In the Weeds: Evening Spent on Scent

In the Weeds is a blog series that allows readers to drop midstream into the creative process at One Design. Roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and live vicariously through our adventures in the field.


Earlier this spring, the One Design team kicked off an intense UX research initiative for Smallflower.com—the e-commerce division of Chicago retail icon Merz Apothecary—by spending an evening immersed in scent aficionado culture at the flagship Merz storefront, a century-old shopping mecca in Lincoln Square.

As we made our way to the main shopping stretch in Lincoln Square for the invite-only fragrance event at Merz Apothecary, it felt as though we’d stumbled onto a movie set.

It was that magical time of day when the sinking sun starts to paint the clouds pink and orange. Kids threw pennies into the fountain at the center of Lincoln Square's shopping street as musicians played in the background. Families clustered along the sidewalk, eating ice cream and taking photos. The birds were back out again, and leaves were finally forming on the trees.

And just as we snapped back to reality, approaching the entrance of the store, we found ourselves transported to another.

SETTING THE STAGE

We were ushered off the busy sidewalk into an environment of rich experience. A step into Q Brothers—Merz’s men’s grooming shop—and the first thing we noticed was the tiled floor and custom built-in casework, signifying a degree of bespoke craft rarely seen in modern retail. Rows of badger brushes and straight razors filled glass boxes towards the front of the shop. Containers filled with shaving cream circled tables that lined the middle of the space. Luxury perfumes were placed with perfect precision towards the back of the room—the rows of them, at times, gifting the store with a sense of infinite depth.

That extra volume hugged the fragrance fanatics who, after buzzing around the product displays with anticipation, were quickly divided into three groups to explore one of three fragrance vignettes: Picnic in the Park, Morning Hike, and Moonstruck.

Abandoning our initial desire to be fly-on-the-wall observers, our team quickly splintered off to join the different groups.

A SENSORY JOURNEY THROUGH SCENT

The Picnic in the Park vignette was adorned with white and peach-colored flowers, accenting the lavender and jasmine perfumes. Morning Hike included a boot filled with eucalyptus, which towered over bottles of cedarwood and oakmoss cologne. The Moonstruck table was dressed with a tulle tablecloth, littered with gold glitter stars that complimented the wisps of ylang-ylang and vanilla that were puffed onto fragrance strips.

Tealights illuminated the various glass bottles as Merz employees dissected their curated selections with exceptional depth, sharing stories about why they chose each to share, the story behind the scent, as well as when they’d be best used.

When we remembered to look up to jot down a note or mark an observation, we weren’t surprised to find everyone else in attendance deeply entranced in the narrative.

The only time guests were pulled out from the experience of each scent vignette was to reset their noses with a whiff from a cup of potent espresso beans—a jarring experience that cleansed the olfactory palette and allowed the crowd to transition to the next experience.

Then it was onto the next perfume and memory. While the experience seemed to last for hours, never was there a dull moment. The crowd was on a rich, emotional journey through the power of scent.

The whimsy of it all was intoxicating. The evening transformed us, opened our eyes to a new world, and awakened new senses. We walked away mesmerized, excited for the work to follow, and reeling as we considered ways to bring the lush, physical experience to the digital space.

One Design Company is a research-driven design and development studio. For over a decade, we’ve explored the intersection of experience and technology—where powerful brands come to life. Want to learn more? Let’s chat.

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