Meeting Sissel Tolaas in her exciting laboratory-cum-home in Berlin is a colourfully aromatic experience. Richard van der Laken, creative director of WDCD, paid a visit to the Norwegian artist, researcher and smell expert, who will speak at the upcoming WDCD2015 event.

Perched on a chair in her impressive Berlin home, Van der Laken turned to his right and saw a tastefully appointed designer living room. Turning to his left, he marvelled at huge archive cabinets stuffed with small bottles and pots. Tolaas’s laboratory is inside her home and, as she explained, someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing could blow the whole place to smithereens.

What struck the WDCD director most of all was the boundless energy of this remarkable woman. She does so many things at the same time: in addition to her own research she puts together exhibitions, organizes projects, teaches at universities and academies, and works for a wide range of commercial clients.

The Smell Archive

Her personal research projects are supported in part by IFF, which develops smells and flavourings for the food and cosmetics industries. Thanks in no small measure to IFF, Tolaas can conduct her own investigations in her Re–Search Lab, and they have led to some stunning results and innovative projects.

An important part of Tolaas’s work involves compiling an inventory of all sorts of smells, which she then stores in The Smell Archive. During their conversation, Van der Laken felt he was in the company of a brilliant scientist one minute and an animated artist the next, or then again, maybe it was a crazy magician.

Smell is tremendously powerful. It can overwhelm you, evoke memories, influence your mood, enhance attractiveness, and much more. Smell communicates clearly, something we are not fully aware of. At the same time, smell is a multi-million dollar industry. For decades, Tolaas has been researching how smell communicates, what language smell speaks. She will talk a lot more about all this during What Design Can Do in Amsterdam on 21 and 22 May. How fortunate we are that this remarkable woman will share her knowledge and expertise with us.

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