How ironic was it that the four people discussing the artistic status of perfume at the Institut Français de la Mode in Paris were Belgian, Italian, American and Canadian?
“Le Parfum: tout un art” was the finale of a yearly series of beauty, fragrance and cultural events called “Les Rives de la Beauté”, organized by Wouter Wiels. Chandler Burr, on his way back from Florence where he was Pitti Fragranze’s guest of honor, dropped in before returning to New York to prepare his “Art of Scent” exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design, opening in November.
Since August, I’d been invited to take part in the event though the program and my role kept shifting: first I was sounded out to interview Chandler and field questions from the audience. Then Chandler wasn’t sure he could make it so that we considered organizing a panel discussion. Then he confirmed, but stated he preferred being interviewed by someone not from the world of perfume, at which point the IFM suggested one of their teachers, Luca Marchetti, a dazzlingly knowledgeable and edgy specialist of the intersections between contemporary art and the luxury industry.
In the end, I was invited to step onstage for a debate after Chandler’s interview by Luca. It was an hour-long discussion with many interventions from the audience, with CB presenting a few fragrances by Jean-Claude Ellena as examples of “olfactory works of art”, since he’d just given a talk on JCE at Pitti. My role in the debate was to bring in another point of view (I also translated a bit for CB who hadn’t spoken French for a while, and supplied a few perfume history dates).
I don’t feel it’s altogether elegant to continue (and retro-engineer) the discussion in the absence of its other protagonists, so I've chosen not to write it up. Although I feel Chandler’s statements and positions are extremely blunt, I understand he may feel compelled to simplify matters in order to get through to cultural institutions, industry sponsors and the general public. His approach is not the only licit one, but it’s pioneering and I hope many such initiatives, offering different approaches, will follow.
For those who read French, please click on this link to read my colleague Béatrice Boisserie’s article on the event on her wonderful new blog Paroles d’Odeurs.
The Institut Français de la Mode will soon be posting a podcast (also in French) on its website.