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This started about a year ago. Well, of course to be honest it started much earlier. It started when I was a student studying at the libraries in various European cities that I passed on my young journey searching for my future path(s). It also started when I understood why my father would buy very old books at auctions not necessarily to read them (for example seven or so versions of Qvo Vadis). It started many times. But also about a year ago. I was talking to my friend, and at that time colleague, Karl about how we loved the smell of books. All the ways in which old printed paper can smell… How it is part of the reading experience and about the feeling of stepping into an old book store. When I read about Dead Writers a few months ago I remembered this conversation. Karl had actually read about this perfume too and had the same association. So – this post is dedicated is to you, Karl. One of the most intellectually rapid and insightfully witty persons that I have ever had the pleasure to be around! 
chicagopubliclibrary.tumblr.com/post/31525993209/the-reason-old-books-smell-so-wonderful

So, what happens when a writer starts experimenting with aromatherapy trying to create a remedy for migraines?

Home of the Dead Writers line of literary perfumes, Sweet Tea Apothecary is a Seattle based micro-perfumery specializing in historically inspired handmade perfumes. About three years ago the owner – writer, journalist and teacher JT Siems started to experiment with aromatherapy to create something for herself that would help her deal with migraine problems. One thing led to the other and soon she found herself crafting scents around the ideas of famous historical people.

And one day I stumbled upon Dead Writers while doing some research and had all these lovely associations based on my past and personal references. So I contacted JT to hear more about her thoughts about perfume and the idea with the writers theme! This is what she kindly shared with me.

How did it all begin? 
I’ve always loved perfume. That was always the luxury item I wanted. I think I have good body chemistry or something because people tell me I smell good all the time, even when I’m not wearing any scent. Reactions like that are really intriguing to me so I find it fun to kind of play mad scientist and see what I come up with. I also really like hearing people describe my perfume because it’s so subjective – sometimes people come up with stuff I haven’t even thought of. In making my own perfumes and mixing them with writing and learning about other people’s lives, I’ve really found it to be another creative outlet for me.
 

How do you choose your writers?


My intention was to have a whole line of writer inspired perfumes but the Dead Writers perfume itself got popular before I could release the others. Right now I’m working on getting those ready. I have an Edgar Allan Poe inspired perfume called Lenore coming out soon and am working on a Zelda Fitzgerald called Zelda and a Jack Kerouac called Dharma Bum. My process for choosing writers is kind of all over the place. Sometimes I have a fully formed idea and I just go for it, sometimes I’m just working on a perfume and say to myself, “Wow that reminds me of [insert writer].” Lenore and Dharma Bum were intentional, Zelda, I was actually trying to make an F. Scott Fitzgerald scent and what I came up with just screamed Zelda. I also think she’s under appreciated so I’m happy to give her the spotlight. Thoreau was also an accident. I like woodsy scents and after I first made that one, the first thing that came to mind was Walden. 
Is any of your perfumes a favorite of yours? 

Remy and Georgiana are probably my favorites. I could wear Remy everyday, I just love the honey quality to it and the saffron also gives it this nice spiciness that keeps it from being too sweet. Georgiana is my favorite to wear for special occasions or going out because it has this elegant, sultry smokiness that is subtle yet very memorable. It shocks people to know that I don’t usually wear Dead Writers. I like Dead Writers but two things prevent me from wearing it. 1. I tend to like lighter perfumes that have tea, floral, or honey qualities. 2. I literally spill Dead Writers all over myself every time I make it, which is very frequently these days to keep up with demand.

You categorize three of your perfumes as unisex. What are your thoughts on this, is it necessary or good to separate perfumes into for men /for women? 

I separate three into men’s / unisex more as an identifier for the men who happen to come looking at my shop. They tend to want to stay away from the florals and the sweeter perfumes so I do it as more of an easy way for them to find something they might like. That said, I love wearing “men’s” cologne and have found that many of the women who visit my shop aren’t at all bothered by the label and feel as I do. Maynard is the only one so far that I’ve made with men in mind, Dead Writers and Thoreau turned out how they did and I heard feedback from both men and women that they liked it. I made Maynard for my husband, but that’s another one I actually really like to wear. Overall, I think if you like a scent you should wear it without worrying about whether it’s perceived as masculine or feminine. We all have different body chemistry and you never know what’s going to sit well on you. 



Where do your draw inspiration from in the perfume world? Are there any specific noses or houses that you are inspired by?


I’m not that heavily involved in the perfume world to be honest. Here in Seattle there’s an amazing indie perfume scene that I’ve met up with a few times. They’re really cool people who are very passionate about making artisan scents. They all have interesting collections that you just don’t find at your standard perfume counter. I would say that this spirit of perfume as artistic creation is what inspires me. Apart from that group of people, I’d say I’m more inspired by the ideas, people, places, specific materials. I went to Paris for the first time about two years ago and just walking around Versailles gave me these intense feelings that became my Antoinette perfume as soon as I got home. That’s my usual process – I read about someone or watch a movie etc, and just feel struck by the emotions in their life and I try to capture it.

If money was not an issue, what perfume is your dream to make?


If money was not an issue, I would literally buy every kind of rose out there. It’s probably a good thing that I can’t really afford some of them yet because then I’d have rose in every perfume. I would also really like to be able to work with some of the high end chamomiles. I love the smell of chamomile and have so many good ideas for use, but it’s so prohibitively expensive I’d never be able to make it on a large scale. 

Any favorite ingredients?
 

Right now I’m all about the Dragon’s Blood. I love it. Dragon’s Blood is featured in Lenore and Boleyn, my two upcoming perfumes.


Who buys your perfumes? 

When I started it was mostly women aged teens through 50s who were interested in the little histories I write for the perfumes, or were just looking for handmade perfume oils. I had a lot of teen customers buying up Dead Writers until it went viral and now, it’s everyone. All ages, men and women. A lot of people have been coming for Dead Writers but end up buying either sampler packs or splurge on something else that caught their attention. I’ve noticed lots of university addresses recently. As far as countries, I’d say the rankings right now are USA, Australia, Canada, and the UK. But I’ve sold all over – France, Spain, Bosnia, Greece, Turkey. It’s so amazing to have people find you from all over the world.

Right now I sell only through Etsy but I have a brand new website coming out soon at the super imaginative address www.sweetteaapothecary.com I’ve been on Etsy for almost a year and it’s such a great starting point for opening your own business. Now I’m trying to branch out with my own website and have had talks about various wholesale opportunities 


I am fortunate to have samples of the entire range. (I really appreciate the not only cute but excellent little sample bottles! Everything stays where it is supposed to be, an aspect that should not be underestimated.) The variation in JT’s range is really impressive. It is a grand adventure and olfactory portrait gallery that she has created with all sorts of guests around the table – some light and romantic, some weird, some stubborn, some philosophers and some kindered spirits. Some seem to have appeared straight from a summers evening and some from a long travel in leather boots (that would be Boynard). Antoinette tries to seduce you, Dharma Bum will give you life advice and Maynard…oh you will want to go on a long walk over the meadows with Maynard. HRM Victoria however – you don’t want to get into an argument with her! I cannot really specify exactly what it is, but I do associate these scents and their complex voluptuous character with reading. They go well with a blanket, candle light and a big cup of tea. Darkness won’t bother you wrapped in Georgiana, the rain will feel cosy scented with Pamplemousse. And the harsh HRM Victoria will keep you safe from harm.
“If you find comfort in the tea stained pages and dusty covers of 
old leatherbound books, then the perfumes and colognes 
in this collection will speak to the writer in you.”
JT Siems

I am guessing this makes you curious to also find out more about JT’s writing. I can reveal that two of the things she has written are two novels, one is a steampunk adventure and the other one is more of a dark fairy tale a la Coraline. If you are interested in finding out more about these and getting your own uniqye olfactorized writer experience go to sweetteaapothecary.com or visit www.facebook.com/passtheteapot 

Book jewelry from Etsy
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Cuban artist Reynier Leyva Novo‘s work has attracted international attention, for example at the Venice Biennale 2011. Northern Swedish city Umeå is perhaps not what an international art crowd would expect to be a venue this artist would choose, but it is not so surprising when you take a closer look at ambitious Bildmuseet which now presents the artist’s first solo exhibition outside of Cuba.

With a great interest in the history of his country, Reynier Leyva Novo explores, questions and stages different versions of Cuba’s past. He focuses in particular on the period around the liberation from Spain in 1898. His art invites the onlooker to reevaluate Cuba’s history and our interpretations of it. One of his pieces, The scent of war (Los olores de la guerra), consists of a number of perfumes named after generals and the places where they led their troops.

Reynier Leyva Novo’s is one of the artists who understands the power of scent and the fascinating synergy between our sense of smell and our memories. But he adds a dimension to this, by working with the scents power to create a new image also. ‘The scent of war’ consists of three fragrances that the artist has developed. The fragrances help the audience to create their own inner images and stories around a historical event, in this case the three generals that died in battle. Each general has a fragrance named after him. The fragrance is exposed together with a poetic text.

I like a lot about this idea. However I am somewhat confused by the fact that the fragrances cannot actually be smelled by the visitor to the exhibition. What is then the point of having created a fragrance? Is it the idea of a smell that is the point? The ability of our mind to create that by itself? Why then have fragrances? And if they have been made, why not the people smell them?
I need to find Reynier Leyva Novo and ask him! To be continued…
About the artist
Reynier Leyva Novo (born 1983) lives and works in Havanna. He has participated in several exhibitions in Cuba as well as at the Venice Biennale (2011), the MARTE (Museum of Contemporary art) San Salvador, El Salvador (2011), the Liverpool biennial, UK (2010); A gentil carioca, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2008).

In 2013, I hope to see more of the perfume related accessories that this past ear has shown some curiosity for. At Pitti Fragranze, an annual perfume fair, it seemed that this is indeed an area that will grow. If it does, it could create a very interesting intersection for perfume and fashion, art and design.

I believe – and hope – that we will see more perfume jewellery. Necklaces with some kind of container, amulets etc are classical pieces that unfortunately seem to have been forgotten. (I love my vintage necklace from Chanel…) It would be interesting to see a contemporary take on such objects, and what other ideas there are out there.

I have found some items such as Aftelier cases and these earrings from Lisa Hoffman.(For vintage lovers go to the auction houses that sometimes have some really exquisite items, or here.) But I am curious to see more of a contemporary twist. A more edgy, avant-garde, rock feeling.

Dutch designer Jody Kocken has created some pieces that I would definitely like to wear. When she discovered that she was allergic to perfume, she looked for solutions that would enable her to still wear a fragrance. She came up with and designed her own solution, ‘Perfume Tools’, a series of industrial jewellery pieces.

The pieces can be attached to the opening of a perfume bottle, the tools then absorbs the scent and work as worn fragrance diffuser. In places where the skin is most vulnerable, the precious metal is warmed up so that the scent can travel. Any skin contact with the perfumed liquid is avoided. This poses some questions of course as we often speak of how the perfume evolves and is affected by a person’s skin. In this case, this dimension is lost. But if the option is to never be able to wear perfume at all – the I think these pieces are an excellent idea. Seeing that quite a lot of people are allergic or sensitive to perfumes, I think all kinds of solutions adapted to this situation are an interesting area to develop. If any perfume maker is reading this I would really love to hear your thoughts on this way of wearing perfume? Are some perfumes more suitable? Can something be done to create perfumes that can compensate the lack of skin exposure?


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(All photos from Jody Kocken)

Today I am wearing Sepia. And I am listening to this (if you don’t have Spotify try this), ‘How to Organize a Lynch Mob’ by Diablo Swing Orchestra. Let me tell you why.
About ten years ago I embarked on a plane to Florence. I had been studying Art History for a year and was profoundly disappointed with courses, teachers and exams that had almost entirely killed my passion for art. I got on that plane with a promise to myself, or two actually: to come home and speak Italian and to restore my love for striking angles, composition and color perfection. After a week or so I found myself on a train from Florence to Venice (ok, first I accidentally got on a train to Napoli but that’s another story) with the mission to see a painting that I had seen on posters on my way to school in Piazza Santo Spirito. Actually, it was not the painting per se that I wanted to see, it was the red color of the scarf that a woman in the painting was wearing. Most of that day was spent going to and then from Florence. I was in Venice just for a couple of hours but I did see the red color and it was one of the best and most important moments of my life. 
But my most mind-altering art experience in those months was not this painting. It was seeing Michelangelos unfinished giants. This experience will always be what really made art part of me and I have no idea if I will ever feel as many intense feelings in relation to art ever again. I hope I will, but I am not sure. Experiencing art is very personal, the places it shakes in our minds, the references it awakens. The exact details of why I was affected aren’t really that relevant to anyone else. But I will share one aspect of it with you and you will understand why I am writing about this here. It is sometimes said that there are two types of sculpturers, those that mold an object into an idea that they have, and those that carve out something that is – or not – in the stone. Michelangelo was one of those that perceived the stone as having its own predefined potential for some shape and he was just the person who brought it out. The giant unfinished statues are an example of this process. The stone did not allow him to do more. Watching them for the first time I was struck by how it was hard to tell the exact place where statue became stone and vice versa. I sensed beauty as well as frustration, strength and pain. I also felt a sort of dynamic that I have rarely perceived. As if the process was ongoing. 

A week or so ago, I received a collection of samples from Mandy Aftel’s Aftelier. I read Mandy’s book of course. Not read, read in the present tense as this is the only way that feels right. I read it slowly, as if I am having a slow conversation with it. I underline, go back, return… I have been curious about Mandy’s perfumes for some time now but in a way that I cannot quite explain, I have been waiting for the right moment to experience them. And I knew that I would know when it came. Because this is something entirely different than most olfactory experiences, and definitely different from most perfume experience.

It will take me some time to try all the samples because I want to get to know them thoroughly. Contemplate, go through different thoughts and pay attention to every detail. I am not sure what I expected. But I will tell you my first impression because it was undeniable and very concrete. I sense the care that has been invested in these perfumes. The thought, the poetry, the hands that have blended them. And then this: they feel alive. Not in some mumbo-jumbo metaphysical strange way. They just feel alive. Like those sculptures. They are not being blended anymore, they have been put in tiny adorable little containers and shipped to Sweden and nothing intervenes with them… but when I put them on my skin I have absolutely no idea what will happen. Or if the same thing will happen the next time I wear one of them. They seem to play with my skin and change constantly and I am not sure if I am choosing the perfume or if it is choosing me. If I am discovering it or if it is discovering me. Of course, I am playing with words here… What I am trying to convey is that feeling of an ongoing process.

A few years ago I worked with a theatre director on his communication and brand platform. He taught me something that has been very valuable and essential to me ever since. Apart from his work with the theatre he held courses and workshops with corporate clients from all sectors using the methods that the theatre uses to create teams. One of his key messages was that an ensemble is not about separate stars, it is about being an ensemble – and that – is created not through the excellence of one person or the other but in the space between the individuals. I think about this often. The importance of space. In communication, in relationships, in creativity. The process is not what is delivered from one point to another, the process is what happens in between. And that process is free, and unpredictable and redefines itself every second. Something happens when I wear Aftelier perfumes, and it just keeps happening for hours.

The piercingly beautiful string arrangement in ‘How To Organize a Lynch Mob’ with Diablo Swing Orchestra’s cello master Johannes Bergion gives me that same feeling. As if it is played live every time I hear it, and I need to listen carefully because next time it might not sound the same. If you ever get to see this band live, cancel all your other plans and go. This ensemble sums up everything I have written tonight with their music.

The art of making something that has been captured… feel constantly unexpected. Space?

Big blogodrama right now about the exhibit that just opened in NYC, ‘The Art of Scent’ at the Museum of Arts and Design. It is curated by Chandler Burr, and the first museum exhibition dedicated to exploring the design and aesthetics of olfactory art. Burr’s high ambitions are impressive. The exhibit is accompanied by numerous activities that cover perspectives from inspiration to pedagogical seminars.

The discussion that has arisen is one that bounces of the very title – is perfume art? What do you think?
Having spent a couple of years with Art History as my major at university and Art Theory in particular, this kind of question makes my skin crawl and gives me goose bumps at the same time. The question “what is Art?” has after all been the source if many many discourses. I have to admit that according to my own perception of what the term incorporates, I do perceive perfume as Art. And I am not sure I see the value of saying that it isn’t. Why? Why should it not be art? How does that separation benefit the perfume, the perfumers or the perfume wearer? I don’t understand. What is perfume without the art part of the work? Formulas, proportions… But the result is olfactory poetry and sensation. 
Regardless of how you feel about it, I do recommend you to visit the exhibit. We can draw the conclusion after all that it definitely provokes discussion. And the process of perfume creation is seldom open to the public. 

‘The Art of Scent’ also takes the visitor on a journey to discover how perfume preferences and intentions have changed from Jicky by Aimé Guerlain to today’s perfumes. Apart from Jicky perfumes featured are Chanel No. 5 by Ernest Beaux, Aromatics Elixir by Bernard Chant, Angel by Olivier Cresp, Pleasures by Annie Buzantian and Alberto Morillas, Untitled by Daniela Andrier, Drakkar Noir by Pierre Wargnye, L’Eau d’Issey by Jacques Cavallier, cK One by Alberto Morillas and Harry Frémont, and Prada by Carlos Benaïm and Clément Gavarry.

It is noteworthy that The New York Times filed their article on the exhibit under “Art & Design”. You’ll find the article here. Another really interesting article on “Art & Design” is this one in Huffington Post where Mary Orlin gives all the reasons why this exhibit is relevant in a very stringent and insightful way.

Chandler Burr also had a prominent role at this year’s Pitti Fragranze (annual perfume fair in Florence) where much time was dedicated to highlighting the full value chain of perfume production. I like the influence that Mr Burr has on contemporary discourse. A nice example of his perspective can be found in this interview where he also talks about the part of the exhibit in NYC that allows visitors to discover a perfume without knowing which one it is. A great conversation, make a cup of coffee or tea, relax and enjoy it.

Never forget, a perfume created with a precise balance between passion and skill, is a work of art in the same way that a painting, a sculpture a piece of music or a film is. It is a composition with a pace and a rhytm. It has textures, and characters in the form of notes that share the limelight sometimes as divas sometimes as ensembles. A perfume changes and evolves according to a dramaturgy invented in someone’s mind and orchestrated with tender care. It is constant dialogue with you, with your skin and your self.

Never forget, perfume is not “cosmetics”. Perfume is Art.