Perfumers belong to a select group of people who can lay claim to mastering one of the five senses. Yet in recent days, the traditional measurements of excellence are being overturned in favour of new, more radical results.
In this month's issue, we reported on Icelandic artist Andrea Maack, who's translated three of her elaborate line drawings into fragrances. Maack's artwork was the sole brief to Paris-based fragrance company, APF, who had the happy task of creating the perfumes with nothing else.
Not so far away in Paris, graphic design giants M/M shared Maack's sentiments about the conventional methods of fragrance creation, and chose Byredo's Ben Gorham as a collaborator for their own olfactory experiment. Known for their expertise in bringing the worlds of fashion, music and art together, M/M's directions were contained to a solid ink block from Asia, a photograph of a Japanese master calligrapher practicing his craft and a large utopian formula, hand drawn by M/M co-founder Mathias Augustyniak.
With the help of Jérôme Epinette, Gorham transformed the three images into M/Mink - a hypnotic scent of adroxal, incense, patchouli, clover honey and smoky amber that smells remarkably like ink before developing into a sensual, mysterious perfume that embodies the liquid's mysticism and allure.
This synesthetic approach lands both Maack and M/M in the company of other fragrances that have caught our eye, with similar cross-sensory unconventionality. Niche fragrance house Atelier Flou's potent perfumes are each conceived by former Balenciaga owner, Jean-Francois Cabos and brought to life by nose Jacques Chabert. 'I give Jacques drawings of my vision and he interprets them,' says Cabos, of the label's complex creations.
Across the Atlantic, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz started life as a painter, before becoming a fixture in the American niche perfume market over the years, using fine art principles to inform her creations. Her latest collection, Chroma Series, interprets artist's colours, such as Arnica, Celadon, Cyan, Viridian and Sienna in scent.
Most authentic however, is the work of Stéphane Humbert Lucas of Parisian perfume label Nez à Nez. An aware synesthete since the age of 25 and supremely open about his condition, Humbert prefers to draw or take photographs in preparation for a new scent. Once ready, he paints swirling, brooding canvases to construct a fragrance, each of which is exhibited on the packaging of the corresponding Nez à Nez box. 'I am not the king of this power,' Hubert explained. 'I see colours in my mind, but they usually disappear in a few seconds.'
Although such tendencies must make life complicated, the Nez à Nez fragrances, which Humbert creates with his wife Christa Patout, possess undoubted power, thanks to their unexpected blend of ingredients. The duo's 'Figues et Garçons,' a masculine ode to figs, juxtaposes the sweet freshness of the fruit with a darker, more sensual heart of cedar, musk and sandalwood, while 'Atelier d'Artiste' seeks to recreate the scent of Humbert's own studio, a mix of tobacco, vetiver, cognac, black coffee and patchouli, with a hit of vanilla to balance the heaviness.