Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

Andy Warhol Loved Perfumes So Much, He Created A 'Permanent Smell Collection'

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

Andy Warhol is probably best known for his Marilyn Monroe screenprints or his Campbell’s soup cans series, but he stamped his artistic imprint on quite a number of genres. He made dozens of movies (including Chelsea Girls and Sleep), founded Interview magazine, managed The Velvet Underground for a bit, and even coined a phrase—“15 minutes of fame”—that's still used today. And though his penchant for obsessive documenting and collecting is also well known, his particular fascination with scents might not be.

Warhol’s range of interests was both oddly specific and seemingly random in scope. He had large collections of Art Deco silver, Fiestaware, World’s Fair memorabilia, Hollywood publicity stills, crime scene photos, and dental molds. For nearly 30 years, from the early ‘60s until his death in 1987, he saved all of the seemingly inconsequential ephemera from his daily life—fan letters, newspapers and magazines, photos, business and personal correspondence, announcements for poetry readings, exhibition catalogs—in cardboard boxes he referred to as "Time Capsules." But perhaps one of the most unusual of Warhol’s collecting projects was his "Permanent Smell Collection." He had an affinity for smells, which he described in his 1975 book, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again):

Another way to take up more space is with perfume. […] I switch perfumes all the time. If I’ve been wearing one perfume for three months, I force myself to give it up, even if I still feel like wearing it, so whenever I smell it again it will always remind me of those three months. I never go back to wearing it again; it becomes part of my permanent smell collection.

Warhol admitted he had a habit of sneaking away during parties to see what the host’s preferred scents were. He wrote that he wouldn’t snoop through any of their personal effects, he was just "compulsive about seeing if there’s some obscure perfumes" he hadn’t tried yet himself.


Later, Warhol reflected on the (arguably underrated) power of smell, as well as a scent’s ability to be a time capsule in and of itself:

Of the five senses, smell has the closest thing to the full power of the past. Smell really is transporting. Seeing, hearing, touching, tasting are just not as powerful as smelling if you want your whole being to go back for a second to something. … The good thing about a smell memory is that the feeling of being transported stops the instant you stop smelling, so there are no aftereffects. It’s a neat way to reminisce.

Warhol seemed to regard the wearing and collecting of perfume as an art form, a form of documentation, and a way of exerting more control over atmosphere and near-total control over nostalgia. Warhol began amassing his collection of semi-used perfumes in the early '60s. "Before that the smells in my life were all just whatever happened to hit my nose by chance," he wrote. "But then I realized I had to have a kind of smell museum so certain smells wouldn’t get lost forever."

By 1975, the year Philosophy was published, Warhol described his scent collection as "very big," though he wasn’t specific about how many bottles it comprised. We do know, however, that Warhol’s perfume connoisseurship continued for the rest of his life—he made several mentions of perfume throughout the Andy Warhol Diaries, which he stopped writing just five days before his death in 1987.

But what became of Warhol’s perfume collection? Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum, which calls itself the “global keeper of Andy Warhol’s legacy,” is the largest museum in the nation dedicated to a single artist, and it houses not only pieces of his famous work, but also an archive of his personal effects and many of his smaller-scale and lesser-known projects. (For example, the archives contain 3000 of Warhol’s audiotapes, presumably from the era when he compulsively recorded all conversations and referred to his ever-present tape recorder as his "wife.")

Warhol’s "Permanent Smell Collection" still exists, at least to some degree, according to museum spokesperson Jessica Warchall. "Warhol’s perfume collection comprises hundreds of hygiene and perfume products," Warchall told mental_floss in an email. "The products, from Warhol’s personal collection and from several 'Time Capsules,' are held in the museum’s archives." Among the semi-used perfumes in the museum’s archives are Halston spray cologne, Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet eau de toilette, Braggi International cologne, Ma Griffe by Carven, Paris by Yves St. Laurent, and Devin cologne by Aramis.

Warhol speaking with Elizabeth Taylor, who was also a connoisseur of perfumes. Getty

Warchall also pointed out that Warhol represented his love of perfume in his visual art, including commissioned silkscreens for both Chanel and Halston, as well as other earlier works such as a 1950s drawing titled "Cat with Perfume Bottle," a 1953 ink drawing called "Perfume Bottle," and a 1962 work titled "Perfume Bottles and Lipstick."

Eventually, this lifelong obsession with scents became a little more permanent than even Warhol might have intended. At his burial, a friend rushed over and tossed some copies of Interview magazine into his open grave—along with a bottle of Estée Lauder Beautiful.

Tom Etherington, Penguin Press
The Covers of Jack Kerouac's Classic Titles Are Getting a Makeover
Tom Etherington, Penguin Press
Tom Etherington, Penguin Press

Readers have been enjoying classic Jack Kerouac books like The Dharma Bums and On the Road for decades, but starting this August the novels will have a new look. Several abstract covers have been unveiled as part of Penguin’s "Great Kerouac" series, according to design website It’s Nice That.

The vibrant covers, designed by Tom Etherington of Penguin Press, feature the works of abstract expressionist painter Franz Kline. The artwork is intended to capture “the experience of reading Kerouac” rather than illustrating a particular scene or character, Etherington told It’s Nice That. Indeed, abstract styles of artwork seem a fitting match for Kerouac’s “spontaneous prose”—a writing style that was influenced by improvisational jazz music.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of The Dharma Bums, which was published just one year after On the Road. The Great Kerouac series will be available for purchase on August 2.

[h/t It's Nice That]

John MacDougall, Getty Images
Stolpersteine: One Artist's International Memorial to the Holocaust
John MacDougall, Getty Images
John MacDougall, Getty Images

The most startling memorial to victims of the Holocaust may also be the easiest to miss. Embedded in the sidewalks of more than 20 countries, more than 60,000 Stolpersteine—German for “stumbling stones”—mark the spots where victims last resided before they were forced to leave their homes. The modest, nearly 4-by-4-inch brass blocks, each the size of a single cobblestone, are planted outside the doorways of row houses, bakeries, and coffee houses. Each tells a simple yet chilling story: A person lived here. This is what happened to them.

Here lived Hugo Lippers
Born 1878
Arrested 11/9/1938 — Altstrelitzer prison
Deported 1942 Auschwitz

The project is the brainchild of the German artist Gunter Demnig, who first had the idea in the early 1990s as he studied the Nazis' deportation of Sinti and Roma people. His first installations were guerrilla artwork: According to Reuters, Demnig laid his first 41 blocks in Berlin without official approval. The city, however, soon endorsed the idea and granted him permission to install more. Today, Berlin has more than 5000.

Demnig lays a Stolpersteine.
Artist Gunter Demnig lays a Stolpersteine outside a residence in Hamburg, Germany in 2012.
Patrick Lux, Getty Images

The Stolpersteine are unique in their individuality. Too often, the millions of Holocaust victims are spoken of as a nameless mass. And while the powerful memorials and museums in places such as Berlin and Washington, D.C. are an antidote to that, the Stolpersteine are special—they are decentralized, integrated into everyday life. You can walk down a sidewalk, look down, and suddenly find yourself standing where a person's life changed. History becomes unavoidably present.

That's because, unlike gravestones, the stumbling stones mark an important date between a person’s birth and death: the day that person was forced to abandon his or her home. As a result, not every stumbling stone is dedicated to a person who was murdered. Some plaques commemorate people who fled Europe and survived. Others honor people who were deported but managed to escape. The plaques aim to memorialize the moment a person’s life was irrevocably changed—no matter how it ended.

The ordinariness of the surrounding landscape—a buzzing cafe, a quaint bookstore, a tree-lined street—only heightens that effect. As David Crew writes for Not Even Past, “[Demnig] thought the stones would encourage ordinary citizens to realize that Nazi persecution and terror had begun on their very doorsteps."

A man in a shop holding a hammer making a Stolpersteine.
Artisan Michael Friedrichs-Friedlaender hammers inscriptions into the brass plaques at the Stolpersteine manufacturing studio in Berlin.
Sean Gallup, Getty Images

While Demnig installs every single Stolpersteine himself, he does not work alone. His project, which stretches from Germany to Brazil, relies on the research of hundreds of outside volunteers. Their efforts have not only helped Demnig create a striking memorial, but have also helped historians better document the lives of individuals who will never be forgotten.


More from mental floss studios