SOME­THING IN THE AIR

BAZAAR looks at the rich in­ter­play be­tween per­fume and art through the ages. By Han­nah Betts.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Advertisement -

Magic hap­pens when art and per­fume col­lide

While the alchemy of per­fume is it­self an art, through­out his­tory scent has looked to the arts for in­spi­ra­tion. There may be analo­gies of con­tent or struc­ture, and af­fil­i­a­tions with artis­tic move­ments or par­tic­u­lar artists’ oeu­vres; both forms of cre­ativ­ity must en­gage in the process of restora­tion, of res­ur­rect­ing clas­sic works in a way that makes sense of their past and present. Ac­cord­ingly, paint­ing, poetry, mu­sic, sculp­ture, photography, and film all en­ter into imag­i­na­tive sym­bio­sis with the scented sphere. As Jean-Claude El­lena, nose for Her­mès, re­marked: “I am sen­si­tive to all dif­fer­ent styles of art. Wher­ever I can, I make par­al­lels, as­so­ci­a­tions, analo­gies … There are sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Cézanne, Ravel, and my fra­grances. There’s a vi­sion that veers to­wards sim­plic­ity, the work­ing draw­ing. I like Soulages be­cause, like him, I limit my pal­ette enor­mously, yet man­age to find new shades within it.” The re­la­tion­ship be­tween scent and art may be al­lu­sive and elu­sive, but that is where its beauty lies.

The Guerlain fam­ily has al­ways main­tained a close affin­ity with the world of fine art. Jac­ques Guerlain, the house’s first great nose, was an en­thu­si­ast for and col­lec­tor of Im­pres­sion­ism, the move­ment that strove to un­der­stand the play of light and shade. L’Heure Bleue (1912), his most overt Im­pres­sion­ist trib­ute, took its name from twi­light: the mo­ment at which the scent of flow­ers in­ten­si­fies, smell gains as­cen­dency over di­min­ish­ing sight, and a vi­sion­ary qual­ity takes hold. A lav­ish flo­ral with a pow­dery musk base, the scent has a rich­ness that is un­der­cut by a pi­quant, vaguely trou­bling heart of aniseed, clove, and he­liotrope.

The first lady of the avant-garde, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, fa­mously en­joyed friend­ships with – and played pa­tron to – many of the great­est artists of the age: Cocteau, Pi­casso, Apol­li­naire, Stravin­sky, Pi­cabia, Dalí, and Di­aghilev. As the 1920s dawned, the ab­strac­tion that had been gath­er­ing mo­men­tum since Pi­casso’s Cu­bist rev­o­lu­tion of 1907 flour­ished across art, lit­er­a­ture, and mu­sic – and, no less, in Chanel N˚5 (1921). Gone were any mimetic or fig­u­ra­tive as­pi­ra­tions; in­stead, what she and Ernest Beaux cre­ated was the first ab­stract per­fume.

For some, the affin­ity be­tween the vis­ual and the ol­fac­tory is lit­eral. Frédéric Malle, the ed­i­tor of his epony­mous Edi­tions de Par­fums, is a synaes­thete who sees smells. He elab­o­rates: “I see colours, more or less trans­par­ent, and shapes that are soft or an­gu­lar.

Th­ese are al­ways ab­stract, and evolve, a bit like smoke or wa­ter.” The ad­van­tages are man­i­fold: “It al­lows us to stay in a world sim­i­lar to mu­sic and ab­stract paint­ing – some­thing quite im­ma­te­rial.”

Not that ev­ery­thing Malle sees in the world of per­fume is beau­ti­ful. “The clas­sics gen­er­ate more pre­cise and sim­ple shapes. To­day’s junk fra­grances look like wishy-washy kalei­do­scopes, as im­pos­si­ble to mem­o­rise as the scents them­selves.”

Malle has pro­duced im­ages to ac­com­pany a num­ber er of his edi­tions. For Por­trait of a Lady (2010) – all am­ber mber and patchouli, topped by a vast rose – we have a plush brown and gold, con­trast­ing with the red, pink, and pur­ple of rose and berry; while Car­nal Flower (2005) is “milky, soft, see-through, with a hard dark­ness at the cen­tre”.

Dalí dreamed up a jas­mine and rose con­fec­tion in 1983, its fla­con based on his “Ap­pari­tion of the Face of Aphrodite of Knidos”. An­drea Maack, an Ice­landic artist who re­cently ex­hib­ited at the Reyk­javik Art Mu­seum, pro­duces scents that are ol­fac­tory in­ter­pre­ta­tions of her vis­ual cre­ations. And Pierre Guil­laume’s Huitième Art Par­fums are about recog­nis­ing per­fume as the eighth art, af­ter mu­sic, lit­er­a­ture, phi­los­o­phy, and the like.

On oc­ca­sion, the syn­ergy be­tween scent and art will be as sim­ple as one im­age, one scent. Miller Har­ris’s Lyn Har­ris is work­ing on a fra­grance “deeply in­spired” by Pi­casso’s “La Femme-Fleur”, a por­trait of his lover, the artist Françoise Gilot. A work in progress, it will be a bou­quet dom­i­nated by iris, with a tang of leather.

She ex­plains: “I was spurred by the photo of her hold­ing the iris; a beau­ti­ful woman with the most beau­ti­ful flower. And the fact that we ex­tract the smell from the iris’s root is the soul of it all. The paint­ing en­abled me to fan­ta­sise about fe­male beauty through the eyes of one of the great­est pain­ters. I love how Ital­ian-look­ing she is, and the spac­ing of her eyes and chin: im­per­fec­tions that lead to ab­so­lute beauty.” The first new Estée Lauder per­fume for a decade, Mod­ern Mo Muse, to be re­leased later this year, yea is an elu­sive, woody flo­ral that plays with a sim­i­lar no­tion. It is de­scribed by the com­pany’s com fra­grance guru Karyn Khoury as “in “in­spired by the com­plex­ity of a mod­ern woman”. wom She con­tin­ues: “Its con­struc­tion re­flects re­fle the same dy­namic ten­sion as her per­son­al­ity. Peo­ple think of ten­sion as a neg­a­tive word, yet in the world of art, and not least in the art of fra­grance, cre­ative ten­sion can be a great source of in­spi­ra­tion, with the in­flu­ence of seem­ingly con­tra­dic­tory qual­i­ties lead­ing to new heights of cre­ativ­ity.” Restora­tion is no less an art. I in­ter­viewed Guerlain’s Thierry Wasser af­ter his cre­ation of a lighter, fresher ver­sion of Shal­i­mar with Shal­i­mar Par­fum Ini­tial (2011), and he told me that while it was in­tim­i­dat­ing to tackle Jac­ques Guerlain’s 1925 clas­sic, he was obliged to cre­ate the fu­ture while hon­our­ing the past. Out went the leather and the jas­mine – “too old-school an­i­malic, too much”; in stayed the del­i­cate rose and or­ris of the house’s sig­na­ture Guer­li­nade.

Chanel’s Jac­ques Polge, cre­at­ing Coco Noir (2012) from Coco (1984), ob­served: “A fra­grance’s birth is an act of pure cre­ation and unique in­tu­ition that can­not be re­traced, only felt. What re­mains is the lineage. This pas­sage of time that en­ters the most un­ex­pected ol­fac­tory com­po­si­tions into the his­tory of per­fume and ren­ders them in­tel­li­gi­ble … Any fra­grance, how­ever in­di­vid­ual, can only ex­ist be­cause of those that came be­fore it.” And it, in turn, will in­spire the artistry of the fu­ture.

“I don’t sell the fra­grances; I cre­ate them. Who is she, the one who wears my per­fume? I guess she is so­phis­ti­cated, but so­phis­ti­cated doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean she has money. I guess per­fume for her is that she wants an ex­pe­ri­ence – it is some­thing you barely see, very sub­tle and un­der­stated. Too many de­tails doesn’t mean lux­ury. It is very French

in an ob­scure way. The women I have in my life and the diver­sity of the peo­ple I love, all th­ese peo­ple in­spire me. Also, age doesn’t mat­ter. It is such a mis­take to tar­get by

age cat­e­gory.” – Fran­cis Kurkd­jian

Chanel Coco EDP, RM432 (100ml)

Guerlain Après L’Ondée

Dip­tyque Vetyverio EDT, RM295 (50ml) & RM379 (100ml)

Lancôme Tré­sor EDP, RM305 (100ml)

Gior­gio Ar­mani Sì EDP, RM300 (50ml) & RM430 (100ml) Her­mès Terre d’Her­mès EDP, RM425 (75ml)

Tola Shahzadah EDP

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