What Does Good Music Smell Like?

New York design studio Yummy Colours imagines 8 albums as fragrances—and predicts the worst-smelling record of the year.

New York design studio Yummy Colours imagines 8 albums as fragrances—and predicts the worst-smelling record of the year.

Earlier this summer, Diego Marini was riding the subway home, listening to music on his phone as a lot of strong smells whirled around the stations and train cars. He experienced a “soundtrack moment,” as he describes it. Everyone’s had one of these before. You’re listening to music and see a slice of life as a fleeting movie scene: the people, the lights, the city sync up to the song that happens to be pumping into your ears. “Why is music always connected to the view, but never the smell, of something?” he thought. “Wouldn’t it be nice to smell an album instead of just listening to it or watching a video about it?” He took the idea back to a photographer friend, Julie Comita, and Denize Sofia Maaløe, with whom Marini cofounded the New York design studio Yummy Colours. Comita tapped a perfumery industry friend, Marissa Zappas, for olfactory direction. Together, they made the following conceptual project, Notes, which imagines eight of their favorite albums as fragrances. We asked Marni how he sniffed out and dreamed up each album’s fragrance.

Scroll to the bottom for a listen—or a whiff—of the best-smelling songs from Yummy Colours’s selected albums.

Artist: FKA Twigs. Album: M3LL155X.

What do you think about the art direction in typical fragrance advertising?

I think it’s pretty boring. I look around and see how [perfume ads] show fragrance, and it’s always the same: there’s a celebrity or model, some sensual part of it, and a big bottle of perfume in the foreground. This doesn’t bring anything new to the table. There’s nothing visually stimulating.

Artist: Jenny Hval. Album: Blood Bitch. 

On Jenny Hval’s Blood Bitch, she touches a lot on periods, being a woman, and being a feminist. The title of the album is amazing. So, in the context of a perfume, it’s provocative. (Okay—I hate the word “provocative,” but this is different.) The idea is to shake up this idea of “Oh my God, I’m sexy using this perfume” and make [this particular bottle] be more like a “Fuck you.”

Artist: Jamila Woods. Album: Heavn. 

In this project, you have sound, scent, and color colliding. How do you think each relates to the other?

We thought about [each album] having more sensations. For example, Jamila Woods—her album [Heavn] is amazing—has a song called “Blk Girl Soldier.” In it, she talks about what women of color are going through and the people who have inspired women of color to be brave, like Rosa Parks. The album is so powerful and vocal, so I was thinking about its name being “Heavn.” But it’s kind of a dark heaven. So [for the perfume], we used a lot of rubber and different kinds of shiny and matte black material to interpret the word “heaven” in this scenario.

Artist: Justice. Album: Woman. 

Do you feel like certain scents relate to certain colors?

The olfactive director [Marissa Zappas] did several brainstorming sessions with us to morph the color palettes with the scents. [For the scents,] our idea was to not use typical notes, but something more strange. Like, Sunny D, ketchup, and champagne.

Artist: Frank Ocean. Album (left): Endless. Album (right): Blonde.

Can you walk me through your thinking behind the Blonde fragrance and campaign? What’s up with the pears and acoustic foam?

Well, it starts with how we chose the two Frank Ocean albums, because I was particularly intrigued by their controversial release. He dropped Endless first and then the day after, he released Blonde; Endless was his last contract with Def Jam [Recordings] and then he published Blondeunder his own label. And this kind of thing has always interested me … the behind-the-scenes of music, different wars between labels, and intellectual property matters. That’s why we chose the shattered mirror and cactus for the Endless [fragrance], to symbolize a rupture and a departure. And as for the pears and acoustic foam [in the Blonde fragrance], it was representing a more cushiony landing. Without knowing the actual Frank Ocean, I would imagine that having his own label and that freedom from a big label is something he’s going to enjoy more. And the lyric that we used for Blonde, about immortality, refers to him having his own legacy, versus something he’d otherwise be building for somebody else.


Artist: Flume. Album: Skin.

As far as new albums this year, what would you say is the best-smelling album?

This is totally personal, but I love the new SZA album, CTRL. And Vagabon’s Infinite Worlds. Zola Jesus’s Okovi and Sanhet’s So Numbare would also be up there for best-smelling.

And worst-smelling?

Taylor Swift’s new one—the one that drops in November. I know it’s not out yet, but I can smell from here. It’s not good.

(OPENING IMAGE) Artist: Vince Staples. Album: Prima Donna. (All imagery courtesy Yummy Colours)

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