Fashion fades, Chanel No. 5 remains: Epistemology between Style and Technology

Berichte Zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte 43 (3):367-384 (2020)
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Abstract

Perfumes embody a chemical record of style and technology. Blurring the boundary between what counts as natural and artificial in both a material and a perceptual sense, perfumery presents us with a domain of multiple disciplinary identities relevant to social studies: art, craft, and techno‐science. Despite its profound impact as a cultural practice, perfume has seldom featured in historical scholarship. The reason for this neglect is its inherently qualitative dimension: perfume cannot be understood via codified representation but requires direct acquaintance with its sensory and material basis. The historical study of perfumery thus necessitates an experimental approach that comes not without challenge. This article looks at contemporary recreations of old perfumes to identify the difficulties involved in the experimental recreation of fragrances as sensory and performative artifacts. We highlight the need for a reconceptualization of methodology for inconcrete objects of study as part of the broader interest in experimental approaches to the humanities.

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Ann-Sophie Barwich
Indiana University, Bloomington