As It Happens

Ad agency makes 'death sentence' fragrance to protest perfume shop in Stalin execution house

A Russian ad agency has created a new perfume that smells like gunpowder and death to protest a perfume shop set to open on the site of a former Stalin military court where thousands of people were sentenced to death.

Action Marketing says their fragrance has notes of stale paper, gunpowder and damp basements

The perfume is called N23 and it has notes of stale paper, damp basements and gunpowder. (Submitted by Petrusev Nikita)


The fragrance smells like stale paper, damp basements and gunpowder.

It's called N23 and it's a new perfume created by Moscow ad agency Action Marketing. The agency made the scent in protest against plans to open a perfume shop at 23 Nikolskaya Street — a local building with a horrific history.

The building is a former military courthouse where former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin ordered the killing of thousands of military officials and civilians during the Great Purge in the 1930s.

According to its website, a limited run of 31,456 bottles were made "in memory of each person who was shot or sentenced to be shot on Nikolskaya, 23 during the years of great terror."  All proceeds will go to the Moscow Association of Victims of Unlawful Repression.

According to the BBC, the building is owned by businessman Vladimir Davidi, who has not issued a public comment. 

Nikita Petrosev, chief creative officer at Action Marketing, spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about N23 and his plan to stop the perfume boutique from setting up shop. 

Here is part of their conversation.

Can you tell us about the building where this Moscow perfumery is going to start its business?

I can say that this building is the bloodiest in Europe — in the whole of Europe — because inside this building, during the period of Stalin's Great Terror in the '30s ... was the main court responsible for the terror.

Inside this house, 31,456 people were shot dead ... and many, many thousands were sentenced to death there.

Petrusev says the building located at 23 Nikolskaya Street is 'the bloodiest in Europe.' (Google)

So when you say that the perfume you have created to make attention about this, you said it has a smell of ink and paper, which I guess there was death certificates signed by Stalin himself and his people. 

Yeah, it's symbol of this.

Gunpowder for the numbers of people who were shot there.

The gunpowder is the main theme of this perfume.

If you look at the package, we tried to give this contrast because the package is very luxurious. It is a wide, soft touch, box. Inside, there is tissue paper, black tissue paper.

And when you open this tissue paper ... instead of bed of silk, you will find a bag of soil. And on this bed of soil there is a shell case from a real vintage Soviet bullet. And inside there is a perfume with the smell of gunpowder.

The proposed perfume shop would be housed in a former military court where thousands of people were condemned to death during Joseph Stalin's Great Terror in the 1930s. (AFP/Getty Images)

You said it also has the smell of a dank basement — a very sour smell — because people spent time there. They were in prison there before they were shot dead.

These perfumes describe the horror that took place in that building.

So when we are talking about ink and stale paper, yes, you are right. It means the death sentence paper. 

And when we are talking about damp basement, it shows the last minutes of these people. I mean, when they were taken to a basement to be killed.

And then the gunpowder because they were shot dead, and ash with a distinctly bitter aftertaste, which means — I mean, this is a final accord.

It's all about the horror and all about the madness that we are talking about.

Petrusev says the perfume comes in a luxurious box but is encased in a vintage Soviet bullet to highlight the contrast between the building's history and its proposed future use. (Submitted by Petrusev Nikita)

Since you been running this campaign, have the people who own this building and the perfumery, have they reconsidered their plans?

The plan was to open it at 2019 and they didn't succeed. 

So do you think you have been successful in stopping this and drawing attention to this?

Forty-five thousand people signed a petition against this boutique and for the memorial complex inside this building.

So, before our campaign, we have never seen such a big amount of people who were saying or announcing their attitudes, their protest against this boutique. And now, we have this movement, big movement.

People hold portraits of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and wait to lay flowers at his grave outside the Kremlin on the Red Square in Moscow in 2019. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

But is it not also the case that there is a growing nostalgia for Stalin — that [Russian President] Vladimir Putin has been trying to rehabilitate Stalin as a hero? Is that not also happening in Russia?

We can't say that Putin, personally, tries to restore Stalin as a hero.

I can say that in today's modern Russian it's not forbidden to say that Stalin was hero. Moreover, the government, Putin and government, they close their eyes on some events.

For example, more and more Stalin monuments are opening in Russia. Stalin's grave is under the Kremlin Wall and each year his supporters, his fans, they came to this grave and put a lot of, really thousands, of roses on his grave.

And it is allowed by the government. So you can find some people inside our country who will say that he was a war criminal but also you will find a lot of people, really a lot of people, who will consider him as a hero. And unfortunately, these numbers grow and the government allow this.

What do you think should happen to this old military courthouse? What do you think they should do with that building?

I think it's absolutely impossible to open any commercial shop or something like that.

The only thing that we can accept there is a memorial complex, memorial museum, memorial exhibition, or something like.

Written John McGill. Interview produced by Tayo Bero. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.