Kaja Dahl on exploring the natural essence of Cape Town in scent form

She collected samples of soil, dried fynbos, wood, stone and seaweed to distil an accurate fragrance of the city’s landscape.

Kaja Solgaard Dahl is a tactile designer based in Oslo, Norway. Her interests have led her to explore the fields of interior design and product design, guided by a keen fascination with how we interact with our surroundings and form haptic relationships. Dahl is a graduate of Beckmans College of Design and took to the Design Indaba Conference stage to share her ECAL graduation project with the audience – Taputti and the Sea – as one that had defined her approach to design.

It is a unique perfumery project that aims to encapsulate the natural essence of Cape Town, South Africa, in scent form. A naturally-dyed sprout of sea sponge holds a waxy ball of solidified perfume which is easily transferred onto the skin. Dahl describes the experiences leading up to this independent venture and that there is wisdom to be drawn from times of adversity.

“I combined my love of craft, my Bachelor’s degree in product design, failing at a design academy (also an important experience), studying fine art and sculpture in Oslo… with all of those part time jobs you need to have to support all of this inspiration,” says Dahl.

According to the designer, the project started as a simple investigation of the textures of the common sea sponge, which is now the defining feature of the perfume product. Taputti and the Sea takes its name from history’s earliest recorded perfumer, Taputti-Belatekallim, a woman of Mesopotamia whose profession as a chemist is documented on an ancient stone tablet of 1200 B.C.

As Dahl researched the scent ritual techniques of antiquity she observed that there is a valuable craft that has fallen by the wayside in today’s celebrity-endorsed perfume industry.

“With this project, I was asking myself a question – what have we lost between the ancient scent rituals and the pop star perfumes we mostly see today?” says Dahl.

To better understand the natural identity of Cape Town and gain inspiration for its scent, Dahl ventured outside to sample local geographical ingredients. She collected (with help from Capetonian perfumer Agata Karolina of House of Gozdawa) samples of soil, dried fynbos, wood, stone and seaweed to distil an accurate fragrance of the city’s landscape.

“We were feeling that a concept of diversity in nature and the contrasts that we experience here, the meeting between North and South, would be just as important as the geographical ingredients,” says Dahl.

Watch the Interview with Kaja Solgaard Dahl

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