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Your Shot: How Rosapark and Thalys Bottled 64 Scents from Across Europe

The low down on inspiring future adventures with the power of smell

Your Shot: How Rosapark and Thalys Bottled 64 Scents from Across Europe

The relationship between the sense of smell and emotional memory is a fascinating one. Because of a quirk of our brain’s anatomy, scents can trigger powerful memories. But what if they could be used to inspire future adventures? That’s exactly what train operator Thalys and its ad agency Rosapark are attempting to do with ‘Scents of the City’, an exhibition in which visitors can smell 64 different places from across Europe (where the train service runs). The campaign is a follow-on from last year’s ‘Sounds of the City’ which, as the name suggests, involved users experiencing noises instead of smells (you can read our feature on that here). 

Some of the scents involved in this project are as expected - flowers, food and the like - but others are more surprising, such as that of latex from the Museum of Erotica in Amsterdam and fresh cut grass from the football stadium in Cologne. The process of capturing and bottling scent is no small feat either, and a wildly different process than involved in ’Sounds of the City’. 

LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Jean-Francois Sacco, ECD and Co-Founder at Rosapark, to find out how they did it. 


LBB> Given the previous campaign’s focus on sound, it seems like a natural step to explore scent - but when did the idea first come up in conversation? 

J-FS> Pretty much directly after the sounds campaign was launched two years ago. We knew that we wanted to pursue a sensorial platform, and that scent was the next sense to address. But it took a while to work out the form it would take.


LBB> Capturing sounds is pretty straightforward, but I can imagine that bottling scent is a trickier task. Is it? From a scientific / technological aspect, how did you do it? 

J-FS> It's more a question of how do you reproduce scents. First of all we asked people who work for Thalys, as well as frequent travellers on the Thalys network, to identify the scents that meant the most to them, from their favourite cities. From that point we had a master list, which we merged with our own research. Then we worked with the scientists to see which scents were possible to reproduce. Scent is much more subjective than sound, more open to interpretation. So it was more about feeling rather than thinking. The experts recreate the scents using the same building blocks that they use to create perfumes. It is an extremely precise and delicate task which can involve the mixing of a certain number of primary scents. It's like building colours. Sometimes a bit of refinement is called for - for example we wanted to do a café liegeois, which is a desert of coffee and ice cream. It was one that we had to play around with the ratios of coffee and cream until our 'panel' declared that it resembled the real thing.


LBB> Who did you team up with on that aspect of the project?

J-FS> Drom laboratory in Paris. And Elizabeth Carre, who is a 'nose', otherwise known as a scent consultant.


LBB> It’s also interesting because scents are so powerful at evoking memories, whereas what you’re trying to do here is inspire new adventures. How did you play on this in your approach to the project? 

J-FS> What's interesting about this question is the sense of evocation. Scent somehow seems to be able to bypass parts of the brain that sound and sight cannot. We're most familiar with this feeling when it's related to memory. But with this project we're trying to harness this 'direct link' to talk about the future, rather than a memory from the past. At the same time, relating to memory, we did love the idea that someone might smell our apple pie scent, for example, and be reminded of an apple pie they ate as a child, and be inspired to visit Amsterdam to sample one. 


LBB> The exhibiting of scent is more complicated than that of sound too - how did you tackle this to ensure as many people experienced this project as Sounds of the City? 

J-FS> The hanging sculpture was designed with a group experience in mind. Hundreds of scents hanging so that lots of people could get involved together. The idea was that it would create conversations in the gallery - people swapping scents, and so on. The gallery took place in both Paris and Brussels. 


LBB> Tell us about the scents that you’ve captured - you can’t list them all, so which are most powerful for you and why? 

J-FS> When you're talking about scents, it's easier to go directly to food, or to flowers! And of course many of these scents deserve to be included because they're iconic parts of the cities. Like, how could you have Paris without a buttered baguette? At the same time, we tried to have a surprising mix. With this in mind we included the smell of an antique dealer in Brussels, cut grass from the FC Köln stadium in Cologne, Latex from the museum of Erotica in Amsterdam, and varnish from the parquet floors of Victor Hugo's apartment in Paris. 


LBB> What were the trickiest challenges you faced when bringing it to life? How did you overcome them?

J-FS> The curation of the scents themselves was a long process, but in terms of difficulty it was probably the design of the hanging sculpture. We knew that we wanted a stunning visual representation. But every detail was a hard-won fight. From the form of the sculpture itself, down to the production of the tubes that would house the scents. A challenging mix of aesthetic goals and practical demands. The tubes had to look beautiful, and at the same time be designed to allow access to the scents, without allowing the scents to leak out. In the film you can see the people twisting a plug at the bottom of the tube, opening a hole through which they can smell. 


LBB> What was the most memorable moment during production? 

J-FS> The day that the perfume consultants brought in the samples of the scents. They all looked the same - white beads in clear glass jars. But opening them and smelling them was like magic. That was the point that we knew that the idea was going to work. 


Category: Services, toursim , Travel

Genre: Experiential , Stunts