In the midst of Milan Design Week, Italy’s charming, prestigious design house Alessi unveiled the unexpected: a line of home fragrances with objects to match. They are far from the first design brand to enter this sensory sector, but rarely have others approached it in this manner. “We think that fragrance is part of interior design. It becomes part of the experience of the home,” Alessi Design Manager Carlo Gasparini tells us, “It is invisible but deeply perceivable.” And while the brand researched the category 30 years ago, exploring options and building a speculative product, it’s only now that they’ve released their first-ever collection of scents. Known as The Five Seasons, the collection was imagined in collaboration with Dutch designer Marcel Wanders, himself new to the world of aroma. That said, Wanders has been a longtime collaborator with Alessi and understands the brand wholeheartedly.
Gabriele Chiave, Creative Director for Marcel Wanders, explains that such a unique series of scents was drawn from an uncommon process: “We started by creating these fragrances visually. We made mood boards of everything we could imagine as to how someone could see a perfume—text, characters and structures.” This, he notes, is “how we were able to see what we wanted to smell.” Thematically, they began to approach a more expansive version of the four seasons, urged on by Alberto Alessi’s desire to bring the scents of nature into the home. “We added a fifth season to be a cosmic unifier. It embraces life, the spirit and so on,” he adds. As they began to shape the objects which would hold and distribute these fragrances, they also collaborated with a perfumer in the French city of Grasse—a destination most know as the capital of scent. Notes were plucked, trialled and volleyed between all parties.
Before addressing the aromas’ specifics, it’s worth talking about the objects themselves. “Why would you not try to have a new look at something we know so well?” Wanders answers when asked about reinventing oil diffusers—something they did drastically by mimicking a plant. “We like to look at archetypes in various ways and show people they can be done differently. We have designed less of an abstract grouping of sticks and given it a functional, leafed-out language capable of spreading scent.” The leaves of the diffuser are layered and oriented in various directions allowing for greater diffusion. “I live in a culture that allows me to pick up a pencil and draw things to make a living,” Wanders adds. “The least I can do is take full responsibility and do whatever I can to fulfill a dream that life can be more interesting and exciting for everyone.”
It took three years to develop these objects and the scents. “Seasons are not only seasons,” Wanders continues on the inspiration. “Seasons can happen during a conversation. You begin, you grow, you blossom, you say goodbye and memorize it all. Everything has its own flow, its own movement.” Even the names invoke a sensation. With “Brrr,” or winter, bergamot and musk yield warmth. Spring’s “Ahhh” carries garden-like components. “Hmm” represents summer with ripe fruits. Cedar wood and smoky incense compose, “Grrr” for autumn. And of course, the cosmic fifth scent, “Shhh,” pairs rose, eucalyptus and more. In addition to the diffusers, there are also candles, room sprays and a lava rock.
“We put together things,” Chiave continues. “It’s like cooking. If you explore the scents, the combination of all elements builds a complex world of mood and atmospheres.” He hopes people take away memories and emotions from their use. Wanders feels confident that it’s an appropriate fit for Alessi. The brand, he concludes, “is credible when it comes to design, sophistication, and the experience of the home. Thus, they deserve to build a series of home fragrances.” As far as a debut into a new sense goes, it’s quite stunning to say the least.
Hero image courtesy of Alessi, all other images by David Graver