The other day I was reading some discussion on Perfume Posse about attributing colors to fragrances. One commenter decided that Mitsouko, for example, would be a bronzy-greenish gold. This inspired me to think some more about fragrance and imaginary links to color.
I’m studying abstract painting at the moment, and working somewhat reluctantly in acrylic, which is essentially pigment suspended in plastic. All kinds of issues come into play when painters talk about acrylic vs. oil. No one can look down their nose at acrylic like an oil painter, and yet there’s no question that acrylic is the medium of our age -- it’s fast, bright, relatively cheap, dries in minutes, and can be used with hundreds of substances, sold separately of course, to tart it up. But it doesn’t have that seductive linseed oil smell. It’s texture is, well, rather unpleasant; sticky, truth be told. It doesn’t dry with that gorgeous depth (which has something to do with the refractive properties of the oil medium.) But it’s fast. You can dash off a painting in the morning, frame it at lunch and sell it by dinner. Now, if that’s not modern I don’t know what is.
However, I digress.
If your perfumes had a color and -- oh, let’s add one more attribute -- if they were rendered in a paint medium, what would that be? I ran down a mental list of some of my favorites.
Shalimar: “Midnight” blue (Prussian blue) in oil
Bal a Versailles: Coral pink, in oil
Miss Balmain: a rosy amber/copper, in acrylic
Odalisque: Celadon, in watercolor
Amouage Lyric for Women: A deep, copper-tinged rose, in oil
Barbara Bui Le Parfum: A creamy white, in acrylic
Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille: dark brown (what else) in oil
Eau Parfumee au Te Vert: a soft, clear blue green, in watercolor
Rosine Poussiere de Rose: a cool blue-rose, in watercolor
Coty L’Aimant Eau de Toilette: a pinky rose, in oil
Chypre de Coty: dark foresty green, in oil
Chanel Coromandel: deep browny maroon, in oil
L’Air du Desert Marocain: bright golden amber, in oil
Color theory is far from simple; there are numerous color “systems” (roughly one for every painter who writes a how-to-understand-color-book). And pigments, like fragrances, tend to be based on synthetics today, with many of the same issues that fragrances have: the difficult sourcing of natural ingredients, and (not this again!) the fact that some of them can be, well, not exactly safe, like the cadmiums and cobalts. However, unlike the fragrance industry, the art supply industry hasn’t enlisted the help of a watchdog organization to do its nannying. Artists often like the natural pigments because of their working properties; opacity, transparency, tinting strength and so on. The synthetics tend to stomp all over everything else on the palette, so, if you’re using a natural like an umber, you have to use just a tiny bit of most of the synthetics in your mixes; otherwise, you won’t even be able to detect the natural pigment’s influence. So, like a perfumer, a painter not only has to understand the materials, but also the proportions at which they influence each other in varying ways.
What “color” are some of your favorite fragrances?
Image of the Munsell Color System-based color wheel from Wikimedia.