Fragrance as an art has been exciting me lately. Chandler Burr is opening the Olfactory Wing in the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, soon to tour. Pierre Gillaume has released his Huitième Arts collection. IFF has allowed its stable of top perfumers to show off their personal creations, brimming with artistic sensibility.
Now, to my delight, a collection of six fragrances and six illustrations have been created together by perfumer Cécile Zarokian, author of Amouage Epic Woman, and Matthieu Appriou, a highly renowned illustrator, in a project called [IP]01. These scents only reaffirm my conviction that the 8th art is not so much in the act of becoming, as having always been with us. We are simply realizing that we couldn’t count. Now that we can, let me take you on a guided tour of the gallery of six scents, much as they appeared in L’Atelier-Galerie. Today, the first three, appropriately entitled , , and .
Ladies and Gentlemen. The tour begins.
Illustration by Matthieu Appriou
: Although I have seen the first illustration already, I try to block it from my mind – hoping that I will thereby follow the presumed path of perfume first, illustration last. Am I wrong about that? Was it the other way around? Forget it! I will simply smell the fragrances and look at the pictures, and see how well they embrace each other. Smiling, I realize that was the goal all along – perfume and picture as one.
Painting by David Hettinger
My immediate reaction to the first pair is that the perfume and the picture do indeed match each other at a very fundamental level. There is a secret garden in the middle of this fragrance – an herbal, floral touch that literally jumps out of its center. And yet this presence is restrained. The immediate sense of the fragrance is subtly feminine, but the very first thing that I notice after that is, indeed, the herbal, jardin aspect – not unlike other fragrances styled on a garden theme.
Courtesy of Cecile Zarokian
And this is just sniffing the cap and bottle. I decide to open up the fragrance more, by putting it on paper. This is how it was meant to be sniffed at the exhibition, in addition to the Scentys diffuser, shown above.
The fragrance is light and fresh – the faintly sketched, black-and-white aspects of the drawing suit it well. It is neither joyous nor sad, yet filled with emotion. The soft musks and clean, watery notes remind me of a woman’s skin immediately after showering and just before dressing. There is something intensely intimate and feminine about it – but not in an overtly floral way. Consider the “notes” that were Cécile’s words – the elements of the story she tells:
- · water droplets
- · herbs
- · vegetal
- · ivy
- · bushes
- · leaves
- · earth
- · after the rain
- · plants
- · humidity
- · watery
- · wet
- · ground
- · undergrowth
- · shrubs
Truly, they are all there. But mere lists of words or notes lie to us. The truth is in combination – in the balance of fragrant words which together to tell the real story. Here, a quiet, thoughtful tale. I see the foundations of the whole [IP]01 project in this scent. Were somebody trying to market scent number 1, they would have told Cécile to go back to the lab and make it happier. Make it brighter. Make it less serious. But consider the genesis of the project:
These two artists decided to express all their creativity away from a commercial approach or marketing executive, setting for themselves the brief. More than anything else, the brilliantly faulty, near-miss marketability of the fragrance tells me that it was meant to say something that does not fit on a greeting card. Yes, I will admit – there are deep, artistic cards wishing the recipient a wistful and melancholic day, but one has to search high and low for them. Such cards tend to have prints of wonderful and true art on them, stolen from galleries. Matthieu’s illustrations would be right at home.
Painting: Chinese artist Xi Pan
As I smell this scent, I imagine a woman emerging from her bath, at the start of a new day. She dries herself, puts on a robe, and walks across the bricks of her patio and into the garden. The bushes and flowers are glistening with raindrops from the storm that has passed and is gone. Both she and the garden will soon dry in the emerging sunshine. She enjoys the beauty of it all – alone. But yet – somehow – her quiet thoughts offer the promise of something alive and greater. Something that others will see again, when she opens her heart.
Courtesy of Cecile Zarokian
Is this fragrance – intentionally or unintentionally – a portrait or self-portrait of the perfumer? I like to think so.
Illustration by Matthieu Appriou
: I try to forget the picture Matthieu has drawn for the second fragrance, but I can’t. It’s possibly my favorite in the series. If you know my lifelong passion for the outdoors, then you can see from the list of Cécile’s “ingredients” why this should be.
- · mountain
- · cold
- · ice
- · torrent
- · mineral
- · moss
- · edelweiss
- · forest
- · sap
- · firs
- · wooded
- · chalet
- · sauna
- · smoke
- · fire
I sniff it. Yes. Yes! YES! They are all here – and the combination is wonderful. Where number 1 made me sad in a thoughtful way, this fragrance is only tinged by the sadness of knowing that its grandeur will disappear into legend, never being known by all who would love it.
This is a fragrance for those who love the alpine forests – skiers, climbers, hikers – those who search for something in the mountains that they know is there, but that they can never find. This fragrance tells a story of what they search for, beyond their mortal experience. Matthieu’s picture and Cécile’s fragrance capture each other perfectly. This is not so much about the mountains themselves, as it is about the spirit that watches over them.
Those who have had the pleasure of smelling Céline Ellena’s beautifully coniferous de Bachmakov would love this fragrance for a different view of the same forest. In the same way that mere words could never do justice to that project, this fragrance cannot be described in the same manner as other fragrances. There is a balance of components that astounds. So much care is evident in even a casual sniff, that I can’t put it into words outside of a story.
All I can say is this. Look at Matthieu’s picture. Imagine yourself there. Look down through the clouds. Hear the distant echoes of the alpinists – tiny and insignificant in the wind. The smells of nature dwarf the wisps of fire and warmth that stray into the mountain passes. And yet there is something beautiful and good in their presence – something that the spirit of the mountains welcomes, in her wisdom and beauty.
You will have to forgive me for ending it here. I’m moved to tears, and I haven’t even put the fragrance on paper.
Illustration by Matthew Approi
: To put myself in the proper frame of mind for this scent, I waited until I could listen to Kitaro’s Silk Road. Unfortunately, I had to leave Kitaro behind on the side of the road. Just as people are flying over the Himalayas, and electronica is far beyond its originators, this is truly a 21st century oriental. I needed something much more modern in the way of background music, to live up to what I was smelling. No “marketing” notes here. My fellow Basenoters often chortle at notes such as “light wind”, which are generally too artistic to make it onto the backs of the testers in Macy’s. Well, boys, check these out .
- · Silk Road
- · cloth
- · baroque
- · cashmere
- · pearls
- · gold
- · amber
- · incense
- · coral
- · spices
- · desert
- · arid
- · Isfahan
- · caravansary
- · rose
The list doesn’t lie. There are IFRA-shocking quantities of Silk Road in this stuff – from topnotes to base. Don’t ask whether Silk Road is natural or man-made – it simply doesn’t matter. Well – maybe if you’re a perfumer who is curious about how it was done. But I think that may be Cécile’s secret. The light but hypnotizing spiciness of this scent immediately grabs my attention. I am pleasantly reminded by the scent that one of the perfumers who created Epic Woman was Cécile Zarokian. However, this scent is no Amouage. It’s not even in the same universe.
This is Cécile’s and Matthieu’s own story. The spiciness is truly ethereal, and beautifully reflects the desert, but in a way that forms a valid connection to the most modern forms of feminine fragrance. Imagine that Miss Dior Cherie L’Eau had a flanker – Miss Dior Cherie L’Addict. But imagine it was done with absolutely no intent to ever be sold – with the concept of being faithful only to its own truth. This is what makes the scent so mesmerizing. It has the lightness of something made to be inoffensive, but the boldness of an oriental with no holds barred. The result is fascinating.
Again, the picture and the perfume tell the same story. As in the visual art of , Matthieu’s restrained use of color in  reflects Cécile’s careful use of foreground notes in both perfumes. Matthieu’s clear understanding of the ephemeral nature of perfume – drawing one to the center while falling away at the edges – is once again seen in this work. The amazon’s mysterious eyes are what we see, but the rest of her true nature dissolves away in a story that we can only guess. To me, Matthieu’s image truly embodies the unique character of this fragrance. It is magical, ethereal, and mysteriously feminine.
While this artwork is at its very core noncommercial, I have to state that both the fragrance and picture carry a message that the beauty industry would simply die to possess. You cannot tell me that those are not Chanel eyes. Likewise, if this light, spicy scent could not find a place on the shelves of Sephora right now, it would only be because – as the full picture speaks on behalf of its scent – men are cowards in the face of brave, quiet, feminine beauty.
My wife loves this fragrance, and the thought makes me smile, because they have similar personalities – quiet on the surface – but strong and spicy underneath.
Thanks to Cecile Zarokian we have a full set of samples  through  for draw. Please leave a comment below on your favorite of these first three. Comments on both parts will be eligible for the prize. The draw will take place on Sunday November 27, 2011.
We announce the winners only on site and on our Facebook page, so Like Cafleurebon and use our RSS option…or your dream prize will be just spilt perfume
– Neil Sternberg, Contributor
Editor's Note: Cecile has quite an amazing background not only did she create Amouage Epic as an apprentice, but she is la nez behind Jovoy Private Label perfume and their signature scent ambre1. Viva la "indie go girl"!