Chandler Burr is focused
on bringing perfume—and an understanding of its nuances and history—to a
broader audience. Forget the hand-blown Austrian crystal bottle, a celebrity
face and a marketing campaign to spin a juice to success. Chandler
wholeheartedly believes the juice, at least certain ones, have the legs to find
success all on their own.

“My criterion is that
the work be expertly made, that it be esthetically interesting,” Chandler
explained. “It could be challenging, but
it doesn’t have to be: it could simply be a beautiful classic scent. Fundamentally what I’m looking for is works
of olfactory art that are underestimated, undervalued by the public, and should
have to my mind a much larger audience.”

Chandler, who’s probably best known as the former perfume critic for the New
York Times—is also the Director
and Curator of the Center of Olfactory Art at the Museum of Arts and Design in
New York City, where his show, The Art of Scent, 1889-2012, opens November
13. He’s also the scent editor of GQ, and
frequently organizes so-called “scent dinners”, partnering food and fragrance,
like the one he coordinated in Florence in September during the Ferranze
Artistic Fragrance Fair, at which he also presented a lecture on well-known
“nose” Jean-Claude Ellena.

And if these efforts
aren’t enough to bring certain scents to their critical mass potential, his affiliation
with OpenSky, may be the trick. At OpenSky—the online retailer that launched
last year—an array of beautifully photographed items are offered and recommended
by an expert or boldfaced name, from Bobby Flay’s favorite ice cream maker to espresso
beans selected by Martha Stewart to picks from beauty authorities such as Dr.
Fredric Brandt, Pati Dubroff, Orlando Pita and Serge Normant. Amidst that assortment
of luscious looking choices, one always stands out: a simple and austere glass
bottle, marked with just a few code numbers, looking more like a manufacturing
sample than anything a consumer would want to buy. That bottle—which changes each month—holds an
unnamed perfume chosen by Chandler.

As OpenSky’s official
scent curator, Chandler came up with the unique idea of selling scents based
only on a detailed description of their juice, without elegant packaging or marketing
or even a name to skew potential buyers in any direction.Under the banner of “The Untitled Series”, he
presents a fragrance each month, offered in an ample sampler-size 50 ml bottle
at a price (typically between $25 and $50) that’s guilt-free. After a month on
the site, the scent’s name is revealed; then, it’s sold in its widely-available,
full-size, traditional bottle and the next anonymous entry in the program is

“The real goal is for people to have a unique experience that’s never been done
before: discovering olfactive works in an unprecedented way,” he explained.“I said ‘I’m going to put the juices in lab
bottles and sell them. We’re going to have an experience that is solely about
the work of art.’The work of art is
simply the juice.”

Obviously, the
concept might not make marketing departments particularly happy. “This clashes violently with the marketing of
virtually every single brand in the world,” he admitted. “Some people absolutely want to do it and some
of them absolutely do not. They don’t understand it; they don’t get it;
it doesn’t correspond to their traditional marketing prism and they can’t wrap
their heads around it.”

But the brands that have
participated have had success. The
Untitled Series’ first fragrance, Prada Infusion D’Iris, sold out in two days;
Chandler’s monthly live chat to reveal the identity of each fragrance attracts well
over 10,000 fans. So far, the initiative
has included a broad range of scents—that work equally well
on men and women.

For Chandler, the Unlimited Series allows him to present
fragrances in their most elemental form: “Scent
is such a hugely commercialized medium, and it’s hardly alone. Music is phenomenally
commercialized and so is film,” he observed. “It’s the same with perfume. Is there a way to approach it as pure art? This
is what I came up with. I always wanted to do this.”