2021 marks the second year that World has collaborated with Visa Wellington on a Plate to provide a degustation with a difference. Around the World features food and beverage pairings alongside a handful of expertly selected fragrances from the shelves of World Beauty, designed to take diners on an olfactory gastronomical trip of a lifetime while seated in a pop-up restaurant within the brand’s Wellington store.
“We started with the concept of travel,” explains Benny Castle, World’s director and designer who has been with the brand for 20 years and is a well-known face thanks to his appearance as a judge on Project Runway NZ. Benny’s knowledge of fragrance is unparalleled and the chance to hear him share it is a priceless part of the event.
We caught up with Benny to ask him what drives this passion, and what we can expect from this uniquely immersive experience
Why food and fragrance? How do they align to tell a story?
Fragrance, cocktails and canapés all play on our sensory experience and our imagination. The fragrance wheel is based on the wine wheel and the two have some similarities in their creation and their emotion. Food goes with everything as far as I'm concerned! Working with Lisa and her team at The Canapé Company and Amy and the team at J.M.R Cocktail & Co means our enthusiasm is matched and our creative approach taken up a notch.
If you think about how drinking and eating have evolved in New Zealand in the past 20 years, it’s extraordinary. There’s almost a new language or vernacular that has developed in the way we express and think about dining, cooking, cocktailing and enjoying ourselves. Fragrance is a part of this experience in food and beverages already. Adding the history, provenance and personality of scent and perfumes to this combination gives further understanding, education and enjoyment to the whole collaborative experience.
What is the story you’re aiming to tell at this event?
We are taking you around the World… Both within our world and then across the globe with the scents, brands and stories. Starting in Europe we will begin in the Alps, come down to the British Highlands, across to Southern France and on to Sicily. We then sail around the Pacific Rim stopping on the road in North America, stop to smell the flowers in Mexico City, eat some fruit in New Zealand and get in the garden in Australia. Finishing up we take the Silk Road from Indonesia through Asia collecting sweets and spices as we arrive in Arabia and then explore the warmth of Northern Africa. Each perfume tells a story of place through its ingredients, intent or creator.
Throughout the evening guests will be taken around the fragrance wheel, exploring a wide variety of scent profiles. While enjoying this olfactive travel, we will share insights into fragrance making, ingredients, etiquette and enjoyment. Our goal is to create an environment for guests to think about scent and discuss it openly with their friends, the World team and the other guests.
Do you have a favourite fragrance ‘ingredient’? And will this be incorporated somehow?
I have too many favourites - that's the issue with being a maximalist! In telling the story of a World tour we want to make sure we had both a New Zealand touch and taste, so we have a scent that highlights feijoa in the most beautiful and unique way. But I think my favourite part of the journey will be when we get to Persia and dive into frankincense and patchouli.
When did your interest in fragrance start?
Our sense of smell is our sense with the closest connection to our memories. The memory that stands out in my mind was as a child, being dragged by my father through the department stores in Honolulu searching for Acqua di Parma – a perfume he wore as a young man at university in London. That scent is unequivocally attached to my father and while I love it - the scent, the bright yellow packaging and its history which dates back to 1917 and includes fans such as Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck - I simply can't wear it. Since then, I’ve always had a fascination about how smells can affect you, and how that memory can last.
You travel the world buying fragrance, or at least you did pre-Covid! What do you look for in a fragrance? What boxes does it need to tick before you’ll purchase it for World?
When World Beauty was developed inside the brand World, taking from our history of being first to sell high fashion scents in the ‘90s and early 2000s, we decided our idea of a beauty product was anything we found beautiful - hence why you find such a curious array of ideas in-store. So we need to firstly fall in love; there needs to be something instinctive about that initial experience.
We find it extremely important to find out by who and why a scent was created. So much of the commercial fragrance industry is built on 'press release perfumes' - created to hit a mark in the market and to make money only. We endeavour to find the creative and curious souls who do it for love and hopefully money follows. The story of why, where, how and who created a scent brings it to life and gives you an understanding of why it exists and how it can add something to your life - otherwise what’s the point? If it does make your heart skip a small beat and if we don't love it, we can't faithfully ask our customers to love it.
Beyond the more emotive, we look for distinctive scents, unique ingredients, a thoughtful design inclusive of beauty, personality and understanding of the world around us.
The fragrances you buy are very different from the ones available from major beauty companies. How do you educate customers to buy something that they may not have heard of? There must be challenges in that.
We look at this as a great opportunity. People in general, when given a chance to learn and engage with fragrance love to indulge their senses not often used - much in the same way any and every one can enjoy a wine tasting. With intelligence and enthusiasm our team looks to help customers learn what they actually love about scent and why they wear it. Like anything there is a sales pitch in there - but I would argue we do it genuinely and with effort to help you find a scent you sincerely love. If we are not able to bring you back again in the future for more of that scent or another olfactive experience, we have failed. Too many perfumes are released for a moment and clique; we want to give you fragrances for your life, not everyone else’s.
What’s a fragrance misconception most people have?
That there are men's fragrances and women's fragrances.
Do you walk into a garden and ask which flowers are for men and which are for women? At a restaurant would you ask which dishes are for women and which are for men? An art gallery? A furniture store...? We are continuously marketed to, and fragrance is a part of our experience where we have been swayed too far by clever advertising. Starting with Brut in 1963, who produced that scent with advertising including bikini-clad women and tough men to attract a masculine audience, hence starting the downhill slide into a separated understanding of scent and narrowing our instinctual enjoyment. Essentially you should feel confident to like what you like and be given the chance to find that out.
What is your favourite fragrance memory or association?
We are fortunate to represent a brand called Eight & Bob which tells the most magnificent story of elegance and chance. We were in Milan, at least once a year, the centre of niche fragrance, at a fragrance fair and amongst all of that majesty and mystery we smelt this seemingly simple scent that cut through the noise. I remember deciding this is what humans should smell like. We have now been retailing it for almost a decade.
Another story that comes to mind was when Carlos Huber, founder of the fragrance label Arquiste, was in New Zealand visiting the stores and our customers and he allowed us to try a number of varietals that he was working on for a new scent. One of which he thought smelt so good on me he eventually used that variation in his product release of the scent 'Nanban'. Now, Carlos is incredibly lovely and charming and may just have been being nice...but he still refers to me as 'NanBenny'.
Visa Wellington on a Plate is from August 1-31 with an innovative program of events from free to fancy, high-brow through to street food. Around the World runs August 17,18,19 and 20. Seats are $75, buy tickets here.