early 2017, working on a future driven exhibition of olfactory artworks. One piece was a collaboration between an electronic musician who uses computer generated sounds, and a perfumer whose craft is rooted in controlling every decision throughout the creative process. I still remember when Frederik had his ‘aha’ moment. He started sketching a first draft of the machine mumbling, “this is about generative scent design!”. He had a vision of the endless creative possibilities that could result from using technology to discover uncharted olfactory territories. That was the starting point.
We continued to develop the concept to make a more direct link to each person and their internal world. This exploration led to the birth of Algorithmic Perfumery and then the start up we founded called Scentronix, which provides the technology and platform to run the experience.
How does it work?
When you visit Algorithmic Perfumery, you’re invited to fill in a brief questionnaire on your phone. Our futuristic sensory machine will then create 3 one-of-a-kind scents based on your answers.
You get to witness the entire creative process. From the composition of the scents by the A.I. to the small bottle travelling along the conveyor belt. The bottle stops beneath glass dispensers to collect droplets of the colourful solutions of ingredients unique to your personalised formula. The machine also positions and crimps the spray pump and applies the label.
What happens next?
The next step in this ritual of creation is to evaluate the creations and dive deeper into the development process. You’ll have access to your formula and can design and produce new variations (aka ‘tweaks’) on site, in real time. Tweaking is optional. You can, of course, choose to leave your scents as is.
You’ll become the inspiration and creator of your own scent, with access to a design tool like none other!
How long does the whole process take?
It depends on how much of a perfectionist or risk taker you are. The experience can take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes.
So, the unique scents are created through an algorithm. Does the algorithm have a feedback loop to learn from its findings and grow?
Yes, absolutely. The final step of the creation journey for everyone who interacts with the machine is to provide feed-back on the scents designed which helps the system to continue learning and improve its capabilities.
Would you say that a customised scent tells someone’s life story or someone’s personality?
It definitely reveals aspects of yourself and also allows you to explore styles you might not typically gravitate towards. The creative process you engage in also says a lot about your life story or personality. How you reflect upon yourself while doing the questionnaire, if you are more intuitive or over-thinking it. The bonding, communal dimension of the experience is something that we’re very attached to. And then of course, there is also the mystery of why we love what we love when it comes to something as visceral and personal as scent. It is a very complex and ambitious equation to solve. But it’s also a fascinating one and a million questions would not suffice to understand the mystery that is every human!
Using artificial intelligence, one could say it dehumanises the process, but creating bespoke scents based on one’s personality is the exact opposite of that. How does that translate into your vision or philosophy of scent design?
Algorithmic Perfumery is about enabling the creator within and exploring the realm of possibilities. This philosophy is the basis of our approach to scent design. We believe you know best what you like and don’t like.
An AI-supported system lets people play with the composition and decide for themselves about what they think is the ‘best’ scent for them, without the opinion of an expert or a marketing panel. Human agency is at the core of everything we design.
EveryHuman is the label behind Algorithmic Perfumery. What can you tell us about EveryHuman?
EveryHuman™ encompasses everything we stand for. It’s about giving people agency and making one of the most luxurious experiences available to everyone. We believe inclusivity is the new exclusivity and that every human should have the freedom to choose how they want to live and who they want to be. That’s why we chose the universal quantifier as the mark for EveryHuman™. The ∀ is a mathematical symbol that means a formula is true for each, every, and all. This truth spans beyond algorithms and is our philosophy that every human deserves to be seen. That is the driving energy behind everything we do and create.
What are you focusing on now with Algorithmic Perfumery?
We want to bring the experience to as many people and cultures as possible. For the past 2 years, Algorithmic Perfumery has been featured in Art & Design festivals all over the world. We have some exciting new locations coming up in the Middle East, so we’ll be on the road a while longer. We’re also expanding the virtual experience, making the art and science of scent a true people’s medium accessible to all.
How do you see Moooi and Algorithmic Perfumery complement each other?
Our philosophies are very complimentary. Moooi’s commitment to realising designers’ dreams and not telling them what to do but listening to what they want to make is very similar to what we offer our users with Algorithmic Perfumery. And then there is also the shared Dutch heritage. Algorithmic Perfumery was born in NY and raised in Breda, which is where the Moooi headquarters is also located.
In all that Moooi does, creates and envisions we contribute to ‘A Life Extraordinary’. What does A Life Extraordinary mean to you?
A Life Extraordinary is having the freedom to dream, explore and create. To push beyond the boundaries set by your life experiences, conditioning, or society. To live your truth while encouraging and letting others do the same.
Last thing, can you tell us about the notes in your favourite personalised scent?
Frederik is obsessed with one of our new scent compositions – Blond Woods – and showers in it! I love a new scent we have introduced to our Library Collection called Musk Enigma, which has another one of our newly designed accords: Metallic. It’s both warm and piercing and I fell in love with it the minute I smelled it.