S.L.: The image of Berlin is very present in my story: the war, Pétain’s laws, the German Occupation… My imaginings around this woman who is my mother. What is this? Who is my father? What is this about? Who is she? Who is this woman, who kept quiet all her life? Who died in silence… without telling me anything…
D.B.: About your father?
S.L.: I don’t know who my father is, but I don’t know who my mother is… I know who my father is, since I didn’t love him, but actually, there’s a turnaround. Things aren’t that simple.
D.B.: Your texts are always implicit, they are about the trace your story left on you rather than about events… So of course, one can’t help trying to read between the lines… Was your father a German?
S.L.: No. But my mother spoke well of the German, by the way. She used to say: “They were very well-mannered.” I never heard her utter a word against the German. There are also some things she said that disturbed me terribly. For instance, my sister, who is ten years my junior, told her once: “But all your women friends were prostitutes!” My mother answered: “Well, not prostitutes, but they were of easy virtue… Everyone was, back then.” So of course, that’s very disturbing.
“If I didn’t attach my own story, I wouldn’t make perfumes.”
D.B.: I get the feeling that what you write to go along with your perfumes is just as important a part of what is called, in the language of contemporary art, the dispositif.
S.L.: For me, it’s major, because otherwise, it doesn’t say anything, this perfume. It’s the story that’s interesting. It’s the movement within us. If there isn’t this movement, what’s the use of perfume? If you don’t communicate through it, if it’s just a bottle with a name on it… Suppose that there’s no text, that it’s called L’Orpheline and that it smells like this. What is it, then? If a perfume isn’t a story, if it isn’t our story, it isn’t creation. Creation, which is to say, etymologically, “poetry”. If I didn’t attach my own story, I wouldn’t make perfume. In fact, I’ve observe this: when you don’t give them words, people are lost, but lost!
I’ve often been annoyed, when I present the following year’s production once a year, by the kind of people who know it all, you see what I mean? So I told myself: “This time, I won’t say anything, not a word.” I just put the perfume on the table, passed the blotters around and didn’t say anything. People were lost. They were all looking at each other, wondering what it was… And then, since they didn’t know what to say, they all started talking about ingredients…
D.B.: Exactly: you talk about ingredients when you don’t know what else to say.
S.L.: And that’s a big problem, because raw materials… I must say I was the first to revive that story [the fact of naming fragrances after ingredients].
D.B.: Could you elaborate on that?
S.L.: Why I did it? It’s because there was no more identity, at all, at all, in perfume. Just big soups that went around in circles, to end up in the same pots. It didn’t mean anything any long… Perfume was dying. And it’s happening now. Niche perfumery is screwed-up, screwed-up to the core… It’s pure marketing, marketing to the hilt. There’s nothing, nothing, nothing original about it any longer. It’s been hijacked by commerce, it’s quite vulgar in the end.
“I enjoy violating this feeling from childhood”
S.L.: What does a small child, a three-year-old do? First, it looks. Then, second movement: it grabs. Then, third movement: it smells. Then, fourth movement, it gobbles up! Fifth movement: it spits out, if the thing tastes bad. And if it tastes good, it swallows. So there’s all this movement…
When I buy a piece of fabric, for instant, I react in the same way. First movement: the eye; second movement: going towards it; third movement: touching it. But immediately, touching means grabbing and lifting up to my nose, because I don’t buy a piece of fabric without smelling it. And if its wool, I need to find the smell of suint. If I smell honey, I want the smell of wax, the smell of the animal. But at one time, that was a violation: I had to violate myself to get there. I enjoy violating this feeling from childhood, of the overly delicate child I was. Overly delicate, in that I refused emotions… Ultimately, I was quite… rather mawkish, rather feminine, too introverted. I had to violate these feelings to enjoy.
I was caught up in an idea, in an imaged, in this false, mendacious delicacy. That delicate taste I had, was something I wanted. My father tried everything, desperately: he took me to see wrestling matches, boxing matches… I hated it, because he was with me, and then I hated it as a matter of principle. It was… because it was him. It was him. He’d refused me. A man who denies you his name: could I accept anything from him? So it was hard. I was driven by all of this, but all of this also yielded La Fille de Berlin, La vierge de fer, very powerful things, actually. Violating this feeling: I had to manage to break out of it… Because perfume, for me, was a way of breaking out from myself. That’s what it was: that was my key, my key for breaking out from myself, for opening my own door. And L’Orpheline is precisely that… As you say, it’s “a quivering perfume”. That was a very lovely thing you said, very lovely.
The last installment will be posted on Friday 17 October.
The illustration is a still from R.W. Fassbinder's The Mariage of Maria Braun.