Perfumes begin as ideas. A perfumer is presented with a brief from a client in the form of a written description, a piece of music, a painting, or a specific object, and it is the perfumer’s job to translate that into scent. In the case of Olfactive Studio, a line launched in 2012, the brief consists of words and images chosen by Céline Verleure, a former exec at Kenzo and the founder of OsMoz.com. I first learned about Olfactive Studio at the Elements Showcase in August 2012, before the line was officially launched. Now, OS seems to be everywhere and getting high praise for its fragrances. In a video interview recently conducted by Barney Bishop of Fragrant Moments, Céline Verleure talks about her process:
I choose a name, then I choose the best photo to fit with the name…I use these photos as a unique brief to give to the perfumer. It’s very different because usually they get their inspiration from words, describing the fragrance, describing the marketing target. I don’t want a target. I never think about who will wear the fragrance; I try to do an artistic creation that will be for whomever will like it. There is too much marketing in perfume, and we need to do more artistic projects.
The names of the perfumes in the line point to ways of portraying the world in art. Autoportrait is the French word for self-portrait, one of the most ubiquitous genres of art that has endured throughout centuries in the form of painting, now popularized through the use of photography. Chambre Noire refers to the photographic dark room, a romanticized place of creation that is fading from existence in the digital age. Verleure finds the photograph that most accurately captures her subjective experience of the words, and works with professionals to create a perfume that is faithful to both.
The emphasis on collaboration is made clear on Olfactive Studio’s website, where the artists and the perfumers share equal billing as “authors” for each scent.
All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt. – Susan Sontag, “On Photography” (1977)
“On Photography” is a seminal essay on the politics of art by the American writer and critic, Susan Sontag. She discusses the role photographs play in our culture, and how the act of photography is inextricably linked to our experience of time, our desire to stop its unrelenting course by freezing an image. Because of its temporal nature, perfume has most often been compared to the dénouement of music, but obviously in the case of Olfactive Studio, the photo is the go to inspiration of choice. In Flair Magazine, perfumer Mathilde Laurent of Cartier talks about the comparison many make between perfume and music, and her preference for photography as a source of inspiration for her fragrances:
As a perfumer, I don’t work through music at all. I always work with music, meaning I’m always listening to music pretty loud here, I open Deezer, and it allows me to concentrate. But never do I make analogies music/perfume…I do respect the fact that some perfumers say they work with colors or music…But in my head, it’s all just images.(1)
What do you have to say about the photography versus music comparisons to perfume?