by Aastha D.Jun 09, 2022
French luxury house Chanel is celebrating the 100 years of the debut of its iconic signature fragrance, the Chanel N°5, by commissioning famed artist and stage designer, Es Devlin, to create a monumental installation inspired by the scent, on show at the Miami Design District for Art Basel 2021. Open to the public, the labyrinth-like art installation titled Five Echoes emerges as a physical iteration of the fragrance, transforming Miami Design District’s Jungle Plaza, and coming alive through an animated synthesis of light, colour and sound, ala Devlin. “Conceived as a synesthetic translation of the fragrance, which has become synonymous with luxury by upholding its high-end olfactory standards till now, Five Echoes illuminates the invisible through its dynamic, multi-sensory environment,” shares Chanel. Five concentric pathways form indoor corridors dressed in striated light and audio recordings, leading into the heart of the sculptural maze, where one can experience N°5 “like never before.”
Once the luminescent and immersive installation, whose moniker draws from a Baudelaire poem, closes to the public on December 21, 2021, the 1,000 living plants, shrubs and trees that make up the forest surrounding it, will be replanted in parks throughout Miami-Dade County, in the United States.
Over the last five years, the London-based artist collaborated closely with Chanel’s in house perfumer, Olivier Polge, “to translate the fragrance molecules into a soundscape and a spectrum of light. The result is a mesmerising meditation on the power of scent to communicate and transcend reality,” the Parisian Maison conveys. The verdant setting is evocative of the lush landscapes of southern France surrounding the Abbey of Aubazine, where Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, founder of the namesake brand, spent her childhood.
Coco’s development of the pioneering perfume, unlike the ones prevalent at the time with singular notes, was informed greatly by her sensory history and connection to nature, witnessed in the incorporation of over 20 plants in it. “N°5 reflects Gabrielle Chanel’s personal life story. And yet, N°5 resonates with all kinds of personalities and cultures,” says Polge. Since a century ago, the fragrance has been a source of inspiration for artists, actors, designers and more, and continues to resound with millions across the globe today, according to Chanel.
Sights and smells of the living forest engulf visitors on approach. One traverses through the wilderness, walking towards an ascending ramp that acts as a preamble to the labyrinth made of white fabric stretched over a wood armature and lit from within. A vantage point upon reaching here boasts of views to the forest treetops, and an inner garden lining Five Echoes, featuring flora forming part of the perfume's olfactory essence. A circular stage with sundial markings rests beneath feet, connecting visitors to the passage of the sun arching overhead, along with the 28 minutes it takes for CHANEL N°5's molecules to evaporate, according to their carrying densities.
Guests can then descend this ramp to venture into the chic maze, its design reminiscent of the elaborate labyrinth in Greek myths designed by artificer and architect Daedalus to hold hostage the bull-headed Minotaur, monster of Crete. The five coextensive, winding alleys seek to remind users of the symbolic link etched between humans and the earth, furthered by the relationship forged between them, the forest, and the installation in real-time.
“The word labyrinth originally referred to human movement: it was a dance before it became architecture. If our behaviour can define our architecture, then perhaps our art and architecture can alter our behaviour. If works of art can help us to see ourselves as part of the biosphere and symbiotically fused with it, if we can start to see plants and animals as equal protagonists as ourselves in life, I believe we have a better chance of making the fundamental behavioural shifts that are necessary not only to avoid climate chaos, but also to live in a more just, equitable, and joyful way,” shares Devlin, most famous for her illustrious and theatrical stage designs for Beyonce’s Formation tour (2015) and the opera Carmen, Bregenz Festspiele (2017), presenting at the Serpentine, the V&A and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others.
At the heart of Five Echoes lies an ardent synthesis of light and sound, developed by Devlin with Polge, building upon their previous collaboration Mirror Maze, Devlin’s first commission for Chanel. “The soundscape contrasts the two methods used in the laboratory to analyse the elements of a scent: highly sophisticated gas chromatography molecular weight analysis, versus a profoundly engaged and experienced human sense of smell,” they relay.
Circular sustainable design principles were central to the making and blooming of Five Echoes, such as the replanting of the forest in the Miami-Dade County parks in the Gladeview and Camp Matecumbe areas of Miami, and the interactive installation’s components shall be repurposed and recycled. “One Tree Planted and Miami-Dade County’s Million Trees Miami are collaborating with CHANEL to source, plant, care for, and ultimately replant the trees following the work’s conclusion. This initiative builds on CHANEL Mission 1.5°, a commission it launched in 2020 to tackle climate change, in line with the targets of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement to limit global temperature increases to 1.5° Celsius,” the luxury fashion house relays, who recently announced Indian origin billionaire Leena Nair as its global CEO.
Five Echoes is open to the public from November 30 through December 21, 2021, with free admission.