Friday, August 9, 2013

The Bottle Club

Yesterday I attended a meeting of perfume bottle collectors. 

Among vintage perfume collectors, these people are sometimes called “The Enemy.” They buy for the bottle, not the juice. And (the horror!) I’ve heard that some bottle sellers pour the perfume in them down the drain.

Incidentally, displaying fragrance in clear bottles is not advised. The perfume in them cooks in bright light, resulting in that nail polish remover top note vintage buyers know too well. So the beautiful bottles presented by Lalique yesterday — all clear glass — wouldn’t benefit any perfume that might be inside them. Not that you’re going to put your limited edition signed-and-numbered Lalique flacon inside a dark cabinet. Are you?

I wish I could display my collection on a dresser top or shelf. Many of the bottles are beautiful. But for me, display is limited to the opaque ones, because it’s the contents I care most about. You can’t wear a bottle. The bottle is something you own, but it doesn’t become part of you like perfume does.

There are some bottles that are swoonworthy, though. One is pictured above.

Elsa Schiaparelli was the grand doyenne of the perfume bottle as surrealist art. She collaborated with Salvador Dali on a number of perfume bottle projects. The most well-known one is the “Le Roi Soleil” bottle, crafted  by Baccarat, which was released in 1946 to celebrate the end of World War II. Dali drew the sun’s “face” as a series of birds in flight, across a rising sun, over an enamel-blue molded glass sea. (I haven’t been able to find any description of what the perfume inside smelled like — this alone is interesting, as such information is readily available on the ‘net nowadays — but most of Schaiparelli’s fragrances were of the take-no-prisoners type.) So, in this case, the bottle, er, eclipsed the perfume inside it. 

Even as a young girl I hoped to someday have a vanity, on which there would be a mirrored tray, full of fine perfumes in their beautiful bottles. The bottles atop my cabinet now — Agent Provacateur comes to mind, in its  pink ceramic egg crowned by a plain metal spray nozzle — aren’t the most appealing ones. Those are stashed safely in the dark interior.

For me, it was odd to walk into a room  like the one yesterday and not smell a bit of perfume. No one was wearing any. That included me. I didn’t want to offend. So, as I passed through the very upscale department store in which the meeting was held, I sprayed  samples of Kurkdijan and Ford  and Creed onto cards, not onto my skin as I usually would.

I guess these people love the bottles a beautiful objects, as art, so I ask: these art aficionados, these collectors, are they more in step with the concept of perfume as art than are those who (so I’ve heard) have been known to decant the perfume for wearing, and put the bottle up for sale to them?

The image of the Dali bottle for Le Roi Soleil comes from Richard Stamelman ’s book “Perfume”  c 2006, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. No photo credit was given.

The Dali bottle in perfect condition, not that you’re interested in such things, is currently priced at around $25,000, if you can find one. I saw one on a popular auction site that was in very bad condition (chips, broken rays, faded, no box) for just under $4000.

Monday, July 22, 2013


I left Los Angeles nearly twenty years ago. I go back to visit family at least once a year, so in a way one foot is still there, and the place still beckons: the energy, the art, the variety, the feeling of being at the leading edge of well, everything. 

When I read about the opening of the Institute for Art and Olfaction last year, it made me want to go back. For a few days, anyway. It is fitting that this center arose in Los Angeles, as there is still an odd sort of purity associated with California that simply doesn’t exist in all-business New York.  (I don’t think I was the only blogger who was disappointed in MODA’s extremely well-sponsored and mainstream scent exhibition there.)  Anyway, if I was still in L.A. I’d be involved with the IAO. Sweep this ground floor. 

The IAO’s first conceptual scent project involved a collaboration between the filmmaker/software architect Mark Harris and conceptual perfumer Josh Meyer. Harris’s film “The Lost Children,” is described thusly on the IAO website:

“The Lost Children is a sci-fi thriller that tells the story of Evelyn Hamilton, a NYC socialite turned would-be messiah. Running from her troubled family, Evelyn joins The Lost Children cult, who believe they are aliens from another world, stranded on Earth and awaiting rescue by their mother ship. Evelyn’s family hires professional cult deprogrammer, Jared Allen Tyler, to extract her from the cult and to “un-brainwash” her. But soon everyone in the film questions what they know to be real as the cult’s beliefs all seem to come true.”

I haven’t seen the film. To my knowledge it hasn’t screened here in  At-Lanta. But I did order a sample of the scent that goes with it. It was featured in two live “immersive experiences” presented at The Film Society of Lincoln Center last January.

It would be silly to do a straight perfume review of “Cult,” but here’s an impression. Right away, I get the flat knockout punch of human body, not stale sweat, not cumin, human. (It fits. Cults are decidedly human.) That punch sticks around, too, through the mid tones of the scent, along with citrus and geranium. Later, it fades, and the result is a more pleasant drydown, with leaves and woods. Still, no mass-market fragrance distributor would touch this. It would give a niche perfumer pause. I’ll wear to some opening or other art event and see if it gets noticed.

But that’s not really the point here. 

Upcoming IAO projects involve a lot of multimedia and multimodal materials which serve to place the scent components within a broader structure, make them more familiar, perhaps more acceptable, to the rather, ahem, insular Art World. This should help disassociate art-based perfumery from the concept of “Perfume” as it exists today: celebrity-driven, fashion-associated, designed to seduce, certainly downmarket as compared to Art. 

While I would like someday to see conceptual scents stand alone as a painting would, this form of introduction works. I look forward to much more from the IAO. 

Click here to visit the Institute for Art and Olfaction's website. The link offering further information on the "Cult" project is here.

The photo is from the IAO's website.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sandrine Videault

(Hello lovely readers! I’m back, blogging here on Olfactarama and jointly on my brand new blog, "Bad Patti's Art 'n' Everything Blog".

It is not as through there are hundreds of fragrance artists, but there are some, and the passing of Sandrine Videault is a great loss to that small group.

Videault was a kind of anthropologist. She was born and lived on the impossibly beautiful tropical island of New Caledonia. In an interview with Perfume Shrine's Elena Vosnaki, she spoke of the indigenous tribe there, the Wallisians, who frequently rub perfumed pastes into their skin. She included some of their ingredients — Frangea, a white flower, sandalwood, Javanese vetiver — in her 2009 fragrance Manoumalia. She left some things the Wallisians used out, though;  most notably the hea seed, which she called “too rancid for the Western nose.”

So, we can see that Videault did assemble a perfume, not a reconstruction. A fragrance to be worn by Westerners on skin, to enhance, to make more beautiful, the wearer’s day. Is this art? I think it is.

So often, written descriptions of “olfactory art” seem kind of silly to me. It could be that all forms of  conceptual art have that in common. Perhaps they are better by far observed, or participated in, than read about. Videault composed olfactory art pieces as well as fragrances. Among them were an olfactory “happening” which included releases of metallic bubbles, presumably containing scent to be released when the bubbles burst, and “The Song of Senses,” an olfactory theatre with holograms. Both, I’d like to have seen.

Manoumalia, which I still have a drop of and am wearing as I write this, was a participant-observer fragrance, to use field-anthropology jargon. A student of the great perfumer Edmound Roudnitska, Videault knew how to construct a fragrance using naturals and synthetics, so although it references the Wallisians Tui-Tui fragrant paste, it is not the same thing.  Smelling the fragrance in its initial stages and in drydown, I perceive the unmistakable white flower essence, a little bit of rubber (common to tuberose) , a slight peppery quality in the middle, and the drydown just a hint of root and indole. On my skin, the fragrance is fleeting.

As is life.

I was happy that Sandrine Videault existed. I was waiting for more fascinating ideas and fragrances to come from her. But, like the Italian fragrance innovator Mona di Orio, she didn’t live long enough.

When asked by Vosnaki what one thing she’d learned from Edmound Rodniska, she replied it was that “we know nothing.”

That is a succinct description, the beginning, of inspiration.

Photo of Sandrine Videault courtesy of Google Images. Image may be subject to copyright.

Thanks to Scented Salamander for some of the material here.

Monday, August 20, 2012


“Ladies and Gentlemen, we’d like to welcome you aboard  Delta flight number XXXX, from Los Angeles to Atlanta. We have a full flight today, and, since we expect this flight to be a hot and smelly fucking nightmare, let us suggest that if you have any medications such as Xanax, Valium or Ativan with you, take them now. And feel free to see the Flight Attendants if you have any left over.’

‘We would like to encourage those of you currently boarding to move your fat asses along as quickly as possible, so we can fill this flight to our Boeing 757-200’s ideal cattle-car capacity. For those of you holding up the line by attempting to jam a large suitcase into the overhead bin, let us join your fellow passengers in the sincere hope that your luggage is filled with bed bugs which will infest your home upon your return.’

‘Currently, we are number 157 in line for takeoff. We wish those of you with connections to make in Atlanta the very best.  Now, please direct your attention to the tiny screen in front of you, where the Chairman and CEO of Delta Airlines is making a completely bogus and utterly laughable attempt to tell you how wonderful flying with Delta really is.’

‘Flight Attendants are currently passing throughout the cabin with applications for the American Express Delta Skymiles credit card. We expect that you will use it frequently, believing that we will actually redeem your points with free tickets and upgrades. Hah! Suckas!”

Cartoon image from, via Google Images. Image may be subject to copyright.


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