January 23, 2023

Sfumato Fragrances Produces a Designer Scent for VR

A fragrance for VR is here. But, what does it smell like?

Sfumato Fragrances Produces a Designer Scent for VR
Image: Dark Factory

A niche perfumery in Detroit, Michigan has created a fragrance designed around the concept of virtual reality.

Kathe Koja is the author of futuristic novel Dark Factory, which examines a possible scenario of nightclubs that either embrace, grapple with, or reject XR technology to help design their musical experiences (our review of the book is here). Collaborating with the author, Sfumato Fragrances has created an as-yet-unreleased scent called Dark Park.

"Nothing is more immediate, and immersive, than scent," writes Koja of the collaboration. "Scent bypasses our thinking mind and goes straight to sensation, emotion, memory, appetite. To blend a particular scent, that’s one thing, but a scent that doesn’t yet exist, a scent that belongs to a future we have yet to experience—how does a scent like that come into being? Sfumato Fragrances knew how to make that happen."

Samples of the fragrance were sent to The Metaculture for review. Upon arrival, two strips were included in a sealed bag, which I approached for initial impressions and then proceeded to do a skin test.

At first smell, Dark Park made me feel as if I were opening a fresh HMD from its packaging. It's amazing to see a perfume mimic the thrill of buying brand-new expensive tech. On my skin, however, I detected more citrus notes, rather than feeling as if I were wrapped in plastic myself.

The dry-down smelled cleaner and lighter over time; I'm usually a fan of spicier fragrances like Diptyque's 34 Boulevard Saint Germaine, but I didn't mind the clever simplicity of Dark Park. It's a fun concept and worth picking up for anyone who enjoys VR and interesting fragrances.

So, what are the scent's official notes?

Kevin Peterson is the co-founder of Sfumato Fragrances. His answer: styrax, vetiver, choya nakh, myrrh, birch tar, helichrysum, and osmanthus. It all mixes together to give the simple complexity of the scent while playing with several concepts at the same time.

"The tie-in to VR is intriguing because generally VR is pretty good at replicating visual and audio sensations, and pretty terrible at replicating olfactory experiences," says Peterson. "The styrax is an entirely natural note that is nonetheless reminiscent of plastics and circuitry, and I wanted to include that as a nod to the fact that even when VR is good, there are always some traces of its artificial-ness (some 'seams,' as Dark Factory might refer to them). And importantly, much of our interpretation of a scent is based on the context. So while a scent may perfectly, molecularly, recreate an experience, without the other elements of that experience it will never be fully convincing."

Dark Park is also a planned sequel by Kathe Koja to Dark Factory, which is slated for this year; Sfumato Fragrances doesn't list a release date for their corresponding fragrance, but they're considering a Kickstarter for customers to purchase a limited run of bottles.