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!

BY CLAIRE BINGHAM

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.

TOM DAXON
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.’
tomdaxon.com

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

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CLOON KEEN
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.
cloonkeen.com

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


IMAGINARY AUTHORS
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.’

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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…
imaginaryauthors.com

Byredo – 'Unnamed'

Created in 2016 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Swedish fragrance house Byredo, the limited edition ‘Unnamed’ perfume is back. Enjoy it while you can…

BY CLAIRE BINGHAM

The paradigms of perfume are shifting. It’s less cool to buy into a campaign image. It’s cooler to buy into niche. It’s extra cool to buy into a perfume when you don’t even know its smell. Or at least you do, but you have to identify it for yourself.

Always ahead of the curve, Swedish cult brand Byredo has relaunched its limited edition fragrance ‘Unnamed’. Back by popular demand, the perfume is literally unnamed – the point being to create olfactory associations of your own. Scent is subjective, after all, so this allows for your own thoughtful interpretations to flex their might. Minus ingredient cues, minus advertising, simply how does it make you feel?

Clever to the core, Byredo founder and creative director Ben Gorham has left the white label of ‘Unnamed’ blank, so you can call it whatever you like. The scent comes with a set of chic black transfers, including the letters of the alphabet, numbers, punctuation marks, symbols and signs, so you can add your own monogrammed title or just handwrite a name in the space. This is hyper-personalisation, courageous, creative and open to ideas. 

‘The names of the Byredo fragrances often describe the origin of an idea, a thought that leads to a brief presented to the perfumer,’ explains Gorham. ‘With fragrance being completely subjective these names spark the imagination of the perfumer and finally the customer. They each experience the fragrance even before they smell the ingredients in the bottle. We still find it fascinating that people interpret our fragrances in so many ways.’

Gorham continues: ‘To celebrate Byredo’s 10-year anniversary we created an unnamed fragrance that allows our customers to choose a name meaningful to them, and customise the label of their bottle. This is our way of celebrating the notion and uniqueness of smell and an opportunity to thank our partners, retailers and staff as well as the loyal customers who have supported and grown Byredo to what it is today.’

For people interested in the different messages it is possible to get across through perfume, and the effect it has on how we live and think, this concept is for you. For me, this fragrance is all violets and soft suede. I just need to work on the name…
byredo.co.uk

‘Unnamed’ eau de parfum re-edition, £160 for 100ml, is available now from select retailers and byredo.co.uk