Fill The Room

A bit of bitter incense, earthy-sensual orris, woody papyrus, creamy heliotropin and tart orange: Experimental scent designer Marissa Zappas created a mesmerizing mix for a unique aroma installation at the Elsewhere night club in Brooklyn. Diffused through the club’s art space,  the smell is especially composed for the venue and will change each season.

Zappas is the perfect perfumer for the project: Her background in Anthropology and also being a poet and dancer enhances her interaction with aroma to a level where perfume becomes more than just a beautifying odor. After been trained the classic way by Givaudan for two years, she approaches scent in the most modern way – either in her Elsewhere installation or her soon to launched line of fragrance, Redamance.

Usually, clubs stimulate eyes and ears rather than the nose (at least, not intentionally) and focus on uplifting beats rather than scents. Thanks to Elsewhere’s unique art approach (by featuring gallery-like spaces, curated by art director Molly Surno) – the rooms are filled by
subtle yet sensual smell. “ Scent is an interesting way of calling attention to a different component of the building and allowing people to transport themselves into a different mindset without being too distracting,” tells Surno.

We talked to Marissa Zappas about that interaction – and her intention in creation.

Scent designer Marissa Zappas

Zappa's own scent collection: Redamance

Do you think perfumery is art? 

Absolutely, yes; we express ideas through scent. We use a similar language as music (also non-visual art), with notes and chords. And because we use the same part of our brain that processes memory to process smell, I think creating or wearing perfume is a way to create memories, or at least mark them. Scent memories are mostly subconscious and can perfume bring them to life.

How did you fall in love with scent?

I’ve always been very attuned to smell. I think a lot of people are, but we don’t talk about it – the ways in which smell influences and shapes our lives. Olfactive language is limited. We tend to use color, taste, or emotions to describe scent.
But it was through wearing my great-grandmother’s perfume, Shalimar, when I was 12, that I realized the transformative power of perfume. It helped me connect back with her after her passing and also build up my own confidence. That experience was the inspiration for Redamance, my perfume collection that’s about to launch.

What’s your vision as a perfumer?

To make perfumes that really resonate with people and also have the power to shift how they might perceive of themselves. To really embrace femininity, in its ever-changing and myriad forms. I’m inspired by perfumes from the 80’s like Opium and Paris, with those epic sillages, totally unafraid to fill a room. I believe all perfume is inherently genderless, it’s marketing that tells us otherwise…even ‘gender neutral’ perfumes, they tend to ascribe gender to certain raw materials and then just leave those ingredients out (and usually it’s the ‘feminine’ notes); for example, gardenia is a classic “feminine” smell, however any note is claimed by the person who wears it, fragrance is who wears it. People should wear whatever they enjoy, not what a marketing campaign tells them. I think in great perfume, there is always something familiar and nostalgic first because it has to resonate on some level, but it also must introduce something new. For the most part, my perfumes are classically structured, they have a certain dustiness, but they tend to use newer or funkier raw materials.


In scenting spaces, I like to have fun. It’s less personal because it’s not applied to skin, so there’s room to create something a bit more unusual or unexpected. With perfume, people want something more harmonious, understandably. Perfume is more individual, it becomes part of the body, it actually goes into the bloodstream. 

Pick three songs that describe your work as a perfumer or your career best:

Secret Garden by Madonna

Princess Nicotine by Mary Lattimore

Violet by Hole

Nightclub Elsewhere in Brooklyn

How much can smell change the way people perceive a place?

Smell can signal so much: safety, cleanliness, sex, anything really. The history of perfume (as we know it today, oil mixed with alcohol in a spray bottle) is based on the history of deodorization during the French Revolution, an attempt to cover up foul smells which ultimately signified death. And of course there is research suggesting that the smells of certain essential oils have therapeutic effects.

Do you use smell to intensify emotions or change them?

I try not to have expectations as to how people experience anything I create. But I’m always happy to see them smile or have an unexpected moment of pleasant confusion or nostalgia. It takes a lot these days for people to really stop what they’re doing and notice their environment, but I think scent has the unique power to do that.

How does happiness smell?

To me, like fig trees… my father was Greek and grew them, the green and black ones. That smell is a distinct part of my childhood, also combined with the back of his neck, because he would put me on his shoulders to go pick them, he smelled like vitamins…  Or my cat. I definitely have toxoplasmosis.


There are drinks, people put on perfume – a night club is not a blank canvas in terms of smell – why were you still drawn to this place?

Smell is really about play. It’s about how molecules and bodies interact. With perfume, it can be about playing with ideas of self… within a space, it’s about much more. So I wasn’t deterred at all by the ruckus of a dance club, I was drawn to it. Elsewhere has this subtle, sweet and musky scent that’s somehow already in the walls, which was a great starting point.


Who inspires you?

#1 Elizabeth Taylor fan girl.

Laura Dunkelmann
Talya Brott
[Photo Elsewhere]
Leah Pipes Meltzer
Oktober 16, 2019
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