Wednesday, 02 October 2013
IRIS VAN HERPEN COSTUMES FOR NEW YORK CITY BALLET
More about the costumes and the collaberation here.
Thursday, 08 August 2013
LOLLAPALOOZA 2013 - LAURA DUNCAN REPORT
My dear friend, LA stylist Laura Duncan who works with Dita and styles Perry Farrell, spent the weekend at Lollapalooza 2013 in Chicago. I asked Laura to give us a report and here are some words and picutures from her weekend.
"How do you bring 300,000 people together to one park to dance, sing and rejoice to their hearts content? Leave it to Master mind Perry Farrell to work his magic to gather some of the best musical acts in the world to play over the course of 3 days and 8 stages in center of Chicago's Grant park. Lollapalooza 2013 was not to be missed!
Our little crew of fashion mischief makers made the pilgrimage in high style from Los Angeles to Chicago as guests of Perry and Etty Farrell to attend this mind blowing festivity. Miss Dita Von Teese (needs no explanation), Jody O'Keefe (jewelry Designer), Danielle Motor (from the band Swagger) Jessicka Adams (singer of Scarling), Tosh Sherman (fashion Designer), and Eric Szmanda (CSI star).
The mission at hand, to have the most magical experience of our lives! We danced, laughed and got all together down right silly. Bands like New Order, NIN, Queens of the Stone Age, and of course The Cure rocked our little hearts into a pleasure frenzy.
Yacht day! We went on a beautiful champagne fuled river tour of chicago's amazing skyline!
Dita Von Teese enticing us with her stunning ensemble. Donning her new Argentinean gambler hat, Dress by Maria Lucia Hohan and Vivienne Westwood heels.
Thank you Laura. You can follow Laura on instagram: lauraduncanart.
Friday, 24 May 2013
Niclas Lydeen of AGONIST discusses sustainable perfume production and 360 degree fragrance experiences. Interview by Carla Seipp
Dear Diane and Shaded Viewers,
AGONIST is the brainchild of Swedish designers Christine Gustafsson and Niclas Lydeen. Formed in 2008, their fragrance brand is focused on creating 100 percent natural fragrances inspired by Nordic culture. Presented in exceptionally handcrafted sculpture bottles and through art installations at events such as UNSCENT, their products are visually as they are olfactorily pleasing and give AGONIST its own unique sector in the niche perfume market.
Lydeen sat down to discuss the beauty of melancholy, multi-layered sensory experiences and the brand's latest fragrance creation...
I wanted to start off by talking about the founding of your company. Your fashion and visual arts backgrounds are quite unusual. How did this idea of doing fragrances come about?
It was when me and Christine met. She moved back from Paris where she did fashion for many years and I was working a lot with graphic design, packaging and art direction for various campaigns. We met and started to collaborate on this idea of how to — via imagery, storytelling, graphic design and conceptual ideas — create a brand based on giving life to an invisible product like fragrance.
We’ve always had a love for fragrance and been very fascinated by that sensuous, individual experience. We just saw that we wanted to do this together and started to think about themes and ideas. We wanted to show another side to this perception of clean Swedish design. We were more inspired by a poetic, darker and melancholic side of the Swedish culture and heritage.
Do you have certain artists, movements or visuals that you find your brand’s aesthetic continually inspired by?
It’s always evolving, but we are quite drawn to Surrealists and abstract modern art, things that are conceptually strong and more based on an idea rather than actual decorative or figurative art. We really love music, movies and photographers like Guy Bourdin. The Swedish poet Karin Boye is our muse and we found a lot of fascinating themes in her work.
We get inspiration from a lot of different directions but it’s always things that give an experience and inspire you. That could be because fragrance for us is very much an individual experience. In fashion you can impose a trend or style that people collectively agree upon, but for fragrance it’s up to you, if you like it. It’s the same with abstract art. It’s something that the heart realises within you. It doesn’t tell you what it is, so when you experience it, it’s your own imagery and emotions. That’s what inspires AGONIST creations.
How does your background help shape the way you go about creating a perfume?
When we started AGONIST it was very much based on our own sense of taste and expressions. Agonist means two things connect and a third thing is created, two things join and a third one is awakened or two forces unite and become a third. It was the same with Christine’s background, my background and the way our creativity meets. But I think we are quite experienced and sure of what we like and have the possibility to express that in the packaging and visuals.
When we then get into this abstract world of fragrance, we find our concept and then have different skills to express ourselves surrounding that. Our background makes us quite secure in what we want. When we started, we saw all these perfume brands just packaging in ordinary bottles, everything looked the same and people didn’t really use the other dimensions of a fragrance experience. You have the fragrance and then you have all these layers of communication surrounding it. It think we found something there that really made all our other expertises connect.
For your sculpture bottles the aesthetic is quite a modern look but the company you work with was founded in 1742. It brings together something very traditional with a modern vision of fragrance. How do you see that relationship between the scent and how you are going to visualise it?
We always thought about creating something based on the quality of raw materials and a sustainable approach. Our initial idea was to create a perfume bottle that you would never throw away. Today with the mass market packaging, people are buying it, then throwing it away and buying a new one. We wanted to started with this more old school point, these refillable flacons which you have in your home that your kids will inherit. Hopefully when you find a fragrance you love, you really want to cherish and keep it.
When we started thinking about the bottles, we knew that we had this fantastic heritage of Swedish art glass. The material is so beautiful, we thought that it was the optimal possibility to try and push that traditional way of glassblowing. We approached Kosta Boda and one of the artists, Åsa Jungnelius, had the same idea. She is a traditional glassblower but still has this modern aesthetic. We met up with her, started to collaborate and really connected. We started to create ideas that she could in turn translate to the glassblowers and help us realise.
Now after a few years, we have found a unique way to approach glassblowing, which is also based on the quality of raw materials and process. We wanted to create handcrafted bottles so that no piece looks the same. When you buy an AGONIST sculpture you know that it is only yours, so it is about connecting all that individuality.
What is really interesting as well is this aspect of sustainability because that is never really addressed in perfumery. On the whole your fragrances are natural, so I was wondering where you stand on the natural ingredients versus synthetics debate?
We’re quite humble because our aim is to create products that will last, and in the biggest regard possible take care of nature. One hundred percent natural is very difficult to achieve. For us, it’s more about if we are able to achieve what we want create with natural ingredients. We are not militant with other brands that create with only synthetics, but we believe so strongly that when you hold the sculpture and smell the fragrance, you really appreciate the difference. That’s the important thing.
Five of our seven fragrances are a hundred percent natural. Two of them are like 90 percent, it’s just a few synthetics that we needed to add to fixate an ingredient. For us it's about creating quality products. It’s also in the way that the packaging is made. The sculpture, the artistic qualities and all the details together create a product that is as unique and as special as possible.
Obviously each scent is completely different, but what is the underlying theme in the fragrances that you create?
Very much connected to the AGONIST fragrance experience is that it always includes several dimensions. We try to find a complex composition that changes all the time, that is definitely very unique in our fragrances. We want to tell a really strong story with every fragrance that we create and that is also told in the composition.
For example for ISIS, the new fragrance that we just launched, our idea was based on the exact moment when winter ends and spring begins, that energy exploding when new life begins. It’s also based on a poem by Karin Boye. That’s why we wanted to have this fresh top where you have a really distinct new energy, but at the same time you still have the history, so it’s quite deep in the base.
When you feel it the first time you get this mandarin, tangerine, ginger kind of top. We really wanted a shock in the beginning, so it’s quite fresh and then after a while it gets more sweet with notes of anis and a bit of caramel. In the base you have amber, vanilla and some deep musk. So you have the fresh beginning, the kind of sweet body and the base of low tones and dark depth. That’s very similar in all of our fragrances: they start off very clear and direct and then give you something else in their depth. They always change in a very interesting way, all the fragrances are really telling a story in the way that they are layered.
One of the things about a great fragrance is when it develops like a story on the skin. You can end up somewhere completely different than from where you started.
Exactly, that’s also something we try to look for. When we create a fragrance we do trials for a long time because we need to evaluate all the evolvements of the scent, how they grow on you and how they react throughout time. When we are satisfied, we know that we can guarantee quite a unique experience.
You recently did an installation at UNSCENT in Milan. What made you decide on that artistic form of presenting your fragrances and how did the whole installation come about?
We try to create a 360 degree experience. We want express the fragrance in as many dimensions as we possibly can, that’s really our art and what we love to do. We try to create things that resemble the vision that we have inside our heads.
AGONIST comes from an artistic background. When we started we were more in galleries and art exhibitions, collectors bought our sculptures and we did a lot of limited editions. We put a lot of effort into the way that we give life and shape to the fragrances, and the experience that we want to give to people.
The idea for the ISIS was based on the exact moment where the plants are bursting and blossoming. We created this tension inside the glass bottles so that they were cracking during the installation. Then we wanted to add this audio experience, so we had a frequency playing in loop, as well as these recordings of the glass breaking.
It was really intense if you had the fragrance in your nose, the sound in your ears and this visual installation. We wanted to create something that encapsulated the fragrance with all the senses. I think to create this art installation with fragrance in this olfactive experience is a beautiful dimension, suddenly your memories connect with the people who experience it. It’s really fun to create more than just a fragrance.
Your brand is comprised of a sculpture line and a more affordable spray line. How you see this idea of balancing the artistic and commercial aspects of your work?
We enjoy the idea of the haute couture and pret-a-porter version, just like in fashion. The sculpture piece is the mothership of the fragrance where the scent comes to life. We had always planned for a way to have people experience the fragrances and not have to buy these really expensive sculptures. It took us a lot of time to figure out how to create this balance.
When we finally came up with the concept of our spray line, we created these bottles which are colour-coded to connect with each sculpture. When stores are presenting AGONIST they usually have the sculptures and the spray line, so you see and experience the whole brand. If you are in love with the bottle of the fragrances, you perhaps buy the spray and then after a while gather some money and get the sculpture because you want it as an art piece. We have different customers relating differently to it.
What are your future plans for the brand?
The future of Agonist is to keep on working with fragrance as a starting point for artistic expression. We’re also exploring other materials and ways to distribute the fragrances. We will launch one more fragrance in the autumn of this year, which we’re working on now. I can’t really tell you much about it yet, but I will say its not as fresh as ISIS, it’s going down another type of route. We have some projects going on beside that, which will perhaps be launched later this year or at the beginning of next year. We’re working on different ideas on how to expand the collection and the story.
Friday, 26 April 2013
LUXE Comme des Garçons Eau de Toilette
The latest addition to the line of Commd des Garcons fragrances takes two ancient and sacred fragrances, Patchouli and Champaca. With the choice of materials and the packaging, the idea was to take the concept of luxury, defined as rarity and quality, to its extreme conclusion. LUXE Comme des Garcons takes the force of LUXE and combines it with the lightness of an Eau de Toilette.
The patchouli comes from Sumatra, the leaves of the plant are a member of the mint family. The origin of the name is Tamil (patchai ellai meaning green leaf). Head: white pepper, soy accord, Heart: patchouli, cedarwood, Base: vanilla, oakmoss.
Champaca, a mythhical flower that comes from the Ganjam district of the state of Orissa in India, belongs to the flowering plant in the Magnolia family. It is famous for being used in Hindu ceremonies and by Balinese dancers. Head: white pepper, angelica, cardamom, Heart: champaca, bird pepper, Base: white musk, iris
Friday, 12 April 2013
A Shaded View on Perfume Fiction: Diptyque Philosykos. Text by Christos. Images by Ana Maria Rusu.
Dear Diane and Shaded Viewers,
In this exciting new chapter of A Shaded View on Perfume Fiction, Memory of Scent blogger Christos and photographer Ana Maria Rusu explored the experience of scent not only through the written word, but imagery as well. See the result of their collaboration below.
Diptyque Philosykos by Olivia Giacobetti
Notes: Fig, fig leaf, green notes, woods, coconut milk, white cedarwood
Fig tree is a tree of death. It stands in winter barren with heavy branches that swirl in the air and grasp as far as they can. They look like petrified snakes, robust but frozen. They spend the whole winter looking dead.
Fig tree is a tree of promise. Come spring, elaborate leaves start budding from the ashen branches and soon a huge vibrant green canopy hides the death that used to be.
Fig tree is a tree of pleasure. Come summer fragrant pouches start growing and becoming heavier at the tip of each branch. They hold the promise of sweetness.
Fig tree is a tree of pudicity. Modest looking fruits hide inside them the most exuberant red flesh, decadently sweet and fragrant. The fig tree is the third tree named in the Hebrew Bible, after the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge. Its leaves were used to cover the newly discovered nudity of Adam and Eve.
Philosykos is a perfume of promise. It captures the promise of new life lurking under stones and dark crevices. It is cool like winter but in this barren coolness green new life promises the arrival of spring. The tiny buds of early leaves make it clear that soon everything will be buzzing crackling with new life, stretching its green wings to the sun, turning heat into life. Light into flesh.
Philosykos is a perfume that captures all that is pure and clean in nature. Fig trees in their natural habitat do not become fragrant until deep in summer where scorching heat, dry dust and screaming cicadas cannot be separated from the scent of fig leaves. Philosykos takes all that away. Modest in its approach of ingredients it remains simple and elegant. It smells of fig leaves infused with morning dew drops and sea breeze. Its impression of the fig tree is an abstract one: a fig tree that stands alone in an empty room made of massive marble stones. It seems like its natural environment has been removed by the perfumer to allow the simplicity of the aroma to shine.
Fig tree is a tree of legends. Greek rural legends say that you are never supposed to sleep under the thick shadow of a fig tree. As much as it seems cool and friendly in mid summer day, the mysterious fumes of fig leaves can cause hallucinations and nightmares. The white milk that bleeds from its wounds will attract snakes.
Philosykos makes all this sound like silly superstition. Philosykos is like the cool breeze that ruffles the fig leaves early in the morning, before the heat of the sun makes all these superstitions believable.
Images by Ana Maria Rusu http://amrimages.com/
Text by Christos http://memoryofscent.wordpress.com/
Wednesday, 13 February 2013
A Shaded View On Perfume Fiction. Text by Christos
Oud 27 by Le Labo (Perfumer: Vincent Schaller)
Notes: Agarwood, cedar atlas, incense, patchouli, black pepper, saffron, gaïac
Pushing the sprayer on a perfume bottle for the first time is quite like pulling the trigger: soon you will know whether it is a hit or a miss. This bottle had more things in common to a hunt than just the pulling of the trigger. As it hit the skin a warm smell of living rot, almost swampy, filled the air. An almost threatening smell. It felt like I was hiding in the bushes and I had accidentally attracted the attention of a wild beast. I could see the black, shiny fur describing vaguely the outline of the beast trying to decipher its shape. Suddenly the head turned to me and yellow feverish eyes burned through the still blackness. I could smell the deep rhythmic breath of the animal as it was gathering air and energy to attack. The hot, humid breath, filled with all that life is, both pleasant and appalling, but most of all warm and real. Equal measures of attraction and aversion, the essence of danger. As the beast started to move towards me I could hear the branches break incapable to resist the brute force. Its paws crushing fresh leaves and stepping on rotting ones, mixing sweet and acrid smells. And just as I felt that it was too close for comfort, that this would be either the end of me of the time to fleet, the majestic beast walked up to me and cuddled next to me in an unexpected turn of events. Warm fur scented with herbs and foliage enveloped me and offered me security and comfort. A warm, familiar scent was the reward for my courage and facing the beast. The hug of the beast offered the security of a huge hollow in tropical tree. Warm, humid, secure.
Oud 27 is a scent larger than life and quite descriptive of it. It takes guts to face the opening as it has nothing that reminds you of a perfume. It smells of raw materials, both vegetal and animalic, haphazardly thrown together without any respect to balance or composition. It teaches a great lesson however: true perfume is not meant to be experienced only for and judged within the first few minutes. Perfume is a living organism that is brought to life by the warmth of the skin, lives and eventually dies on it. If in order to ensure a glorious life an explosive birth is required so be it. It is the wearer who has to adapt to the perfume because after all wearing perfume is a ritual and a journey.
Text by Christos
Monday, 28 January 2013
Carlos Kusubayashi of A Lab On Fire speaks about the importance of mystery and positively deceptive packaging. Interview by Carla Seipp
Dear Diane and Shaded Viewers,
Elusiveness is an essential element of perfume's magnetism. The sudden whiff of something spectacular in an overcrowded subway train or the immediate affection towards something that you have never smelt before, but in that single second where fragrance molecule hits nostril, you know you must possess.
With his niche fragrance brand A Lab On Fire, Carlos Kusubayashi has managed to capture that mystery in a way that has heavyweight perfumers such as Olivier Polge and Dominique Ropion living out their fragrance fantasies in a bottle, from the streets of Paris to a night in New York City. Packaged in simple, utilitarian-style bottles, A Lab On Fire may not scream exclusive perfume treasures to the innocent eye, but one press of the atomiser button and you'll know why.
In the following interview Kusubayashi talks about the changing mechanisms of the industry and what really counts when it comes to falling in love with a fragrance.
What is the most profound scent memory of your childhood?
Oil and steel. My father had a small factory making screws and bolts in Fukuoka, Japan. I was brought up surrounded by that smell.
Your introduction to perfumery was through art, how do you see the two mediums relating to one another?
I worked as a part time studio assistant to an artist who had incorporated scents into his sculptures. He was selling his own line of fragrances, and I often packed and shipped the orders. I enjoyed working there but do not share the same view. I don't think perfume is art in a sense that a painting or sculpture is. It's a sort of craft. A great fragrance generates emotion similarly to certain types of abstract art, but to call perfume an art, I think there is one level that is missing.
How would you describe the creative and collaborative process in creating a scent?
Imaginative and improvisational. It's fun. Otherwise I wouldn't be doing it.
What attributes does A Lab On Fire fragrance need to have?
Each scent by ALOF has to be refined and elegant. It also has to have a masterful touch. These qualities are quite opposite to the packaging, and we like the contrast between the outside and the content of our fragrances.
What was the idea behind that?
It might be related to the fact that I love La Belle et la Bête so much, but if we had to justify the odd packaging, I would say it's our statement. There are too many fragrances with fancy packaging and poor scent. The quality of a scent has nothing to do with its exterior, and we didn't want any deceptive frills on our packaging. Some might say that it's deceptive in a contrary way, but that's a good surprise, no?
Being a limited production perfume house, would you say that fragrance has lost some of its preciousness through mass production?
I think it's true, but it's not necessarily a negative thing. The big part of the industry is changing, and the small ones like us are starting to have more opportunities to shout.
The idea of mystery plays an important role in your brand. What is it about the unknown that you find fascinating, and how do you see perfume being a part of this notion?
One reason for our 'mystery' is that we want to leave plenty of room for the imagination of our customers. The other is our focus on the quality of each scent. To make people fall in love with a fragrance you don't need much information.
Which perfumer would you like to collaborate with next and what does the future hold for A Lab On Fire?
There are a few under-recognised but fantastic perfumers that we want to work with. We are planning to tap into these talents gradually. As for ALOF's future, we are still just going with the flow.
A Shaded View On Perfume Fiction: Emporio Armani Diamonds for Men Text by Jarrod Cuthrell
Top notes: Bergamot, guaiac wood
Heart notes: Vetiver, cedar, Sichuan pepper
Base notes: Cacao, amber
It is a very late evening, cool air, a slight wind blowing. A man is at a party, a very high class party. A live band performs outside, playing soft music. Everyone is dressed very formally, standing around a pool, which is set in marble. The must is barely audible, sort of surreal, women laughing to themselves is barely heard over the bubbling of the hot tub they sit in. They drink. Everyone drinks, and has been all evening, but no one is drunk. The only effect is the warm glow everyone has. The girls watch the men from the jacuzzi, talking amongst each other. A man conversates with another gentleman in a dimly lit corner of the party. He is mysterious, and though he talks casually to this man, he recalls having the lady of the house just moments before. He recalls both of them, hurriedly sneaking away, no one seeing either. He recalls them having each other, quickly, quietly, darkly. He remembers reentering the party, unashamed.
Text by Jarrod Cuthrell
Friday, 25 January 2013
Mad et Len - Text and Images by Eugene Rabkin
Dear Diane and Shaded Viewers,
I normally don't write about fragrances, but the French brand Mad et Len (the name is a play on the Proustian "madeliene") has caught my eye about a year ago and I visited them at Tranoi earlier this week. I love brands that make everything just so, and Mad et Len is one of them. Their handpoured candles come in blackened iron cases individually forged by blacksmiths in a small village in Provence. Their potpourri is made of lava rocks. Of course, the main draw are their unconventional scents. I mean, who doesn't want a candle that smells like asphalt?!
Wednesday, 26 December 2012
James Heeley Discusses the Quest for Perfection in Perfume. Interview by Carla Seipp.
Dear Diane and Shaded Viewers,
If every fragrance can be considered a story, then James Heeley's art of narration shines through as exceptionally modern and refreshingly clear. Sel Marin equates to an afternoon standing on the docks during a clear spring day, the salty sea spray refreshingly hitting the skin, while Cardinal cradles one in the spiritual sanctuary of a church, standing amongst the smooth mahogany wood benches and incense scented air.
With ten Eau de Parfum and three Extrait de Parfum scents currently produced under his independent fragrance brand Heeley, the England-born and Paris-based perfumer has established his own trademark of uncomplicated elegance, managing to even turn notes such as mint or tiger balm into highly refined products.
In the space of his flagship store, James Heeley sat down to express his thoughts on the perfume as art debate, the eternal search for the perfect fragrance and experimenting with scent outside of the perfume bottle.
What was the first perfume you ever wore?
The first perfume I ever wore, that I remember anyway, was Habit Rouge by Guerlain. I wasn’t actually sure I liked it, but was born in Yorkshire, and at the time there wasn’t a huge variety available. I was pretty young, in my early teens, and it was just the best I could find. Shortly around the same time, I discovered Cacharel Pour Homme, which came in a whisky bottle. I don’t like it as much as I used to, perfume changes over the years or you change but it’s difficult to know. I loved Eau de Rochas. I remember the black bottle and green, herbal scent. And then of course Eau Sauvage, that is always a classic for me, and Givenchy Pour Homme.
You once said that you have to be passionate to make a good fragrance. What is it that strikes your passion for perfume?
When you say passionate about perfume, it implies being very much concerned with getting the result that is in line with your expectations and designs. It’s like feeling your way in the dark. I really like smelling, creating, and putting things together to make a perfume. I’m more passionate about the process and creation.
Yes, it’s like a journey into the unknown. For me, perfume is not based on a feeling, I see things in a very visual way. Scents create an image. They have texture and colour, create a certain amount of emotion or an aesthetic set of values that helps you dream, project, and move elsewhere. It’s a bit like daydreaming. I’ve always been a dreamer, thinking and imagining what a place is like or what people are like in a certain situation. Scent really helps you with that. It’s a very similar thought process.
It’s multi-dimensional like a dream, you start off somewhere and then towards the end it can go somewhere totally different.
It’s like images without seeing. For example, one of the first things I did which was quite naive I suppose, was to create a fig scent. I didn’t know that there were any on the market because I didn’t come to perfume as a perfumer. Everything I’ve done since leaving university has been as an autodidact. Perfume is like creating an olfactive image of, or an interpretation of, a scent or a moment. That scent doesn’t necessarily exist as an extract, there is no raw material that corresponds to that one scent so you have to build it using others. In a way, you are creating a landscape. You could close your eyes and imagine being in a certain place at a certain time or in a certain climate or in a certain mood.
Like by the sea [Sel Marin] or under a fig tree [Figuier].
Exactly, it’s quite geographic, contextual.
You studied philosophy and aesthetics, how do you think does that shape your work? You came to perfume through learning by doing, but I could imagine that sort of basis, even in some minuscule way, might filter through into what you do?
It’s difficult say, but I know that studying, particularly something like philosophy, does structure your mind and gives you confidence in your ability to answer a question and get an answer when you know that there is no real answer to anything. That’s maybe what helped me make my own way in a creative world, because you’re not frightened of the unknown or going somewhere in the dark. I’m not sure if I’d read something which was really practical and very narrow, I would have had that same kind of confidence to do something as esoteric or as abstract as perfume, which is in fact very practical, but until you start doing it, you don’t know that it is. Just like cooking or music, it implies a technique, a knowledge of raw materials and then putting them together. It requires a certain creative sensitivity and skill.
Speaking of cooking, if there was a meal that represented Heeley, what would it be?
It would be pretty vegetarian, lots of spring and green vegetables, something like a country salad. It’s funny that you say that because we were discussing rose yesterday and maybe doing an almost chocolate, dry, powdery rose kind of scent. I remember seeing a film in the 80s which I really found fantastic, Like Water for Chocolate, the whole idea, which I think is very much like food, is being able to express a feeling or a sensation through perfume. They’re almost using food like you would wear a scent. There is a very strong link between the two.
I always wanted to do something creative and had a very traditional, educational background where anything arty wasn’t a real job. So I came to Paris just to take some time out. I had to get away to make my own mistakes and my own way. I never went back because I thought I can’t return to the UK until I’ve achieved something. At the end of the day, you can never really reach what you start out wanting to achieve, it’s just an ongoing process. You’re always on your way, waiting, trying to make something better. I never intended to set up a company and make perfume, it’s a bit of an accident really. It’s a will to do something creative and it ticked all the boxes for me. I tried a lot of different things when I came here. I worked as a graphic designer which was easy because there wasn’t the language barrier, then in product design, through which I discovered the world of perfume. I thought this is really interesting, I’d like to go further. Ten years on, I’m still doing it.
What was the idea behind doing your brand’s product designs? Was there a certain thing you wanted to express through the elegant simplicity of it?
I always like things which are very simple, well-made, and discreet. In the beginning, my packaging was made of black blocks of foam which I’ve left behind, but the idea was that it should be recyclable and reusable. It was quite technical, just one block of foam with a band around it which was interchangeable, so I always had one basic unit because I didn’t have huge amounts of capital to produce packaging. It should also protect the bottle, the foam acts as a thermo insulator, plus once you finish it, it serves as a pen pot, vase or something like that. I’ve always had that design element and it is one of the reasons, apart from scent, that inspired me to do a perfume. Initially I saw it as just a little project. I designed for the florist Christian Tortu, who had a scent by Annick Goutal. I saw how perfumes were made and what went into them. I thought the packaging and graphic design I can do, the only thing I couldn’t do in fact was design the scent, but that was the big challenge. Perfume becomes like an apprenticeship. In order to create perfume you have to learn more and more about ingredients and how you put them together, it’s like learning a language. You can only start putting phrases together when you know a bit of vocabulary.
I’ve always very much been interested in design and aesthetics. I never felt that I had the courage to create art, but with scent, it’s an inspiration. A marriage of putting scent together outside a perfume bottle opens up a huge amount of possibilities. Scent is so evocative and so related to how we perceive things that it’s an awakening when you can actually work with it to create art. It’s certainly a way of using scent out of its usual context which tends to be very confined. For example, that piece in Palais Royal was about perception. The idea was from a distance you have a square of lavender on the ground, from far away that could be one of many things. It looks like a grey rug, gravel paper or concrete, you’re not quite sure and in fact it’s before you get close enough to recognise what it’s made of that you can identify it because of the smell. It’s seeing with your nose, you are perceiving something through scent whereas you usually perceive everything through your eyes, or you think you do. It’s quite conceptual. The different codes that I like in design — simplicity and things being very direct — I found again in this installation. I thought it’s a fantastic way of experimenting with scent, imagine doing compositions, controlling the air flow around a piece and mixing the size of the square and the air mass going over a certain piece. Creating a perfume through objects is what happens in the countryside, you get a whiff of this and a whiff of something else and that creates an experience. It would be very interesting to work with that in any space.
In New York, a scent exhibition recently opened at the Museum of Arts & Design. I think it’s intriguing to see how that aspect of fragrances will develop.
It’s definitely interesting, but I’ve thought about it and I don’t really get it, is it an attempt to categorise perfume through complying with art movements? It’s not because you can say this is a very minimalist perfume that it’s a piece of art. It just happens to go well with a certain piece of art, or works coherently with the period in which it was made, it’s a child of its time. Of course perfumes are always going to reflect tastes and eras like typeface, wallpaper or furniture does. But to go so far as to say perfume is art? If you create a classical rose scent tomorrow with a bit of a twist what does it make that, is that postmodern or impressionist or minimalist? It’s all a bit theoretical and might be interesting as an art historian, but it’s a bit bold to say perfume is art. To me, it’s almost like a recipe so it’s less piece of art than a piece of music. It’s not art with a big A for sure, it’s an applied art or creative. You can’t look back over the past ten years and say there was a definitive movement in perfume that means we can isolate all these types of perfumes and categorise them without referring to other art. Perfume is far too loose for that, there is nothing political or sociological about making it. It’s far more introverted and personal.
I’m working on something quite tropical and woody. It’s a difficult theme to work with, it’s kind of a coconut scent, which I’ve always loved but again should it be a perfume? You smell it in sun cream, but I’ve done perfume based on mint so... The coconut is achieved through bensoins, cedar wood, sandalwood, notes of amber and lactones which are kind of milky. I want it to have a slight green note, not too peachy or splitting. It should be really calm, with almost no top notes because that’s how I see coconut, maybe quite sandy as well, with some vetiver for a dry grass feel. I thought it would be good to give a beachy feel to it through coumarin and oak moss. The second scent I’m working on is another oud. Agarwoud ended up being quite a clean scent, not too strong. But in the trials I did, there was one more dark and smoky version. I ended up liking it more and more. It’s not particularly commercial but I’d really like to push that side.
Which one of the scents you have created is most like you and why?
You can't really have one perfume that reflects or expresses a personality. We’re much more complicated and moody. But at the end of the day in most of the perfumes, I do aim to find a balance in terms of strength and concentration. Detail is also very important, I try to find something which is quite natural, balanced and elegant. I don’t like scents that are very overpowering. I prefer for them to be quite transparent, where you can smell the different ingredients and break them down, overall something not too complicated. I think I’ve still got to do it, an ideal scent, but it would be quite woody and green. I think more and more that I should try to do a definitive subject yet it’s so difficult with anything creative to stop. It’s frustrating not to have something that you could wear all the time, but maybe I never will, maybe it’s just a question of mood. That’s one of the things I like about scent, having an ideal and trying to reach it, having a sense of perfection. That’s why it’s nice being independent because you can have that real sense of pleasure with creating. If you’re forced to do it for somebody else, you don’t have that same sense of perfection because you can’t and it’s going to be compromised anyway. It’s about that struggle to get there but you never really do. It’s a way of getting rid of that creative energy. You could almost say it’s something semi religious, trying to reach Nirvana or some kind of mental state. Although it’s nice to smell things that give you pleasure, that’s only momentary. It’s the journey towards perfection that’s interesting, not getting there.