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Earlier this month, a new perfume, Scent of the Metaverse, went on sale at iconic London department store Harvey Nichols. But this wasn't any ordinary scent; it was created by a decentralized autonomous organization ( ) under the aegis of niche fragrance house Rook Perfumes.
Members of the DAO purchased an NFT "access ticket," which granted them access to a months-long educational experience exploring what goes into a fragrance, before they collaborated on the creation of Scent of the Metaverse.
"They're now co-owners of the fragrance, of every part of it," Rook Perfumes founder Nadeem Crowe told Decrypt. "The formula, the packaging, the design, the final formula in any of the cosmetic clearances I had to go through—and everybody that was involved was named on the Scent of the Metaverse packaging."
Rook Perfumes built on its existing relationship with Harvey Nichols to get Scent of the Metaverse onto the store's shelves, Crowe explained. "They were very interested in the concept of the Scent of the Metaverse—I think primarily because they liked the way it smelt," he said. The novel path to its creation was "secondary" to the department store, he said—but it did mean that the DAO had to approve its going on sale in the store.
"I think I would have been surprised if anybody would have said, 'No, I don't want it on the shelves of Harvey Nichols,'" Crowe said. "If they'd all said 'Absolutely not, we don't want it there,' for whatever reason, then sure, I wouldn't have put it on sale there."
The scent of an idea
Crowe conceived of the idea during the COVID-19 lockdown, enlisting the help of Melissa Gilmour—founder of Web3 creative studio Lily & Piper—to bring the DAO to fruition.
"We came up with this concept of inviting a group of people mainly interested in scent from a different perspective to create a fragrance with me," he explained, "to give their sense of what a scent of the metaverse would smell like, and to become co-owners of that scent."
"At the time, it felt almost like you had to kind of bend your brain a bit to think about how it would work," Gilmour said. "We didn't really have any idea of how this was going to evolve."
Creating the fragrance with the DAO was "a mixture of open discussions between the purchasers of the NFT, myself, and Warren the graphic designer," Crowe said, with the group discussing "different art forms, ideas, notions of the metaverse that the scent could take inspiration from." Those ideas went onto an "interactive whiteboard" to be voted on by members of the DAO.
Because scent samples are considered a dangerous good by the postal service as they're flammable, regularly updating members of the DAO on the current makeup of the scent was challenging. For that reason, Crowe himself acted as the final arbiter of the decision-making process. "We set out boundaries from the beginning that ultimately, it was always going to be as me as the perfumer's interpretation of those contributions from the group," he said.
"My experience has been [that] it's a bit like a hive—you need a queen bee," said Gilmour, who explained that DAOs need a "motivating force" to bring people together. "It's this age-old thing of needing a charismatic leader," she added.
"The diplomacy of that is complicated to negotiate," said Crowe. "For us, it's about producing an end product that would be desirable and interesting. It wasn't necessarily about making sure each individual in the group loves the final scent and wanted it to be their signature perfume."
And while sending out samples might make fully decentralized production more possible, he added, "keeping everybody happy gets even more difficult because you end up with this sort of mishmash and soup of opinions."
Using Web3 with integrity
He was dismissive of fragrance houses who've attempted to "jump on the bandwagon" of Web3 without embracing the philosophy underpinning it.
"It's very easy to put the word 'cyber' in front of a product, put some LEDs on the label, stuff it in a box and say, 'This is an NFT and it's related to the metaverse,'" he said. "What Melissa had come up with was a much more innovative way of using the NFT technology with integrity."
As for the scent itself, it's an "unusual" fragrance, Crowe said. Rook Perfumes' own notes describe it as having notes of "white smoke, warm circuitry, digital rose, and celestial incense." It was, Crowe said, "important to me to make a fragrance that connected that world of holographic art and almost synthetic materials and medium with a world of nature."
That meant adapting the natural ingredients used by Rook Perfumes to "have a more synthetic, I guess, 'AI' sense about them," he explained. A "very, very big dose" of rose oxide is coupled with olibanum vulcain resin. That, he said, conjures up memories of cleaning dust out of old desktop computers, the smell of warm laser printer paper and hot capacitors.
Incense, meanwhile, riffs off the "ethereal, almost spiritual" feel of NFT artwork. "I think scent is always a sense that's slightly left behind in the worlds of gaming and the worlds of art," Crowe added.
"When you look months in, months on, and we're now in a luxury retailer in Knightsbridge, it's been quite a journey," he said. "Not an easy one. But quite a journey, from this concept of metaverse and digital art into ownership of a product that's now on on the shelf in what I've always called the terrestrial world."
Edited by Andrew Hayward