Human Flower Project

Born to Smell

Inhale! An exhibit of fragrance, its psychology, physiology, and symbolic power, captivates two Americans in Paris.


The Grand Palais exhibition of scent science opened last

fall and runs through Sunday, May 3.

Photo: Alex Borden

By John and Alex Borden

Having participated in Human Flower Project’s sensory favorites survey, I felt compelled to comment on our visit to this exhibit with the partnership of daughter Alex.

This exposition at the Grand Palais in Paris is an exhibit focused on fragrances and smell.  It’s an easily whiffed interactive attraction.  The 90 or so available opportunities to test one’s sense of smell, with high and low opportunities for big people and little people respectively, run the gamut of foods, trash, gumballs, perfumes, spices, wines, and cognac (we are, after all, in France).  The exhibit’s name, Né Pour Sentir,  is translated as “Born with a sense of smell”, so this Yank could think “but tramps like us baby, we were born to smell.” 


John Borden enjoys an interactive olfactory display at Le Palais Decouverte, Paris

Photo: Alex Borden

The curators of this exhibit put it this way.

“Odors surround us.  They have the power to conjure up childhood memories with astonishing precision and intensity… We each possess a different genetic code… When we smell an odor we preserve it as a function of our genetic capital… The odor itself does not signify much on its own.  It is above all about our perception that gives the scent its importance and meaning.”  Aldous Huxley and Jim Morrison would no doubt agree.


Sniffing the gamut: toilet, gumballs, chemical concoctions

Photos: Alex Borden

The presence of all of the fragrances was not as vibrant as I expected, so this is where the comment should and does turn over to Alex.

imageGrand Nez at the Grand Palais

Photo: Alex Borden

The exhibit was interactive and had many different scents to smell.  It explained why senses can trigger different memories in humans’ lives and even had smelling trivia games.  You are given a chance to smell wine, spices,  baked goods, flowers, candy, and even the not so fragrant smells like garbage and of the bathroom.  Each set of smells was accompanied by a model to show them.  For example the smell of a blueberry pie would be put in a ceramic pie plate, citrus fruits were smelled inside a giant plastic orange, and the smell of toilet water would be smelled, well, in a toilet.  Though the exhibit was very kid friendly it also had a more scientific aspect to it, explaining how a certain scent can send sensory images to the brain, specific to each and every person.

Né Pour Sentir is definitely worth a visit if you’re nearby.  FYI, the Andy Warhol exhibit, also in the Grand Palais but in a different section of this vast building, is beyond anything one could expect: two floors, room upon room, documenting the second half of the twentieth century through the eyes of this cultural boulevardier and pop artist.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/28 at 10:28 AM


What a fun story! It sounds like an interesting, interactive exhibit. I would have been right there…up until the toilet-sniffing event. That’s where they’d lose me. But perhaps the oranges and cognac made up for it? wink

BTW, I saw David Sedaris last week here at the Riverbed Centre. I wonder if he’ll be back to Paris in time to see Né Pour Sentir. I’d like to hear his take on a visit there as well. Heh.


Posted by Dawn on 04/29 at 12:24 AM

Yes, am sure David Sedaris would he to visit have very humorous observations of folks bum up-head in toilet, sniffing.  Wonder if there was a more decorous way to experience “the toilet smell”?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/30 at 12:45 PM
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