UNTITLED AND M.A.D. QUESTIONS FOR CHANDLER BURR ~ A Series of Interviews

The_Perfume_Magazine__Chandler_Burr

“My intention with The Untitled Series is to give 100 people a month the same opportunity I had at the Times, the experience of perfume unprotected / constrained by marketing and unassisted by the sense of sight. ” Chandler Burr

(Photo Matthew Furman)

Imagine my surprise to discover only two weeks ago that Chandler Burr, author of “A Separate Creation”, “The Emperor of Scent”, “The Perfect Scent” and “You Or Someone Like You” was on Facebook. Not a group page or a fan page but just there, accessible  and smiling.  I then noticed that some of my fragrance friends were friends with him as well. There it was, the “+1 Add Friend” button right in front of me. Why not click that button I thought?

The next day I received a notice that Chandler Burr had accepted my “friendship’ request, so it was only proper to send a thank you note. And that connection leads us to this series of interviews with the former perfume critic for the New York Times, Former Curator of, the Department of Olfactory Art at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City.  Author, lecturer and organizer of the incredible Scent Dinners and the man who couldn’t get Matt Lauer to loosen up and smell the roses admit he liked a perfume on the Today show.

Over the next few weeks Mr. Burr will be interviewed by a select group of perfume bloggers each with very different and exciting points of view. (You will be able to follow them from here with links as they happen.) The two main topics we will be discussing are as follows.

The recent Museum of Art And Design exhibition created by Chandler Burr, “The Art of Scent 1889 – 2012”  and the wonderful Catalog and the essays from the exhibition.  And the incredible “Untitled Series” at Open Sky.  On this series a perfume is presented blind each month to be tested with out the participants knowing anything about it. Then at the end of the month the perfume is revealed with the opportunity to be purchased if the participants so desire.  At the end of this interview there are links to the M.A.D. catalog and the Untitled Series. (The catalog with samples of each perfume are for sale. The link is at the end of the interview)

It gives me great pleasure to present to you my interview with Chandler Burr, a man of great charm, wit, talent, and generosity. A man with a magnificent nose.

Lanier Smith:   Let’s talk about a few of the perfumes and artist featured in the Catalog you’re your recent “The Art of Scent 1889 – 2012” exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design.  Actually less about the perfumes but about the questions that arise in my mind from the wonderful essays you wrote in the catalog. “Jicky” and genitals. As I understand it, at the time that “Jicky” was created in 1889 there were no gender assignments to perfume. Just as there is no gender assignment to the Eiffel Tower created the very same year. When did that change and why?

 Aimé Guerlain

Aimé Guerlain (1834–1910)

“ The genius of Jicky is that it could never have existed
in nature. Guerlain had created both a new work of art
and a new art form.” Candler Burr

Chandler Burr: It changed mid-20th century for a very specific reason: the industry needed to sell perfume to heterosexual American men, and given that for some reason straight American men instantly equate scent with femininity—which Italian and French men don’t, at all—perfume marketers had to use gendering to give them psychoemotional permission to wear scent. So they put “homme” or “for him” or whatever on the bottles, and the guys calmed the hell down.

Francis Fabron

Francis Fabron (1913–2005)

“L’Interdit
is extraordinary for its strange beauty,
which ignores time. It is a work that
smells as if it were made tomorrow.” Chandler Burr

Lanier Smith: The legend says and the ads would lead us to believe that “L’Interdit” was created by Hubert de Givenchy for Audrey Hepburn. Now thanks to you turning the spotlight on the true artists of the medium of scent we know it was created by Francis Fabron. How important is the actual smell of a perfume to the fashion house—Givenchy for instance—compared to the advertising? Where does most of the money go in the creation of a perfume?

Chandler Burr: I get this question all the time, and the answer is a little frustrating because it’s easy to respond that—somewhat infuriatingly—most of the money goes into the packaging and marketing. And on a bottle by bottle basis, that’s true; in general the majority of the money per bottle goes into the bottle + cap + cardboard liner + cardboard box + the marketing images on the box, in billboards, on the designer’s website and vimeo and the Condé Nast Entertainment network + the film in which a model or actor walks moodily through a Greek ruin/ Versailles hallway/ high-production value film set.

But it’s not that simple. It’s been a surprise to me to be told the actual prices of several of the juices we take for granted, frequently perfumes I didn’t think of as particularly expensive (they are). And the willingness of a patron to give the artist a serious amount of money to work with per kilo makes it somewhat irrelevant that, per bottle, the packaging costs more. (Add the complexity of the different concentrations, which hugely changes the price.) Multiply 100ml of expensive oil-in-alcohol-solution, and you can get to a vertiginous investment very fast.

When Jerry Vittoria brought the Firmenich perfumers and evaluators on a tour of the Dept of Olfactory Art at MAD we had a fascinating debate about whether or not they, the perfumers themselves, cared about the bottle. Again, surprisingly to me—I just assume everyone in the industry shares my “who the hell cares about the wrapping, let’s just smell the juice” opinion—Harry Fremont said he absolutely wanted his perfumes in their bottles with their images. At which Ilias (I think it was) said he absolutely would prefer everything in a lab bottle, which I agreed with of course, at which other perfumers argued that the visuals were inherent to the experience, and I said my usual thing about “You don’t wear the bottle or the girl, you wear the juice” (startled at having to make this argument to perfumers) and so on.

By the way my understanding is that de Givenchy told Hepburn he was naming the perfume “Audrey Hepburn,” to which she replied, “Je vous l’interdit!” (I forbid you from doing it), so he called it l’Interdit. Who knows if it’s true; it certainly makes a nice story. And it’s an insanely killer perfume. Imminently wearable today. One of the all-time greats. I wear it.

 audrey_hepburn_perfune_adjpg

Magazine add for l’interdit by Givenchy

Lanier Smith:   With the emergence of the American School with “Aromatic Elixir” by Bernard Chant it seems that opens the way to many other American design houses to take off as they did in the 1970’s and 80’s. Yet isn’t it true that the first American perfume to rock the French establishment was Estee Lauder’s “Youth Dew”? Was that a fluke or a forerunner to the emergence of the United States as a power in the world of perfume?

Bernard Chant

Bernard Chant (1927–1987)

“Aromatics Elixir transcended the somber
formality of classical French style and
gave way to a work capable of conveying
multiple narratives simultaneously.
Here was a French story, but the story
was told, for the first time, in English.” Chandler Burr

Chandler Burr: My understanding is that, yes, Youth Dew was the first American perfume. Commissioned by perhaps the greatest of American scent patrons, Estée Lauder, created by an American artist, Josephine Catapano. It was a forerunner, but as I pointed out the Art of Scent exhibition, when artists import styles from other cultures, they often work in the school then-dominant—or, even more conservatively, a previous, hallowed school. In this case it was the classical late 19th-century French school. Youth Dew reassured clients that, even though it was Made In America, it was thoroughly French, in the way that Lexus first put out cars that if anything out-Mercedesed Mercedes. Made In Japan but as good as Made In Germany. Once established, Lexus came into its own, as did American patrons and scent artists.

Lanier Smith:   I never got “Angel” by Olivier Cresp and thought it too sweet for my nose. But in the context of Surrealism it makes perfect sense and I can appreciate its maladjusted juxtaposition of notes with a fresh nose. Now it is fun. Placing perfume in the world of art is extraordinary and to some it seems a stretch.  Why is it important for the world to understand that a bottle of “Angel” is just as valid and important as the “Christ of Saint John on the Cross” by Salvador Dali?

 Olivier Cresp

Olivier Cresp (b. 1955)

“Cresp’s use of ethyl maltol, which he
transformed from subtle ornament to
fundamental structural material,
pushed olfactory art to new extremes
and placed shocking artificiality in
full view. This was the progenitor of an
olfactory Pop Art movement that arrived
in the mid-1990s and continues today.” Chandler Burr

Chandler Burr: I’m glad it made sense for you when seen as Surrealist art. That one seemed overwhelmingly obvious to me—as does Industrialism for Drakkar Noir, which is in fact a better example of Industrialist art than virtually any other you could name in any medium—but I was concerned about some of them. Calder’s work that broke sculptures up into pieces and made them move in space around each other, dividing and re-coalescing into the same-but-different works, seemed quite like Cresp’s approach in Light Blue. So I called Calice Becker, somewhat apprehensively, started to explain my aesthetic reasoning, and at the words “Alexander Calder” she said, “Perfect.” I was relieved.

Lanier Smith: The tastes of the masses seem to be at a watered down level of safe sugar and laundry fresh. Geared more toward the teen-aged audience than more sophisticated noses.  For a very long time perfume has been moving away it seems from the classic feel of perfumes like “Chanel No.5”, “Shalimar” and the like. But with “Prada Amber” by Carlos Benaim, Max Gavarry and Clement Gavarry in the “Art of Scent” exhibition you herald the arrival of Neo-Romanticism. Do you believe that the truly great perfumes of the future will only come from “niche” designers or can a Dior or Chanel still be viable to as important creative perfume houses?

Carlos Max Clement Prada Amber

Carlos Benaïm (b. 1944),
Max Gavarry (b. 1937), and
Clément Gavarry (b. 1977)

“Prada Amber, however, is a unique
contemporary work in that it draws
directly and principally from the 19th century
school. In lesser hands, it could
easily have fallen into a mere pastiche.” Chandler Burr

Chandler Burr: I admit it’s extremely rough for the big houses to take risks, perhaps the largest risk being—again—putting a serious amount of money into the work. I can make lofty statements like, “In the long run if they don’t make beautiful, which means somewhat costly, works, they’ll find [mass] clients dropping away [mostly just by buying less mediocre perfume, not due to trading up to expensive niche]” but there are, of course, so many exceptions to that that who knows if it’s true. For a good suit, you drop coin. See under: Tom Ford—I don’t even go in the store at the moment, maybe in a few years. For shirts, shorts, flip flops, I love Old Navy. There are some awesome perfume flip flop equivalents, and there’s nothing wrong with wearing them. But they’re not going to last. I’m thinking about the top 30, and some are Old Navy’s, but others are (metaphorically) Tom Fords.

Beyond Paradise and Sensual were both very expensive juices and innovative perfumes. Neither made it; my personal opinion: Beyond Paradise is excellent. Flower Bomb, Coco Mademoiselle—a work of pure loveliness—Angel, Pleasures, all of these are innovative and costly, all are commercial brands, and all are killing it. So who the hell knows.

Lanier Smith:   Now I have a few questions about the exciting Untitled Series on Open Sky. Did this idea come from your Scent Dinners? If not how did you come up with the concept that is so exciting. A whole month of smelling a perfume without Brad Pitt or Natalie Portman whispering in your ear how much you should love it.

 the-untitled-series-s01e01

Chandler Burr: The idea for the Untitled Series didn’t come from the Scent Dinners. It came directly from the way my assistant and I smelled things at the NY Times. I had great assistants. The point of my Scent Notes column was that it was exclusively juice, juice, juice, so we had a very specific approach. Every week my assistant would arrive before I did, unpack the new scents that had arrived that week, and I’d come in half an hour later, drop my backpack, and sit down. He or she would, wordlessly, hand me an unmarked white blotter, and we’d smell. You weren’t allowed to change expression at all. When we felt like it, one of us would start reacting, and the conversation would go from there.

The scents we agreed were good we’d then put on skin—the canvas on which perfume is designed to be experienced—again without looking at the packaging. I tried not to look at the packaging until after I wrote the column.

My intention with The Untitled Series is to give 100 people a month the same opportunity I had at the Times, the experience of perfume unprotected / constrained by marketing and unassisted by the sense of sight. To be honest it’s insanely difficult to arrange each episode, and the Series never would have happened if it hadn’t been for Miuccia Prada. I asked her, and she personally agreed to let me take Infusion d’Iris out and put it in a little lab bottle. She anchored the whole thing.

Smelling perfumes this way is a physically different experience. Your reaction is deeply different. It just is. And that shouldn’t be surprising at all, and I have a very specific example. Think of someone lending you a painting. It could be an original, authentic Tatsuro Kiuchi, whose work I love.

 Tatsuro Kiuchi

It could be a Cy Twombly, whose work I loathe and look down on and which sells for zillions.

 Cy Twombly

It could be a Velázquez, who I think is stupendous.

 Las Meninas

It could be a real Alex Katz, whose work I disliked until Ecco, who published my novel, put two of his paintings together to create my jacket cover, and after 24 hours I loved it.

 You Or Someone Like You

Or it could be a canvas by some kid at NYU art school that you bought for $200. Not a fake. Just not a work recognized as having any aesthetic significance or brilliance. I would never be an asshole and put a crappy juice in an Untitled in order to run some sort of Emperor’s New Clothes experiment, the less important reason being that the people buying the Untitleds are a self-selected group who in about three seconds would be saying, “Yo, Burr, this is garbage.” This really isn’t a game, and so the more important reason is that the Series exists to present masterpieces. Of all kinds. The Untitled you order may indeed be a Goya or a Katz—a Ropion, a Buzantian, the new Vasnier, where the artist’s name is a brand like Goya’s, a name that would immediately make you give the work respect (and market value) even before you’ve smelled it, but as an Untitled you get to smell works without any “startist” (terrible word, but you get the idea) baggage crowding you.

The lab bottle the UPS guy delivers to you may also be a work by a total unknown, some artist you’ve never heard of who has no cachet at all but who I think has produced something extraordinary. Or you could be getting what I consider an underrated masterpiece. That’s one of the explicit purposes of the Series, rediscovering these things. That’s why I did S01E02. Mugler Cologne will, I believe, be recognized by art history as one of the greatest works of olfactory art ever created. And we have another wildly underrated great by a famous artist coming this fall. You’ll get it somewhere in S02E01 to E04.

As for S01E10, it’s by an autodidact artist and is brand new on the market. And I’m going to include one in spring 2014 that is a twist on that—not that exactly but sort of that. And it’s not, at all, just about the juice. As several people who are playing have noted, the cost is the ticket price to an experience that doesn’t exist anywhere else: the experience of blindness in an ongoing exhibition of works in an art form that really is only perfectly experienced by the blind

Lanier Smith:   Will you be popping in an old classic to see how that plays with the audience? Perhaps “L’Aimant” by Coty just to see how many people think it is “No.5”? Well that might not be fair but will there be some classics in the Untitled Series?

Yes.

Lanier Smtih:   I think we neglect our noses and since I became involved in my passion for perfume I have noticed that my sense of smell is much more acute. The format for Untitled Series is very much like a college course in fragrance with a lecture, class participation and experimentation and interaction. Don’t you think there should be a class or two in universities on how to use your nose? How would you go about teaching a class in fragrance? Art History, Science, Economics?

Chandler Burr:  My whole goddamn life for the past seven years has been building the case for every art historian, art history and fine arts department, museum curator, and gallerist to treat scent the way they would paint. Teaching a class in olfactory art should be no more, or less, difficult than teaching a class in music—or music theory or color theory; that’s the equivalent of teaching a class in scent materials and their interactions and qualities versus teaching a class in the works made with them. It’s going to come in the future. Just as photography came and settled in. And when it’s established people will wonder why it ever didn’t exist.

Lanier Smith:   Is there a chance “The Art of Scent” exhibition may hit the road and visit other cities around the world?

Chandler Burr: We’re actively working on traveling “The Art of Scent.” I’m writing a new introduction to the show, I’ve designed another section, which is an Entry, to go along with the Gallery section and the Salon section and to set up the conceptual basis for the show more clearly than the Museum of Arts and Design version. It will in fact be very different and much better experience.

970469_10153097286225076_1414251954_n

Lanier Smith:   My favorite perfume moment in the movies is from “Butterfield-8”. That delicious Metro Color infused opening scene when Elizabeth Taylor in her skin tight Helen Rose slip sits down at Dina Merrill’s dressing table and passes judgment over a few bottles of perfume. Then finding one she likes, “Tabac Blond”  I am told, slathers herself with sensuous abandon then coolly steals Miss Merrill’s mink coat.  Do you have a favorite perfume moment in film?

Chandler Burr: I actually don’t. In fact I’m thinking about it and—I haven’t seen “Scent of a Woman,” which would have given me one—I don’t think I can name a single moment in any movie that uses scent. I take that back. In “Duplicity” Julia Roberts lands at the airport and drives around for 20 minutes to make sure she isn’t being tailed before she parks at the house where Clive Owen is waiting for her. He grabs her at the front door, leans in to kiss her, murmurs, “You smell terrific,” and she rolls her eyes, pushes him off and says, “I *smell like a rental car.” Which is a very precise and very powerful line. The estimable Tony Gilroy wrote it.

10juli600

Julia Roberts passes a perfume counter in “Duplicity” (2009)

Tony-Gilroy-267539-1-402Writer Dirctory, Tony Gilroy

M.A.D. Catalog (which you can purchase) : http://thestore.madmuseum.org/products/the-art-of-scent-1889-2012

Untitled Series on Open Sky: http://www.opensky.com/member/chandlerburr?content=loves

Chandler Burr’s Website: http://www.chandlerburr.com/

Interview Participants in order of appearance:

The Perfumed Dandy:  http://theperfumeddandy.com/

Australian Perfume Junkies: http://australianperfumejunkies.com/

Smelly Thoughts:  http://smellythoughts.wordpress.com/

Another Perfume Blog: http://anotherperfumeblog.com/

EauMG:  http://www.eaumg.net/

What Men Should Smell Like:  http://whatmenshouldsmelllike.com/

The Scented Hound: http://thescentedhound.wordpress.com/

The Fragrant Man: http://thefragrantman.com/

Photos of the olfactory artists and selected excerpts are from the Museum of Art and Design catalog “The Art Of Scent ~ 1989 – 2012”

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45 Comments

  1. Terrific interview, Lanier. Many thanks to you and Chandler for sharing your conversation with us!

  2. So many facts in this interview. It is really a pleasure to read it!

  3. Wonderful work buddy. I am really proud of, and for, you. this is a genius idea and Chandler seems so warm and enthusiastic, I’d like to meet him.
    Portia xx

    • Thank you Portia! Yes Chandler is very warm and a joy to work with on this…as you will see!

  4. Reading this made me so very happy. I have admired Chandler Burr’s work and writing for years. He and Luca and Tania are my perfume fairy godparents. His accessibility and ability to convey concepts are so important for us in the world who are not so well versed or educated about fragrance. He takes the elitist snobbery out of the perfume world and shows us what it really is. Perfume is as much a form of fine art as a sculpture or painting or film. I was so excited to hear about his desire to create a way of educating people on how to build the powers of the nose. Lanier, thank you so very much, for asking the good questions and sharing Chandler’s answers with us.

    • Tora I am thrilled that you got so much out of this little interview. Remember there is even more to come!

  5. There are many contemporary and historical definitions of what the word “art” means but if you look at all of the most commonly accepted ones, scent most certainly fits the bill as easily as any of the other “fine arts.” Thank you both so much for this wonderful interview–I learned a lot and it inspired as well. Merci!

    PS. Lanier, I made a little mention of Scents Memory today over at my place, I hope you don’t mind.

    • Bonjour Heather! No I don’t mind at all over at your place in Arles. How thrilling that you found inspiration in the interview.

  6. Truly enjoyed reading this! Thank you!

  7. Reblogged this on BEGUILING HOLLYWOOD and commented:
    Literature informs the soul, even in Hollywood. I found this out when I read Chandler Burr’s novel, “You Or Someone Like You”. Imagine my delight when I found that, not only was he being interviewed by Lanier of Scents Memory, but that he had written two books on the art of perfume. Why is it that some of my favorite writers find their way into literature through scent?

    • Thanks Vickie! You are the Best for sharing this with your readers! You know that is a very good question and now I am pondering…. By the way when your Novel comes out I know that Heddy Hooper wants an interview! Big hugs from San Francisco to Hollywood!

  8. So much to savour in this great interview – The Perfect Scent is one of my favourite books and I was so sorry to finish it! My favourite phrase from this comprehensive look at the market down the years is ‘perfume flipflop equivalents’ – priceless!

  9. Fascinating interview. It would be interesting to see if Mr Burr’s prognostication concerning the teaching of classes in Olfactory Art comes true or not; I could certainly see it happening at a – horrible word – niche level, as the comparison to Photography is, it seems to me, to inexact a parallel to be entirely convincing. That gauche quibble aside there seems to be no reason why it couldn’t happen to some extent. Thanks for this informative piece, Lanier, and I really like the Butterfield-8 memory!

  10. Beautifully done, Lanier! Excellent job, and lots of lovely details. And a big BRAVO to Mr. Burr for linking art, artistic styles across the decades, and perfumery. It’s really genius, but also very apt.

    • Thank you Kafka! It was so much fun to work on this with Chandler Burr. He has a fabulous brain attached to that magnificent nose.

  11. Great interview! I love Burr’s response of Youth Dew. It is the most Made in America French thing ever.

  12. And yet again, congratulations and good for you, dear Lanier. I will need a lot of time to devour all this information, but I will. I am happy for you. I hope you will make the most of it.

    • Thank you Jose! Yes it is a lot to take in and there will be more to come on the other blogs in this series. Stay tuned for more!

  13. Great start to what’s going to be a wonderful series Lanier. You’ve set the bar high my friend.

    • My friend The Scented Hound! Thank you so much. I can’t wait to see what your interview will be like. This is indeed exciting.

  14. Brilliant interview from Jicky, L’Interdit to Open Sky and hopefully a traveling “Art of Scent”. How marvelous to have him now as your “friend” on FB!

    • Mary! It was hard to keep this under my hat! I almost told you about it on Saturday! I am glad I didn’t and left you to discover it on your own.

  15. So much to think about I had to read this twice. Flip-flops = Jandals in the lands Down Under. It would be great if the Art of Scent ‘show’ went travelling as an art exhibition.

  16. Chandler is such a joy to read, because he brings so much to the table, and you did a fine job Lanier (that was an interesting and touching bio to read too) in bringing this out. Thanks to this I discovered your blog, which I was unaware of previously, so it’s doubly great.

    However I do have some quibbles about the premise, which I have voiced to Chandler himself. Let’s try to be short, if possible.

    As an archeologist-historian-art historian myself (don’t ask, coming from a geeky family does these useless things to you) I have a serious doubt that, short of a time machine and a life span equivalent to Methuselah’s, one can’t possibly discern what the artistic purpose of a classic or older fragrance had been on the part of the perfumer and the art director (let’s not leave art directors out, as in the olden days as much as in the contemporary perfumery world, they contributed a lot to the concept and execution of the finished scent). The fragrances tested by Chandler (and any critic writing in the here & now) contrary to the paintings or photography or sculptures or musical pieces are not set in stone; they have changed and changed they have IMMENSELY, via reformulation, changing techniques, cost of supplies, unavailability of certain materials and of course allergens and ethical concerns. Therefore today’s L’Interdit (“the forbidden”) for instance is at the very least version 4.0, which makes it four-fold removed from the Fabron vision minimum….

    Not only that, but even the perfume collector scouring yard sales and auction sites, looking for vintage perfume, can’t form a concise and 100% accurate view of the scent, because by its very nature perfume is transient; perishable; meant to be diffusive. Once you open a bottle, you can’t put the molecules back in, but even the remaining molecules are influenced in non foreseeable ways: oxidation, aging, maturing, turning, all the nuances of the effect of TIME. Time doesn’t influence other art forms as much, which is largely why they have such a theoretical bulk of work behind them; one has centuries of luxe languor to think about them and ponder all they like. But perfume is fleeting. That is its beauty, but also its greatest drawback to the careful archiver and perfume historian. And ultimately the stumbling point on a project such as the admirable effort by Chandler…

    Lastly, I believe Las Meninas is by Velasquez, not Goya. Both Spanish, but in a different style and time context. Much like different editions of L’Interdit, to take but one fragrant example… 🙂

    • Welcome Perfume Shrine! So nice to have you here. You make some very interesting points. I shall check with Chandler on which Goya we should have up!

    • Dear Shrine (I do hope you don’t mind my butting in Lanier)
      An interesting series of points with which I have a degree of sympathy.
      However, I do think that it’s perhaps a little absolute to make any argument on the value on art contingent upon its constancy through time.
      Whilst ‘modern European fine art’ (by which I mean painting and sculpture from the 14th century onward) may appear impervious to time, self evidently this is not the case.
      Alter pieces are shorn of their religious context, triptychs separated and shown apart, patinas develop.
      Though no one would argue that the change is as fundamental as that between iterations of a fragrance they are inarguably profound.
      However, it is with music and dance that I would draw the closest parallels. We can have no idea exactly how classical music as recent as Mozart sounded to the composer’s contemporaries, and much of the Baroque catalogue is, to put it generously, subject to significant guesswork as far as interpretation is concerned.
      Could it not be argued that we have the composition and notes in both music and (to admittedly a lesser and less public extent) perfume but the means of communication, in one case instruments in the other aromachemicals. change?
      An aria such as Dido’s Lament from Purcell’s ‘Dido and Aeneas’ is an excellent case in point, its interpretation in the ‘classical’ style of a modern singer with full contemporary orchestration is wholly different to the trained ear to that by a ‘Baroque-style’ soloist accompanied by ‘period’ or reconstructed instruments.
      Yet the melody, ‘the tune’ is recognisable.
      Is this not the case with Jicky or Shalimar or Cuir de Russie?
      They are, to deploy a musical metaphor again, variations on a theme.
      No one though would seriously suggest that music and its study are not an art form and its attendant branch of academic knowledge.
      The case with dance is even more pronounced, balletic notation being what it is and film of performances scarce, beyond grand gesture much of the canon is, beyond broad brush, a reinterpretation of an original work only a tiny number of people will have seen.
      Are we to believe that Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is not an impression of the same work of art that appeared in Moscow in 1877 though no one alive saw it?
      I believe it is the same artistry expressed differently.
      Likewise careful versions of a great perfume (from all of this I exclude hatchet jobs and ‘new scents masquerading as old’).
      As if to prove the point that the truth is often more complex than it first appears, Las Meninas is by both Valasquez and Goya as the latter artist reproduced it for print, an act which popularized the original,
      So, a perfect metaphor for how scents develop and change over time and editions.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

      • Dear Dandy (and all),

        thank you for the extended reply with lots of interesting commentary.

        To get this trifle out of the way first: I meant the specific “Las Meninas” painting in this particular post, coming after the comment about how Chandler loves Goya, is actually by Velazquez (I paused to wonder whether it was chosen among favorite paintings and randomly put under the Goya mention or simply a slip).

        Art restoration can do wonders; perfumery surgical work is defective at the very best, unless we’re talking about the work at the Osmotheque (not the case here).

        Though ballet/dancing is a subject I know only peripherally (and your points are excellent on its transience), I can present specific arguments to showcase my position on music.
        You state: “Could it not be argued that we have the composition and notes in both music and (to admittedly a lesser and less public extent) perfume but the means of communication, in one case instruments in the other aromachemicals. change?”
        Perhaps this is exactly the misunderstanding between those in one camp and others in the other camp.

        The means of communication in fine art -such as music- are not just the instruments (which have been reconstituted most admirably, as Baroque listeners know), i.e. the raw materials (to bring your own analogy with perfumery): there is also specific notation on the actual text (on the music sheet), agreed upon by all musicians in western music since at least the time of Giovanni Gabrieli and Palestrina.
        For instance, when I see “fortissimo” I know that I have to play it really loud; when I see “sforzanto piano” I know I’m supposed to “pounce” on the clavier and increase the dynamics in a sudden and unexpected manner and immediately soften my touch; the composer is giving me a very specific compass into navigating into the piece!

        But it’s not only reserved in dynamics; there is an extended language involving the way the instrument is touched (marcato vs tenuto etc), the tempo (variations in rhythmical style), even emotion (vivace denotes liveliness, not only quickness) .

        There is none of these “directions to navigators” in perfumery!

        There is also a significant body of work behind mere musical notation, written sources chronicling various interpretive styles employed by the composers themselves (of virtuosi such as Liszt, Paganini or Chopin) and of their famous interpreters of the time. The modern interpreter is informed as to how past artists played things (not only through recordings, but also through text), has the benefit of the composer’s compass as detailed above and can also feel a bit free to add their own small contribution (even Baroque composers allowed for an improvised apoggiatura and of course the rubato technique has famously been wildly abused by Chopin interpreters).

        Although it can be argued that some of the common vocabulary among professional perfumers can be compared (though much less diversified) to musical vocabulary among professional musicians, the end result weaned between the listener of music and the recipient of fragrant fumes (the “sniffeur/sniffeuse” to coin a pretentious French sounding word for it) is miles apart in comprehension.

        Plus my other point is that for such an exhibition, by default and exigency of practicalities, one has to judge according to the juice produced contemporarily: this is what the companies themselves provide! By definition they do not even TRY to approximate the vintage composition (where this applies, modern juice is thankfully safer, though also time-contextualized as in 5 years’ time even the moderns will be reformulated). We all know through experience with vintage perfumes and wild reformulations it’s so, so any judgement that bypasses the body of work preceding it (i.e. the past “versions”/interpretations) is destined to remain just that: an interpretation. Not a definitive critique. So it can’t be compared to -say- film critique which indeed has an extensive body of work behind it, even for a medium that’s little more than a century old.

        Like I said, it’s an Herculean task and Chandler did the very best he could with what he was given to work with.

      • Dear Shrine
        Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comments, I felt that your little treatise inspired by the article
        Firstly to what you describe as ‘this trifle’.
        Clearly the work as pictured is Velazquez’s produced in the Court of Philip IV in the mid 1650s.
        No doubt this was a simple error; however, mistakes can often be illuminating.
        The point I was making was a broader and, evidently, subtler one.
        Namely that ‘Las Meninas’ as a concept can be said to belong both to Velasquez and Goya as the latter reproduced the work in etching (a handful of proofs surviving to this day) and later embodied the earlier painting in the manner and composition deployed in his work Charles IV of Spain and His Family.
        Indeed in the case of another 11 of Velasquez’s works Goya’s prints would have been far more available and well known in the 18th century than the originals ever were.
        Without wishing to patronise by labouring the point, the parallels with perfume are apparent: a great work is produced by one artist, then reproduced sometime after by another individual using very different materials and method (in this case etching versus painting, black and white versus colour). It is this second version that becomes popular and recognised as the work of art whereas a tiny number of people, those in possession of ‘the original’, are familiar with the actual painting.
        The print industry being what it is in the 18th and 19th centuries other copies by other ‘artists’ are made, not of the original but of the copy, in addition the quality of plates and paper vary thus the versions diversify.
        So the individual work of art becomes something more akin to a mini-genre in and of its own right, recognisable in its various forms but undeniably different.
        For a particularly apposite example, preferring as I do to deal in concretes rather than fine sounding but empty abstract absolutes, one could take Hogarth’s ‘A Harlot’s Progress’.
        The six original paintings are lost. Destroyed in 1755 they can never be recreated. No Osmotheque can come to the rescue here. Equally, this loss pre-dating photography no realist record remains.
        However, the work of art is absolutely not lost to us, it survives through the engravings made after the original by Hogarth himself and by the innumerable ‘pirate’ copies made up until he persuaded the British Parliament in to creating a copyright law specifically to protect his creation.
        “A Harlot’s Progress” is one of the most socially significant and academically studied works of pictorial art dating from Britain in the mid-18th century, yet the ‘original’ has not existed for over 250 years.
        Proof positive that critical study need not end with the ‘original’ item itself and that ‘copies’, ”facsimiles’, ‘versions’ or ‘reproductions’ can sustain intellectual enquiry.
        One final point on this… one which as an art historian I feel sure you will be able to answer. Do students of art history write only about or reference those works that they have seen in person?
        Frankly, we all know this isn’t the case. As such much critical activity depends not on ‘originals’ but fair, or even less fair copies.
        Space is against us here, so as you have conveniently set aside dance: arguably the closest match to perfume in terms both of its ephemeral nature and its exclusivity of knowledge (choreography being passed down through experience much as one is led to believe perfume compositions once were), I shall reluctantly do so too.
        On music, however, whilst impressed by your absolute confidence in, perhaps even devotion to, the ‘directions to navigators’ you feel you are supplied with, I find your implication that it is possible to recreate exactly the sound and experience of a Baroque piece of music today wholly unconvincing.
        For that is the high bar you are setting for perfume: exact recreation of ‘the original’.
        Leaving aside the fact that many historical museums settle for less, let’s look at whether such reproduction in the concert hall is any more attainable, or even desirable. I think not…
        Are the instruments the same? No.
        Is the training of musicians the same. By definition as they are playing different instruments… No.
        Is musical notation the same? You seem to indicate yes, but the migration from mensural to modern bar notation, the obsolescence of certain musical terms and the creation of new ones, differences between ‘original’ manuscripts and different contemporary ‘versions’ of scores all clearly indicate: No.
        Are the acoustics of concert halls, even those dating from the time of composition the same? No
        Is the prism of our consciousness, through which we ‘see’ (hear) the music the same. Again, and resoundingly… No.
        Live, performed, music exists exclusively at the time of its performance. It is ephemeral in fact that
        Far more ephemeral and un-reproducible than two blasts of scent from the same bottle.
        However, as I originally pointed out, music is a metaphor not a perfect analogy for perfume.
        It is a changing, evolving interpretive art form and that is what it shares with scent.
        The purpose of the metaphor is to indicate that absolute constancy in all art is a fallacy.
        All works of art are to a degree subject to change over time: consider the Parthenon Sculptures at The British Museum, pristine white today as they would never have been in antiquity.
        Holding up a false ideal of an unchanging essence as the bedrock on which something is determined as art or not art, worthy of critical discourse or silence, museum display or bathroom cabinet storage, is misleading and self defeating.
        There is no need for a perfume to be absolutely identical over time for it to be considered art, subject to critical enquiry or even worthy of museum display.
        That is to create a false hurdle for the olfactory arts to clear that does not exist for the others.
        That stifles debate and appreciation.
        All I am saying is ‘Give Perfume A Chance’.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

      • Apologies the first line above should have read…
        “I felt that your little treatise inspired by the interview deserved a detailed response”.
        Excuse me too for any other typos… this is not a medium best suited to writing at length!
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

      • Dear Dandy,
        in response to your lengthy -and again intriguing latest 3rd comment-
        in as short a reply as the medium allows:

        Your point on Goya vs. Velazquez is well taken, I got it the first time around. And it would be supreme, had there not been for a 3rd version of Las Meninas, this time by Picasso! To give it a perfume touch, the structure of the composition (because that is the point of the painting, not the subjects/brush technique/color) has even inspired perfume ads!! http://perfumeshrine.blogspot.com/2008/01/optical-scentsibilities-art-of.html
        Clearly, taken side by side, these only serve to highlight that we’re dealing with an archetype being prismatically viewed from different angles. Same as with a Cuir de Russie composition: it can take so many different takes! It’s still a CdR mould, granted, but when dealing with an archetype it suffices to change one iota to have a different beast on your hands.

        Besides, I never ascribed to the view of “prints are just as good as genuine artwork” where people hang illustrations of famous paintings on their walls in lieu of the originals (Well, no one of us can afford the Masters originals, LOL! But we CAN afford other original artwork of artisanal nature).
        As a student, I perused the halls of Prado and of Reina Sofia and it is astounding to see the originals of some famous paintings because they’re SO VERY DIFFERENT from what we see on books; size for one -as well as lighting- makes for a huge difference in perception. Obviously art students can’t make the pilgrimage of all the museums and galleries in the world, but you get my point.
        Re: the Parthenon marbles, obviously the scrapping done at the British Museum to render a “whiter than white white” is sacrilegious. But also the placement on the actual Parthenon temple (or at least in the New Acropolis Museum in Athens) renders them in a contextual frame that is impossible to recreate anywhere else in the world: they live and breathe only on the ancient route of the Panathenaic Procession.

        In a way we don’t disagree that much. I just hold the opinion that it’s easier to approximate (there’s never tautology) in other media than in perfumery (and in choreography as well).

        Not that it matters so much; it only matters if we try to compartmentalize and attribute time-contextual art movements to the perfumes, while the latter are judged by modern standards of production which render them different enough touched by other perfumers working on the master’s work, while the artworks are in contrast -still-frozen in time.

        The piece de resistance (and my whole doubt re: art’s perception by the non expert) is: How much are we also influenced by the passing on of masterpiece perceived and critiqued as a masterpiece?

        I can’t possibly repeat everything I had written on this, so for those interested you can find my views on this link:
        http://perfumeshrine.blogspot.gr/2009/05/art-revered-for-sake-of-reverence.html

        Thank you Lanier for allowing us the space to air this most interesting discussion and bowing to everyone participating.

  17. And I managed to make a typo: Velazquez. (I’m so used to writing this in Greek characters instead) Sorry about that!

    • Update: 8/23 Goya was inserted in the place of Velazquez by mistake.

  18. Thanks for organizing what is sure to be a fascinating project, and for kicking it off with such a thought provoking interview. Much kudos to you and Chandler.

    • Natalie you are welcome. And with you in the mix I know it will be very interesting!

  19. Dearest Lanier
    What a wonderful interview… the only problem is, you’ve left nothing for the rest of us poor souls to ask!
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • Thank you Dandy! I am sure all of you who are on the program will no doubt come up with some wonderful questions!

  20. […] on Scents Memory, you set out your view that ‘olfactory appreciation’ should be a mainstream subject, […]

  21. […] fragrance —  and through Lanier, Mr. Burr got in touch with me after I had re-blogged his first WordPress interview. It came to his attention that I had read his novel, and he wanted my impression of it as he was […]


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