Here’s the second installment of the thoughts inspired by three unusually attired brand owners during my visit to Pitti Fragranze in Florence. To read the first, click here.
Angelo Orazio Pregoni hovered around the O’Driu booth dressed like a cross between a Jedi knight and the mad monk guru of an apocalyptic cult. His portrait stared at visitors with a baleful “Sleep, I will it” glare. The buzz going around Pitti was that he’d created scents to which you were meant to add a drop of urine to “complete” the formula.
First thought: Wait, what? Gross.
Second thought: niche has finally become shithouse-rat bonkers.
Third: after SécrétionsMagnifiques (sperm, sweat, saliva), the Blood Concept collection, La Petite Mort (lady juices), and that English artist who based a scent on the smell of his shit, Peepy™ was bound to happen. Someone was bound to take all that perfumista talk about pee and poop notes literally, and rub their noses in it. Of course, that someone would be an artist.
Pregoni seems to have taken a page from Nicolas Bourriaud’s relational esthetics (definition, drawn from Eye Magazine: “The purpose of Relational Aesthetics is to explore art that concerns itself with creating encounters or moments of sociability within […] ‘communication zones’ for non-scripted social interaction.”) He has used scent in provocative performance art featuring nude “models” whose briefs or pubic hair was sprayed with perfume, which visitors were invited to sniff – driving home the fact that Western perfume is conceived to be worn on the body, not smelled through, say, slots in the wall. And that smells, whatever aesthetic heights they may have reached when integrated within artistic composition, are still linked to the animal and the sexual in us. And to the unease either can elicit.
In another, long-drawn relational art project – the very one that has come to fruition at the 2013 edition of Pitti -- the “O’Driu Helpdesk” interacted with Basenotes members with a slow tease about the “secret ingredient” to be added to a new blend, which fostered a lengthy, funny/earnest online discussion. Basenoters have always prided themselves on proving their perfumista mettle, and spritzing pee is certainly a step up from learning to embrace civet.
Is this a snarky Dadaist take on the “personal chemistry” trope the industry has been feeding us – i.e. that a perfume sold by the millions will somehow become unique once you wear it? The ultimate in natural perfumery? The final frontier of bespoke? Or the trashy consummation of the art/perfume flirtation that’s been going on for the past decade? And what would Andres Serrano make of it?
I’ll be frank: I haven’t smelled the O’Driu. I haven’t even spoken with Pregoni: the aura he cultivated felt both creepy and somehow twee, and I kind of wimped out. While I haven’t quite made up my mind about whether this is good art, it certainly exemplifies the transfer of avant-garde gestures from art-art to luxury industries pioneered by Martin Margiela (in fashion) or Comme des Garçons. Or, conversely, the increasing annexation of a new field (scents) by artists. Still, all said, I think I’ll be keeping my precious bodily fluids away from my perfume bottles, grazie just the same, Angelo…