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THE CITY OF SCENTS

In an age of content overload and ingredient-heavy concepts, the thirst for simplicity within scents remains strong aka why we don’t appreciate anymore our grandmother’s heavily powdery perfumes and mom’s Chanel No 5. Instead, we’re running into the woods with hair messed by the fresh breeze.

 

A PERFUME…

Word ‘perfume’ equals ‘Paris’. Or at least this is the city that comes up first when talking perfumery. And Paris has been always associated with luxury. My logic compounds here a formula Perfume = Paris = Luxury.

Back in the days, when perfumery was a real luxury, it required time to recognize, concentrate and learn, time to enjoy. Epicurean Madame Pompadourish lifestyle and mentality. Time to drink champagne and stay up all night, not caring about the duties of the next day. Just the joy of being. And the scents, according to the market and culture, the market culture, were powdery, heavy, velvety, dark and complex. Scents required time. As well as the poems, literary texts and paintings. Everything required time.

But the word ‘perfume’ derives actually from the Latin word ‘perfumare’, meaning “to smoke through”, and referring to a communication – sending messages through the smoke of incents full of myrrh and amber. And the art of making perfumes began in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, and was later developed by the Romans and Persians. So, the history of perfumes starts with smoke. And where’s a smoke, there’s a fire… and metal, an establishment of industries and progress of the city. And the city smells.

 

Rudyard Kipling has said that the first condition to understand a foreign country is to smell it. What is a city beyond the way it looks and the way it sounds? The smell identity of a city is as unique as your smell identity. It’s a signature. Composed of the plenty – climate, people’s habits, what they eat, traffic, pollution etc. The smell identifies the city.

In that case Chicago is safe and sexy, because it smells like chocolate. Every now and then when I walk to work I register this rich and pleasant smell of chocolate. It puts a smile on my face, it triggers my childhood memories – the time when everything was safe, life was easy and a chocolate was the main reward. What a rewarding feeling living in this city, right?

And people here… They prefer sweet scents as well. Sweet and light scents. Nothing that could be compared with previously mentioned sophisticated Parisian scents and perfumery classics like Guerlain’s Shalimar.

 

…IN THE CITY

People’s taste patterns have slowly, but surely changed over time. To view nowadays trends, one must get away from niche and look at the average. And the average prefers the sweet and the fresh. The average prefers their laundry to smell like “rainforest” and their hair to smell like “sweet strawberries”. Patchouli is weak, and musk is about to die. The average prefers scents with multiple headnotes, something in the middle and the base that won’t disturb anyone. The average loves to re-fresh itself. Chemist, artist and odor collector Sissel Tolaas stated that we are born with a deodorant in our hand: we have no chance to find out how to smell. She also points out that America is famously deodorised, sanitised, and scent-camouflaged, all ‘for your protection’ and by doing that, a lot of important information is removed. Tolaas says that in the modern West we tend to think of smell in purely aesthetic terms, pleasant or unpleasant, while in many other cultures smells have provided and still provide a basic means of defining the interacting with the world. As a part of her research she’s bottling the smells of cities around the world and creating complex “smellscapes”.

 

Smell is the most primitive, and yet the most underrated sense. Odors are closely associated with identity and in the study of the history, anthropology, and sociology of smells we recognize that it’s the investigation of the ‘essence’ of human culture itself.

And a perfume is just a sign. A sign to investigate within the culture system. The primary definition of a perfume is that it is a mixture of fragrant essential oils, fixatives and solvents used to give the human body, objects and living spaces “a pleasant scent”. In the living space of the city, perfumes are used to seduce and to manipulate. Perfume is a devious sign that has entered the commercial world as a meaningful must-have product. It is a part of consumer society, a sign that shapes and defines the identity of a city guy.

As lifestyle and culture shifts happen, trends change. And we can speak about the trends within perfumery world as well, within the scent market. It is undoubtedly difficult to capture the hearts and minds of luxury consumers, especially when the market is so flooded. Still, as mentioned in the beginning of this text, the thirst for simplicity is growing. Along with artsy health-conscious foodie crowd, Scandinavian design followers, and craft cocktail enthusiasts, perfumistas and colognisseurs stay conscious and go along with the overall trend of slowing down and choosing more and more green-colored paths.

And if talking the future scent, then hopefully, we will move away from the sweet stuff. The future scent will be probably less recognizable, less disturbing, more grassy, big city grassy (picture Highline in New Yowk City), light and youthful. Evergreen. It will be clean, pleasant and acceptable scent, with a hint of herbs or quality alcohol.

 

THE GREEN LUXURY IN THE CITY WITH A SHOT OF STRONG

The return of the classics, the rise of craft cocktails and interest in quality beverage makes it possible for alcohol-inspired and infused scents to step into the scene. For example, sensual with notes of leather VSOP by Tom Daxton, or Speakeasy by Frapin that is inspired by the prohibition era and Cuban cigars, and Spirit of the Glen by HYLNDS are definitely the ones to try. Nature, crisp Nordic air and the trend of Scandinavia Light will make more room for fragrances like Byredo, that has already found loyal following among city trotters appreciating urban chic, mainstream and off-city at the same time. Modern, edgy, a bit mainstream and very urban – all in the right proportions – Comme des Garcons will stand strong with it’s steel and architectural scents, cool, clean and grey. And if to choose more artsy path, then fearless ones will go for Andrea Maack’s creations, perfumes that smell like Iceland. Artist herself is searching for “the idea of a non-fragrant fragrance,” as she muses in her latest interview given to i-D magazine. Or Blackbird’s Broken Glass, more city avant-garde scent that desires the attention of the wearer to find beauty in broken things.

Hard to recognize, but I tend to think about scents more or less now, maybe even more… The reason might lay in being tired of the image-saturated communication channels and ways. The city is too noisy, visible and visual… it’s too obvious. We’re forgetting here other ways to communicate – the tone of voice, the body language and the scents. Which all are very personal. True enjoyment of a fragrance lies in the very subjective experience you can gain from it and latest scent research has revealed that the sense of smell is even more intricate than previously thought, and that smelling is one of the best exercises for the brain.

 

Perfumery requires master level of execution and detail. People of talent and cultural knowledge. One of the perfumes that definitely rocked my world and life in the city was Bergamask by Orto Parisi. Actually, the whole range of the scents by this brand are mind-blowing! Alessandro Gualtieri’s rebellious intention, artisanal vision and emphasis on quality ingredients is worth investigating and… wearing. Before Bergamask, I didn’t realize how much we could rely on a perfume to set the stage, create a mood and emphasize all that remains unspoken. I enjoy that Bergamask is weird, and it calls for weird reactions… “Smells like a creature,” as one of my friends said. And it takes days to learn it: on the skin, on the clothes, in a room… It’s bright yet dark, complex and straightforward, citrus-heavy statement with a heavy dose of mind-blurring musk. This perfume pulls you out from your aromatic comfort zone. A definite show-stopper, creating moments and stories. It’s a scent that haunts and makes you think and see things differently. Bergamask shows it’s creator’s unapologetic style and is definitely bold addition to the niche perfumery scene.

 

Smell is all about recognition and thought. Which is all just a spray away…
Simple pleasures are not indulgences, they are necessities.

 

 

Written by Julia Ahtijainen
Published in Aesthetist Magazine