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Demistify: Charing Cross Hospital Art Collection as Perfume

the perfume collection - 4 bottles in a row
the perfume collection - 4 bottles in a row

Written by
Post-Grad Community
Published date
19 June 2019

‘on the mend’, a design studio comprising a group of postgraduate students at Central Saint Martins and London College of Communication, work on reducing healthcare inequalities. They tell us about a recent collaboration with Imperial Health Charity.

The sense of smell is one of our most developed yet least understood sense and is known to be beneficial to the health of those with dementia and brain injuries. Demistify looks to use the sense of smell to demystify memory, showing how important smelling is to our everyday experiences.

Charing Cross hospital has specialist stroke and neuro-rehabilitation units as well as elderly care wards. In partnership with the Imperial Health Charity, we turned the hospital art collection into perfumes. This provided an inclusive and unusual way to enjoy the amazing art collection at Charing Cross.

The Scents

  1. Jo Bruton “Landing Girls” wallpaper – Vintage floral scent inspired by popular perfumes of 1950s
  2. John Piper Stained Glass window – Fresh Aquatic notes with a hint of incense, evoking smells of a chapel
  3. Simpson and Son’s Tiles for original Charing Cross Hospital – Apple and fruity notes, fresh cut glass, wood
  4. David Mach “Visit London” – Tobacco, Leather, Rubber, Vanilla

The event

The event took place at Charing Cross Hospital, on the first floor, close to the Starbucks Coffee and one of their outpatients’ area, so there was lots of patients, carers, staff and visitors walking past. We set up all our scents with their own corresponding postcards we designed, as well as Imperial Health Charity’s Art Trail, which just launched and takes you on a tour of their whole art collection around the hospital. Sophia Luu (founder and managing director) and Mathilda Della Torre (co-director and project manager) facilitated the event, along with some of Imperial Health Charity’s staff members who supported us all along this project.

Photos from the workshop

We spent the afternoon chatting to whoever came up to our table and wanted to know more about the project. The response was very positive and people seemed very intrigued about what we were doing. Some of the smells were loved and some were very hated, which was very interesting to observe. We quickly got a sense of how different people related to an artwork when the sense of smell was linked to it. Suddenly, it was easier to relate the artwork to personal stories and memories and we had so many beautiful conversations with several outpatients.

“This perfume is vintage smelling, and reminds me exactly of the sorts of scents I used to wear when I went to dances in the sixties.” – Outpatient

“I was a painter decorator for most of my life. All I ever smelled was eggshell paint and white spirit. I’m 79 now and really love the smell of the countryside because it gives me a literal breath of fresh air in a bottle.” – Outpatient

Some of the visitors found that the scents encapsulated perfectly the specific artwork they had been inspired from, while some other visitors completely disagreed. This made us wonder how our sense of smell differs from person to person and opened up a space for such unusual and interesting conversations to take place.

We also went up to the neuro rehabilitation ward to speak to some of the patients there who aren’t able to leave their rooms and come see our stand. The reactions we got from them were really touching and inspiring.

“Since my stroke, I have not left the hospital for months. I actually loved smelling the perfume based on London dirt because I even miss the smell of pollution outside! Thank you for bringing a piece of the outside in for me.” – Patient on the Neuro Rehabilitation Ward

“I lost my sense of smell after a sinus operation. I am so grateful that my health is better, but I miss everyday moments of smelling. I grew up in Spain and miss the smell of oranges. This project means so much to me because it reminds people that smell is important.” – Older patient recovering from sinus operation

Adding scents and triggering our sense of smell was a way for patients to have the opportunity share little details of their lives if they wanted to, or to focus on what they were smelling and try to discover all the different ingredients used to make the scents. We left the event feeling humbled and honored to have shared these conversations with patients, staff, carers and all the other visitors who came along to discover how we had tried to demistify Charing Cross Hospital’s art collection.


Perfumery and Branding – Sophia Luu

Event Facilitation – Mathilda Della Torre

Generously supported by the Imperial Health Charity.

Find out more about On the Mend on our website