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RCA Fashion Student Wins International Flavors & Fragrances Perfume Prize

RCA Fashion student Katharina Dubbick has won the International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) competition for her perfume, Soi-Même.

Existing at the intersections of art and technology, imagination and commerce, it’s clear that perfume has a unique hold over our current cultural imagination. As well as accounting for around £1.5 billion a year in sales, both niche and large perfumers have taken advantage of this cultural resurgence to explore ever-more advanced formulas, combining technology and artistry to produce new ingredients. 

Entrepreneurs have also become an integral part of the perfume landscape, from the development of precise ‘scent branding’ for businesses to the launch of exclusive clubs in major cities. Scientifically, scent has become an exciting area of study, with olfactory research labs springing up, and scientists are keen to explore the links between memory, perception and smell.

IFF (International Flavors & Fragrances), is a leading pioneer in sensory experiences, and the longest standing partner of the RCA, for over 20 years. With this partnership, IFF invites the RCA fashion students into the invisible world of scents, with the intent to invent new scent experiences, rituals, meanings, and uses. Being mindful of this context, RCA Fashion students were asked by IFF to consider how we can use smell as a tool to enhance our future lives. The project, Scent as Centre, considered seven pathways: philosophy, intellect, market, material, image, language and science, and students received a series of talks and workshops that discussed current knowledge of perfume while speculating on the way it will influence future human existence.

The 20 second-year Fashion students chosen went to Paris to meet Scholars of Scent at ISIPCA, the perfume school in Versailles, and presented their final ideas to the IFF Jury. Katharina Dubbick’s Soi-même was named as the winner, with Marie Lueder and Anna Talvi chosen as finalists.

Described as an ‘olfactory self-portrait’, Katharina Dubbick’s winning perfume aims to amplify the body’s natural smell. Working with perfumer Meabh McCurtin, her fragrance Soi-Même uses molecules that make up the basic odour of skin, sweat, hair and tears to create a lexicon of scent. By comparing these with the notes from an unwashed t-shirt of the artist’s, Dubbick created a perfume that places the scent of the body at the forefront. 

In Dubbick's perfume, the wearer’s unique aromas are highlighted rather than hidden and, paired with elements of grapefruit and peach, create an innovative, distinctive fragrance. This is paralleled by the presentation of Soi-Même: a box that is mirrored on the inside, opening up to reveal the wearer’s reflection. Together, both packaging and scent encourage an exploration of identity and the self.

Anna Talvi’s fragrance, X Earth, imagines scent as a way of connecting space travellers to Earth. Formulated to combat space-anxiety, the perfume captures scents from your everyday life – your house, your partner, the beach – to create a smell-scape that could soothe you in a time of loneliness. 

As there is no convection in zero-gravity environments, and small-particle contamination must be avoided in spacecraft, the perfume takes the form of a solid tablet contained within a glove-like mask, which is activated by the warmth of your breath. Using research on the close link between the memory cortex and olfactory cortex in the brain, Talvi’s fragrance concept examines the power of scent to impact as-yet unimagined scenarios.

 Taking inspiration from current society, Marie Lueder’s scent uses the current phenomenon of vaping to create a community. To create ParVape, Lueder looked at ancient forms of perfumery, such as the burning of incense in public rituals, and explored the way in which they united a populace through ‘per fumen’ – literally ‘through smoke’. Determining that today’s clubs and bars are the equivalent of historical temples, the fragrance is designed to deliver atmospheric, communal experiences that offer a respite from digital interfaces and promote empathy.

Find out more about the Fashion Womenswear and Menswear Programmes in the School of Design.