On Friday, May 14, the Qatar America Institute for Culture (QAIC) opened the doors to its newest cultural installation, the Perfumery Museum, during its first “Seasonal Social” open house for 2021. Located within QAIC’s headquarters in the District’s historic Dupont Circle neighborhood, the Perfumery Museum expands on the organization’s commitment to art and cultural programming by sharing the story of fragrance’s significant impact to society across time and the world. Offering a mix of both historical and contemporary accounts through a variety of informative displays and interactive elements, QAIC’s Perfumery Museum aims to be a unique experience for its DC-based audience and beyond.
Upon entering the space, visitors are briefly introduced to the history of fragrance followed by a curated display of vintage perfume bottles from fashion houses such as Guerlain and Lanvin. On loan by Qatar-based antiquities collector, Reem Abu Issa, these ornately designed bottles provide insight into the aesthetic complexity of perfumery branding dating back to the start of the 20th century. Going back further in time, visitors also learn about several traditional objects still used today for fragrance in the Middle East, whether at special occasions or around the home, like the oud-infused incense bukhoor that’s burned inside a diffuser called a mabkhara.
In the center of the chamber sits a table adorned with numbered glass apothecary jars, each containing scented strips with mystery fragrances like myrrh or saffron for guests to identify using only their noses and the references around them for clues. One such reference is the large Fragrance Wheel presiding over the space, a device developed by renowned fragrance expert Michael Edwards for classifying the 14 various fragrance families used in perfumes as part of his work with Fragrances of the World (a partner on QAIC’s Perfumery Museum project).
In addition to the launch of the Perfumery Museum, QAIC’s Seasonal Social offered many other artistic and cultural activities, including a live violin performance and an outdoor live canvas painting displaying beautiful blend of Arabic and Western cultures. However, the main attraction was a live demonstration on how to make perfume hosted by mother-and-daughter duo, Sherry Meredith and Gretchen Stirling, of DIY Scent Studio. Viewers were introduced to the science of making a personalized scent, of which this demonstration featured a concoction inspired by “Qatar America.”
As part of its vision to more than just a physical space with viewable exhibitions and interactive activities, the Perfumery Museum plans to offer future programming uniquely tied to fragrance. With help from partners such as DIY Scent Studio and the Doha-based Perfume Factory, the museum will soon be able to welcome guests to partake in events like DIY perfumery workshops, guest lectures from notable perfumers, or food and fragrance pairings.