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Bertrand Duchafour is the poster child for the perfumer-as-auteur movement. Contrary to the old school of perfumery, he speaks publicly about his work, is identified by perfume producers as the composer of the work and has identifiable styles. He is commonly discussed as an artist and creator, still a fairly new phenomenon. When his work is discussed, you often see words such as translucent, sheer, radiant, weightless. I only know a small fraction of his work, but I'm interested in the meaning of this weightless quality.
Duchaufour takes elements that we recognize (incense, orange blossom, vanilla, and rose for example) then separates the 'flavor' of the scent from other material qualities that our noses identify as weight, viscosity, density. Removing what reads to the nose as mass or palpability from identifiable aromas gives fascinating results. The perfumes aren't less complex or thinner than traditional perfumes. They are not simply diminished. They become twisted in a manner that implicitly makes us question the works until we've come to some understanding of them. Timbuktu feels not so much like an incense fragrance, but an answer the question, is light a wave or a particle? Timbuktu's radiance says wave. Vanille Absolument doesn't change vanilla itself, it alters the context and gives us a vanilla pod in zero-G. Can the flavor of Turkish Delight be separated from its material manifestation and placed as a permanent watermark on a perfume? (Yes, Traversée du Bosphore)
Duchaufour's work, more than any in the past 20 years of perfumery, takes us back to one of the original questions posed by modern perfumery, starting with the coumadin in Fougere Royale: how do you define synthetic and natural? In the late 19th century the answers might have seemed clearer, though no less interesting. Duchaufour's take is not to argue for a distinction, but to focus on our beliefs, based on the interpretation of our senses, of what feels natural or synthetic. He gives us the tools to recalibrate our instinct, to retrain our 'gut' and smell the world differently if we choose to. In doing so, we, the subject, are changed. We are not 'natural' in that our instinct, our inborn ability to sense a more fundamental reality than our 5 senses reveal, is shown to be mutable and therefore subjective. Instinct is revealed as a hunch that we tend to believe is absolute. Duchaufour liberates instinct from the fairy-tale realm of natural and un-natural and shows us how to make better use of our intuition and insights. And we get to smell nice along the way. Take that, Secretions Magnifiques.
Easy shot at Etat Libre, another house that does a great job of challenging our views, but intentional. Punk, as a genre or sensibility, tends to come from the ring-and-run school of art. Duchaufour’s example shows a few more interesting things about perfumery and art. His making of spectacular perfumes is artistry per se, but to make us question the supposition of our beliefs about fragrance and ourselves while at the same time giving us gorgeous perfumes to wear? Bravo! And by welcoming the wearer to question societal beliefs, Duchaufour makes perfume wearers comrades in arts, an important piece in the definition of perfume artistry.
(I’m not very well informed on the Uzbek perfume issue, so I won’t comment. The question of the ethics of the ‘independent contractor’ or ‘hired gun’ in perfumery does raise interesting questions, though.)
10th December, 2012 (Last Edited: 11th December, 2012)