|Luc Lapôtre, Autoportrait|
(Pour la version française, cliquez ici.)
Just another niche brand? Think again. Olfactive Studio subtly displaces the codes of the industry, which is worth poking one's nose into...
The brief: if several perfumers presented submissions (35 were considered) as per the industry's classic M.O., it wasn't to make them compete, but because their proposals would be taken practically as is, with the least possible intervention by the brand, so that they had to stick right away. Their sole brief was an original photograph..
The relationship between the visual and the olfactory: if the former inspired the latter, it is in no way or form P.R. material. The picture and the perfume, both arts of the multiple, are part of the same piece (the photograph is included in the perfume’s packaging).
The input of the online community: Céline Verleure, who conceived Olfactive Studio, has been one of the pioneers of perfume on the internet, albeit on the corporate side. After a stint at Kenzo where she took part in the conception of Kenzo Jungle and L’Eau par Kenzo, she launched Osmoz.com ten years ago at the behest of Firmenich. For her new brand, she played on transparency with “The Blog of the perfume that doesn’t (yet) exist” on Facebook, and consulted perfume lovers – her target market – every step of the way. Though because she had decided to give a free hand to perfumers, her informal “focus groups” weren’t meant to inflect the formulas, they were invited to smell the submissions and follow the developments (if you peer at their pictures at the end of the press kit, you’ll spot Octavian Coifan and… Diane Keaton?).
If the names, bottles and packaging firmly reflect the codes of photography, the fragrances are undeniably niche in their palette – woods, resins, spices – and pared-down aesthetics.
Based on a picture by Luc Lapôtre, a renowned studio hair stylist who has branched out into photography, Firmenich’s Nathalie Lorson (Lalique Encre Noire, Acqua di Parma Profumo) has fashioned an accord in the line of her London-exclusive for Le Labo with Autoportrait. Much as she brought out vanilla’s former life as a spice by lacing it with hot pepper in Poivre 23, in Autoportrait, she burns out the cuddly, vanillic smoothness of benzoin with a crackling incense-cedar-vetiver base, putting the “fume” bit back into the frag. Though this feels like more of a charcoal sketch than a fully fleshed-out portrait, it has the tough, terse elegance of Lorson’s edgier work.
The young Dora Arnaud (Versace Vanitas) based her composition on Frédéric Lebain’s Still Life, though it is actually anything but still. In fact, its fizzy, yuzu, star anise and rum cocktail starts out like the life of the party. Just don’t try to stick a little paper umbrella into the bottle: Still Life will retaliate with a sternutatory spritz of pepper spray (pink, black and Szechuan), dragging a dry-as-bones ambrox and cedar base. If this is a cocktail, it’s the kind a fire-breather would guzzle for starters. Like Ms. Arnaud’s unusual truffles-and-pistachio accord (one of the standout proposals of Firmenich’s Olfactive Design trend lab this year), Still Life is almost as much of a flavour as it is a fragrance, and a gutsy, inventive blend.
Clémence René-Bazin, a photographer and director who worked for Magnum and was Raymond Depardon’s assistant, provided a mysterious, literally dark room for Chambre Noire – if it touched me more than the other two pictures, it is because it brought back the first time I saw the Nile from my room in Cairo…
Céline Verleure’s only request to perfumers was to steer clear of floral notes which aren’t her favourites, but Robertet’s Dorothée Piot (Amouage Memoir Woman) snuck in some jasmine. The scent pushes all the right niche buttons: hickory-smoky, fatty-leathery, plummy-boozy. Of the three, it is the fullest-bodied but though it is wrapped in smoothness, it feels as though a bit of sillage had been skimmed off classic perfumes and blended with incense smoke.
There is a common, contemporary texture to Olfactive Studio’s offerings; a feeling that there is a focused taste at play. Céline Verleure didn’t straight-jacket the perfumers – in fact she told me she had requested very few mods – but she picked the submissions, and she clearly knows what she wants. And she might just shape up to be a potent new player in the niche sector.
Autoportrait: Bergamot, elemi, benzoin, incense, musk, oak moss, cedar, vetiver.
Still Life: Yuzu, elemi, pink, black and Szechuan peppers, star anise, galbanum, brown rum, cedar, ambrox.
Chambre Noire: Schinus (a.k.a. pink pepper), jasmine, papyrus, violet, incense, prune, sandalwood, patchouli, musk, vanilla, leather accord.