That’s a pretty odd question, right? How queer is your scent? I mean, we’re all just out there trying to decipher the odour profile of a scent and what the heck it smells like, not to mention whether we like it or not, or whether it has enough longevity and sillage to get us through the day, right? Let alone trying to work out how queer it is for Pete’s sake! What does that even mean, anyway? How can a scent be queer? Is that even a thing? This is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot recently. Ever since i shot some queer-inspired photos for my review of Frederic Malle’s Superstitious, in fact.
Being a member of the LGBTQIA community (yes, we like our letters because it’s important to be inclusive) I have always felt that one of the key drivers for true acceptance is representation. Whether people are accepting of the community or not, it exists and queer people have the right to be represented in all mediums, whether that be in movies, music, art, or even perfume. This is something I want to explore in this little think piece, but it’s important to note though, that I am one person and not representative of the entire LGBT+ community. I am a white, cis-gendered gay male and I can only speak for me, and the community is so much more broader than any one person. So I hope we can share our varied opinions of the subject of queerness in scent, because it’s an important topic.
So what is a queer fragrance? After all, one could argue that if a perfume can’t have a gender, can it really have a sexuality? Well, to me, a queer fragrance isn’t about making a fragrance that is gay or trans, it’s about any scent that has a concept inspired by LGBT+ culture. It could be as simple as a fragrance inspired by a queer icon, or maybe one that celebrates queer art. It’s about telling the rich tapestry of stories within the history and culture of the LGBT+ community, which leads me nicely onto the subject of perfume and story telling.
The first thing one sees when entering Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent, the brand new and very exciting exhibition held at Somerset House, London, is a list of words that describe a variety of odours. These disembodied smells represent the ethos of the exhibition, which is to remove perfume from the commercial setting and allow it to be experienced as something more immersive than one would find on the department store shelves, despite the fact that the scents themselves can be found in such a place. This is perfume as an experience, rather than a consumable product. It shows that it can be something more than just a pretty smell to make a person smell good.
Ever wondered what an aroma chemical is, where it comes from and why the heck it’s used? This is the episode for you! Thomas and Nick talk about aroma chemicals (often called ‘synthetics’) and share some of their favourites, both in and out of compositions. Get your safety googles on, folks, it’s going to be a big ole sciencey ride.
It was as I was setting a bottle of perfume in lime jelly last week in preparation for blog photography that I realised that I may just be a little bit mad. Creative, yes, but also a bit bonkers. Over the last year or so I’ve made a real effort to ensure that any photos that appear on The Candy Perfume Boy are ones I’ve taken rather than marketing shots. You might be wondering why this is, especially as it’s a real effort and it does lead to strange occurrences, such as when I stained my stark white dining table green in my lime jelly endeavours (whoops!). The answer for me is two fold: firstly, I’ve always loved photography but have only recently found a knack for actually taking photos myself (it’s now a thoroughly enjoyable activity for me); and secondly, there is something really fascinating about trying to translate an odour into something visual.
Perfume is the most vivid of the arts, yet it’s the hardest to describe and visualise. With The Candy Perfume Boy it has always been my aim to make the art of olfaction more accessible, explaining and now presenting fragrance in an easy to understand way. This is why I’ve dived so deeply into the world of photography because it can instantly show the spirt or odour of a fragrance just in one image. Translating these scents into a photo is a really fascinating undertaking. It’s fun to be literal, creating tableau’s of a fragrance’s key materials or to put together something entirely more abstract, using art, craft materials, lighting and the natural elements to make something beautiful.
The district of Peckham in south-east London isn’t the first place that springs to mind when one thinks of the house CHANEL, but that’s exactly where the world’s most famous couturier decided to host a five-day pop-up scent installation inspired by their fragrances. The location was chosen because it is home to the studio of Es Devlin, the Stage Designer picked by CHANEL for their first collaboration with i-D under their ‘The Fifth Sense’ partnership.
Es Devlin creates “kinetic sculptures meshed with light” and is famous for piecing together elements of the London 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony, Béyonce’s Formation World Tour (having created a gigantic “monolith” of a video screen for the tour), Adele’s BRIT Awards performance of “When We Were Young”and pretty much all of Kanye West’s performances in recent years. With such an illustrious and frankly fascinating body of work, it’s no surprise that Es was the perfect artist to work with for CHANEL’s very first pop-up scent installation.
Entitled ‘Mirror Maze’ this installation takes themes of navigation, gravity and memory, and links them to fragrance. The physical aspect sees a mirrored maze reminiscent of Coco Chanel’s famous mirrored staircase intertwined with video installations and soundscapes. Fragrance comes into play in the form of a specially-created scent crafted by CHANEL in-house Perfumer, Olivier Polge – a fragrance that scents a special space within the installation. The fragrance and installation (which closed yesterday) will last for five days, after which they will only exist as memory.
“I began to think about scent as a means of finding my way and measuring myself – not in space but through time. I thought about the smells that take me back – burning street tar, Vicks inhaler, Christmas tree resin, freshly cleaned school corridors, printer ink, chlorine, sunscreen, baby milk, mosquito coils, Indian jasmine mixed with street cooking, diesel – and I began to see them as landmarks for who I was when I first and last smelled it.”
At the recent launch event for Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s latest duo of fragrances there was a lot of discussion around art and its relation to the world of perfume. Kurkdjian, who is ever a frank and fascinating speaker, asserted that perfume is not art because it is created to please consumers and where art is given a value by the market, perfume prices are set by their creators. This isn’t to say that Kurkdjian is belittling perfume by any means, in fact it seems that he takes a purely practical view of the subject, comparing his collection to an olfactory wardrobe, containing a plethora of pieces ranging from the everyday staple of the white T-Shirt (Aqua Universalis) to the more occasionally worn leather trousers (Absolue Pour le Soir).
Also at the event, Art Curator, Karine Giannamore spoke at length about what constitutes a masterpiece, piecing together simplicity, hard work, innovation and emotion, as the key ingredients that create a timeless work of art. Giannamore states that a masterpiece “has to be new [and] has to be original” but also must be “cemented in tradition”. This collision of the innovative and the traditional is exactly what Francis Kurkdjian has played with for his two new fragrances – féminin Pluriel and masculin Pluriel.
“What makes a work of art? A masterpiece? A Timeless work of art? Something so good or beautiful that it cannot be affected by changes in society or fashion.”
– Karine Giannamore
The Pluriel (Plural) duo has been created as a mirror image – two fragrances that perfectly capture the essence of femininity and masculinity, or as the brand puts it; “the eternal feminine and masculine.” With each fragrance, Kurkdjian takes a traditional theme and adds a contemporary twist to create a pair of perfumes that feel thoroughly modern and very much in keeping with his clear and radiant style. For féminin Pluriel and masculin Pluriel, Kurkdjian has crafted two new pieces for his olfactory wardrobe – two fragrant garments that are as modern, chic, timeless and elegant as anything a couturier could construct.