Perfume's Literary Muses

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The Fizz takes a look at three creative perfume houses sourcing design inspiration from cultural icons and literature. Think stylish scent stories!


Perfume has long since taken an open-arms approach to inspiration. Sunny climes, nostalgic moments and time spent in the great outdoors can result in any number of olfactory creations. But some of today’s pioneering independent perfume labels, keen to align with individual stories, are taking a more scholarly route. Be it a poem, song or author, these cerebral reference points are an aspirational springboard for conjuring up an imaginative lifestyle – by way of scent.

London perfumer Tom Daxon recently collaborated with Mayfair art deco hotel The Beaumont for London Craft Week. Tasked with making a fragrance for one of the famous figures featured in guest room portraits, Daxon chose writer and political activist Nancy Cunard. He presented a rich version of his bestselling fragrance ‘Iridium’, with its notes of juniper, cedarwood and vetiver, in a new formula ramped up to a concentration of 71% fragrance oil. The Cubist-style bottle was hand-painted by London-based sign painter and friend Archie Proudfoot.

For the design, Daxon spoke with Proudfoot about the idea of interpreting the logo and fragrance name in an art deco, Cubist way, mirroring the style of the hotel, the iconic Antony Gormley structure on the side and Cunard’s own love of Cubism. ‘He immediately got it,’ says Daxon. ‘As for the fragrance itself, I had been curious about creating an ultra high-strength version of ‘Iridium’ ever since I had seen it was a possibility. The regulatory body, IFRA, sets the maximum concentration one can use in a fragrance according to its specific ingredients. For ‘Iridium’, its ‘IFRA max’ was 71% which is a rarity for us, as concentrations are normally much lower. We had a sample made up and I was surprised how much I fell for it; it’s not brash or harsh smelling. It’s still totally wearable but with a character all of its own.’

ABOVE: A selection of unisex perfumes from New York fragrance house Imaginary Authors
Tom Daxon ‘Iridium’ eau de parfum, £155 for 100ml

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Irish fragrance house Cloon Keen creates scents that are deeply entwined with Irish landscape, history and Gaelic tradition. Based in the heart of the medieval city of Galway, the atelier combines Ireland’s rich oral, literary, craft and design traditions to produce beautiful, meaningful work. Perfume ‘Róisín Dubh’ (Little Black Rose) takes its name from a subversive 16th-century song, which has become an enduring emblem to Irish artists. Candle ‘Autograph Tree’, with its heady fragrance of oud, exotic spices and incense, gets its moniker from the magnificent copper beech tree in the walled garden of Coole Park on which the faded initials of Irish writers Lady Gregory, W. B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Seán O’Casey and J. M. Synge linger. Here, literature very much sets the tone.

ABOVE LEFT: Cloon Keen ‘Autograph Tree’ candle, £40

In New York, unisex perfume brand Imaginary Authors is raising olfactory narratives to library level. The delicious sweet mint and bourbon-based ‘Saint Julep’ takes us on a trip through Mississippi to a ramshackle church, a refuge not for worship but a secular place for jukebox times. For the woozy, orange popsickle ‘Sundrunk’, their imagined author is called Clementine Cope, who set out from rural Montana in search of Californian surf.

‘I got into perfume through my business partner Josh Meyer,’ says co-founder and creative director Ashod Simonian of his personal journey with Imaginary Authors. ‘He was obsessed with niche perfume and taught himself how to mix, whereas my background is in design and brand building.’ Explaining the story-focused, mix-and-match collages that define each of their perfumes, Simonian says: ‘I used to play in bands and my introduction to design was through album covers. I've always appreciated the way a good album cover connects not only to the contents within but also to your heart. Books and dust jackets work the same way. I just love the way the right words over the right images can charm their way straight into the core of someone’s heart.’


ABOVE FROM LEFT: Imaginary Authors’ ‘Saint Julep’ and ‘Sundrunk’ eau de parfum, both US$95 for 50ml

‘I enjoy a white perfume label with simple black type as much as the next person but our perfumes are not that,’ adds Simonian. ‘There are so many layers and unexpected twists in our scents that they demanded a more artful approach to the branding. We built Imaginary Authors around the confluence of exceptional scents, alluring words and beautiful imagery. Because the language surrounding perfume has grown so tired, we wanted to separate ourselves from the pack. It was quite intentional to bake storytelling and design into our process rather than slap it on as an afterthought – or ignore it altogether.’

Each of the studio’s perfumes comes together differently – some start with a unique scent combination, others with a story or maybe a catchy title, but one of the main goals is to destroy the idea of a signature scent and, instead, treat perfumes like books. ‘One can never have too many books,’ Simonian continues. ‘After you've been exposed to one or two of our perfumes, our hope is you'll be hungry for more, that you'll keep expanding your bookshelf – not just with our products but with whatever scents might catch your nose. We want people who didn't even know they liked perfume to stumble onto our line and fall in love.’ We’re smitten…

Rennie Ellis x Kleins Perfumery

Surf, sex and shea butter… A radical new range of Australian body care products features the work of renowned photographer Rennie Ellis


We love brilliant beauty booty. We’re also partial to eagle-eyed photography and cleverly designed graphic packaging. Imagine our delight, then, when we spotted the new ‘Series: Rennie Ellis’ range by Kleins Perfumery, combining images from the legendary snapper’s archive with natural, Aussie-made body care products from Melbourne’s savviest independent perfume boutique.

It’s a marriage born of contrast as Rennie Ellis’s photos aren’t your average pretty pics. Australia’s most famous social-documentary photographer, Melbournian Ellis (1940-2003) is known for his shocking, sexy, in-your-face portrayal of clubbers, sunbathers and party people (think Martin Parr meets Nan Goldin down under!). His images from the Seventies and Eighties captured Australia walking on the wild side, from the drag queens of Sydney’s Kings Cross to Melbourne's sartorially striking Sharpies sub-culture.

Ellis was intrigued by “the offbeat, the erotic and the eccentric,” which was what drew Kleins’s founder Andrea Birnie to collaborate with the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive on the innovative range. The packaging is adorned with iconic Seventies shots of surfers at Lorne on Victoria's Great Ocean Road, working girls in Sydney and lagered-up lads in Melbourne's Fitzroy, as well as beachgoers and panel vans topped with surfboards. “I was attracted to the freedom of expression, exuberance and individuality I saw in the Seventies through Rennie’s eyes,” says Birnie. “As a people we seemed less inhibited, more independent.”

ABOVE RIGHT: 'No Standing, Only Dancing' triple-milled soap 200gm, AU$9.95
ABOVE FROM LEFT: 'Sharpies' body cream 250 ml, AU$29.95; 'Surfing World' body cream 250ml, AU$29.95


Kleins’s collection includes body washes, body and hand creams, and triple-milled soaps, with ingredients inspired by specific Ellis images and their titles. “The 'Lorne #3' hand cream needed shea butter to be rich and hydrating, but this also captures the surf culture of an Australian summer, rich with vanilla and tangy, sweet fruits,” says Birnie. “'Fitzroy Extrovert' handwash, on the other hand, was inspired by wild scents like Australian bush mint. We also thought the subject was a bit of a geezer, possibly from Calabria. We used Calabrian Bergamot and Sea Salt to capture his essence.” The result spells mighty fine.

Tested solely on Kleins Perfumery employees, the Ellis range is the first in the Series, which will evolve to feature more art, design and creative subjects, hopefully including more Ellis's portraits from the decadent Eighties and Nineties. Bring it on... 
Rennie Ellis: Decadent and Rennie Ellis: Decade, published by Hardie Grant Books, are available in select bookshops

ABOVE FROM LEFT: 'Fitzroy Extrovert' hand wash 50ml, AU$34.95; 'Good Vibes' hand wash 50ml, AU$34.95; 'Lorne #3' hand cream 75ml, AU$27.95; 'Back View' triple-milled soap 200gm, AU$9.95