Icelandic artist Andrea Maack
trills her Rs in that Scandinavian way that makes certain words sound like they're being rattled off by a benign machine gun. This endearing idiosyncrasy was in evidence at London's Les Senteurs on the night of the 17th of February, as Maack was in the shop promoting her three perfumes, the consonant-heavy Smart
... or, as she pronounces them, Smurrrt, Crrruft and Shurrrp. Before an audience that could only just be contained within the store's walls - and included the likes of Grossmith's
Simon and Amanda Brooke, as well as perfumer Angela Flanders
- Maack explained that her scents were never really meant to be worn.
Inspired by her long-standing interest in the "ultimate, ultimate exclusivity" of the world of fashion, she decided to create an art exhibition centred around fragrance. As she isn't a perfumer, she enlisted the services of the French fragrance house APF, to whom she sent one of her own line drawings - a part-organic, part-geometric piece that deliberately looks as though it might have been created by a machine - as a brief. APF gave the assignment to a young female nose whose identity Maack wishes to keep a secret. The resulting perfume was a quiet cocktail of musks called 'Smell Art', or, to give it its official, abbreviated name, the aforementioned Smurrrt.
For the original exhibition, the scent was sprayed on hundreds of special, pre-printed blotters which were assembled, jigsaw-puzzle style, to create a massive image of the line drawing. The idea, according to Maack, was that those attending would feel it was like "going to a perfume launch. But you couldn't buy the perfume. It was just like a show, you know? Almost like it was fake, in a way. You would come and get to experience this ultimate scent, and take a little piece of the drawing with you."
Another exhibition - centred around a paper dress covered in the artist's characteristic sketches - led to Craft (or 'Couture Art', which supposedly contains notes of cold metal) and the re-creation of the same dress in a heavy, foam-like material culminated in a third exhibition and its accompanying scent, Sharp ('Shape Art'), whose official list of components features... wait for it... "angel skin".
Maack insists that at no stage in the process did she give any guidance to the perfumer about what the fragrances should be like. In fact, she didn't ask for any tweaks or changes to the submissions. For her, part of the point of the exercise was to accept whatever was created. She even went as far as deciding that she didn't want to meet the nose. "I really like this organic way of working. The communication was really 'old school'. Just the post. I wanted to take a break from this Internet, Facebook blah blah. I just wanted to think about the scent. They would just send it to me in the post and I would just send them the drawings."
So what was her reaction when she smelt the first one? "I was like 'Woah!' I was really happy. I instantly really liked it. It was very fitting because it was a very white show, and I thought it was a really white scent."
The public's positive response to the fragrances persuaded Maack that it might be worth releasing them as stand-alone perfumes. "I guess the reason why we decided to launch them is that people were asking a lot if they could wear them. And I think I kind of wanted to free myself, in a way, from the shows. I wanted to move on. But I always thought they were wearable. I wear Craft a lot."
Considering that she had absolutely no input into the creation of the fragrances, what does she see as her role in the enterprise? The bottles bear her name. But who's the artist? "I think it's just about collaboration, because I really wanted to work with someone that I could trust. I think of the perfumer as being the artist. I trusted her to understand the ideas."
When I ask if this could be the start of a growing range, she smiles and nods. "I'm already working on two new ones, because I had all these other ideas. I've just received some samples and they're really promising."
For the moment though, she's going to continue the current promotional tour, stopping off in various European destinations to meet fragrance lovers and share the story of the perfumes' unusual birth... or should that be burrrth?
[Smart, Craft and Sharp are now available at Les Senteurs
Photos: Riccardo Cellottini
You can read Persolaise's reviews of the three fragrances at his blog here
About the author
Persolaise is a Jasmine Award shortlisted writer and amateur perfumer who has had a strong interest in the world of fine fragrance for over 25 years. You can find out more about his work at www.persolaise.com
or by emailing him at persolaise at gmail dot com.