high street and mainstream perfumery is assiduously concerned with lucre and
the relentless pursuing of trends, it has fallen to the exploratory and
experimental world of niche and bijou perfumery to examine the more esoteric
and abstracted hinterlands of our olfactory experiences. This is not to say
however that either approach is entirely right or wrong. Both sides are needed
in order for the differences and similarities to become apparent. White needs
black. Day needs night. Not everyone is comfortable with abstractions and
difference. Some of us need comfort, recognizable shapes, smells and the
familiar. There is room for both.
For me, perfumery
is an art form, concerned with the exploration of memory & beauty through
the manipulation of skin, thermal motion and the perfumer’s alchemical skills. Reverse
engineering this olfactory memory facet is the motivation that drives
perfumers, brands, consumers and scent obsessives alike. We all have our own specific definitions of
beauty and apply these to our daily lives and the world around us. We search to
trigger and cultivate our own odiferous surrounds. We choose a multitude of
accords and notes to lacquer our skin. Some are traditional such as: roses,
violet, tonka bean, lemon and verbena, vanilla, musk, woods and oakmoss. Some
less so; ozone, Iso-e Super, glue, sellotape, candyfloss, fur, flint, milk and
find beauty in disparate experiences and encounters. This is how it should be.
I find the stygian scent of tar very moving for some reason, aircraft fuel can
move me to tears as years of travelling long haul flights as a child come
tumbling back. There is a particular
scent to eroded plastic chairs that catapults me back to old lecture theatres;
hot water pipes, threadbare carpet and my student days in the crumbling language
department, revising in the winter months, drenched in KL by Lagerfeld. There
is beauty in mud, sillage, petrol, caramel, cats in the sun, Ambre Solaire,
yeast, cut grass, gunpowder and new magazines. We all have our own reference points.
in the nose of the beholder. Some smaller niche houses have started really
narrowing their nostrils as it were, designing their fragrances around quite
specific themes: travel, patisserie, imaginary novels, writers, art,
photography etc. The idea is fascinating and can allow the imagination to flow
in carefully controlled directions. However when I first came across Blood
Concept, launched in 2011 at Esxence in Milan by founders Giovanni Castelli and
Antonia Zuddas I was struck by how incredibly precise and yet potentially
limiting their small range was. Working
with the four human baseline blood types, O, A, B and AB, they had created a
quartet of distinctive fragrances all containing a much publicised blood or
metallic facet. Despite the different arrangement of each scent they are all
linked by this peculiar and somewhat unsettling ferrous note. It is the smell
of freshly rinsed hot cutlery, cut skin, sucked wounds and dental recovery. It
is the smell of stigmata, icons, serial killing and surgery. Blood fascinates
and repels, Blood Concept know this and want us to face our latent fear. We
know it is just fragrance. If so, why does it unnerve me quite so much?
is a fashion designer and co-founder of the brand La Stressa. Zuddas is a
photographer and copywriter, who worked in advertising. The brand image is sleek
and eye-catching. A lot of credit for this must go to 2PFG designers Fabrizio Piras and Giuseppe Porcelli who created the
look of the boxes. (www.2pfg.com). Rosaceous and bold, Blood
Concept has a pseudo-scientific art vibe that just about hangs together. It
does come across as a little pretentious at times. Although I have a feeling
the translations of text and press information are often rather poor. It is
just fragrance after all. The mission
statement/concept is quite vampiric and sensational.
human body is totally pervaded by a liquid vital rush that brings us what we
are most fond of: Life. Filled with legends and meanings‚ blood is soaked with
mystery, fascination and respect: it’s the most tested and studied part of the
human body. Hiding the multitude of secrets that reveals our inner and unique
way of being. BLOOD Concept is a ceremony devoted to the pulse of life and its
visceral boost. It is actually the river of life."
a lot going on in this statement, not much of it to do with fragrance. However,
Blood Concept are asking us, albeit in a convoluted way, to look at scent differently,
to perhaps set aside beauty, sex and attraction and ponder other reasons for
anointing our skin.
not alone in this desire to alter our perceptions of scents. Two other niche
brands I admire in this respect are Humiecki and Graef and Andrea Maack.
and Graef are driven by pure emotion; their very honed and specific scents are inspired
by feelings and moods: fury, (maternal) pride, trust, melancholy, folly and
desire. Created by Sebastian Fischenich and Tobias Mueksch, the Humiecki and
Graef fragrances are incredibly abstracted. I only really got to try them when
I was in Moscow for work. They have initially oddly synthetic overtures followed
by a chilly evolution of complex notes that play over the skin like chips of
ice falling on marble. They feel detached and distant, despite the presence of
spices, balms, resins and woods. Everything seems filtered through frozen gauze.
I like the
strangeness of Skarb, the scented
essay on melancholia with notes of absinth, lovage, roman chamomile, barley,
frankincense, myrrh and musks. It is cold and dove grey in tonality, with a
sharp metallic feel to the herb elements as it dries down. It is transparent,
in that it lies wanly over the skin and doesn’t really meld. I like its
discomfort and perplexity. Skarb also
has a unique vegetal odour, like the scent you get from a wheatgrass shot. I’m
not sure to be honest if it’s even wearable. I wandered around Red Square with
it liberally sprayed on my wrists and found myself puzzled and intrigued by the
disparity between the purported sadness of the scent and my muted reaction to a
nebulous if charming array of notes. But like Blood Concept, Humiecki and Graef
have set out to produce a selection of perfumes with a very rigid code of
aesthetics and this can only be admired.
Maack is Icelandic and trained as an artist, influenced heavily by fashion and
the world of beauty. She is inspired by her own sinuous line drawings to create
highly complex perfumes that are perceived as couture scent or wearable art.
Each one of her fragrances starts life as art and evolves into haute/art
perfumery through Maack and her collaborator Apf Perfumery.
in 2009 Maack has released Silk, Dark,
Smart, Sharp, Craft. Her latest and most intriguing fragrance is Coal, inspired by charcoal drawings. Smart (from Smell Art) was her first perfume
and set her on a very idiosyncratic scented route. Maack’s creative processes may seem enigmatic
and a little pretentious to everyday fragrance hunters but she is determined to
push at the boundaries of how scent can be defined. It seems on the surface she
has eliminated skin from her intentions, but in fact the muscular and sinuous
nature of her drawings and some of her sculptural forms are very sensual and
reflect her studied attitude to skin.
latest release Coal is creating quite
a buzz. A collaboration with Richard Ibanez, Coal purportedly highlights the play of the charcoal line on white
paper. Ibenez has used contrasting light and dark ingredients to suggest this;
immortelle, leather, patchouli and black pepper smudged and inscribed over a
ground of shiso leaf, baie rose (pink pepper) and papyrus. I haven’t had an
opportunity to try Coal yet, but it is
very high on my list of must-trys. Anything with immortelle and papyrus
intrigues me. Maack’s remit seems contained and precise yet her desire to
communicate with perfume and art is universal.
Concept are another specific house who have thought carefully about the
perception of their line. There is just the right amount of gloss with a
medical sheen and subversive sexual vibe to pull in the bloodsuckers. A brand
built around blood does not appeal to everyone. Looking at blood types and
compatibility etc is clever and taps into our obsession with origins. The Blood
Type diet is one of the world’s most successful, followed by millions and
dating by blood type compatibility is huge business.
It may of
course all just be marketing and stylish manipulation of our senses and desire
to fit in. But we ask ourselves - what if?
Does it really work?
type O, the most common and the original before man started moving around the
planet. When I sampled Blood Concept’s O I was pleasantly surprised at how much
I liked it. Essentially a leather scent with thyme, rosemary, rosehip, birch,
raspberry and the trademark metallic notes, it smelt like a ravaged cottage garden
after an electrical storm with touches of riding tack.
I have to
admit I am still undecided about the metallic/blood notes. I do however love
the dropper flacons; they remind me of Windsor and Newton Black Indian Ink
bottles. I find application with droppers oddly intimate; gently placing the
liquid onto the skin and watching it run across the surface. I can imagine
carefully dripping it down the back of a neck or on the inside of a thigh….
first four fragrances I was intrigued where Castelli & Zuddas would take
Blood Concept next. The answer was deconstruction, removing the red and leaving
behind an impression of plasma, the straw-coloured viscous liquid left after
centrifugally spinning blood with an anti-coagulant. This is a very strange
process and even reading about it left me feeling slightly sweaty and queasy. +MA is the resulting scent, a very
strange, off-white fragrance by perfumer David Maruitte. The brand PR bumf mentions
clean air, fresh sheets and childhood memories and these are undoubtedly there
in the unsettling musks and aromachemicals that seep out of the composition. I
found it sickly, cheap candy-on-fingers-sweet with an odd fabric softener
undertone that rarely moved at all on my skin. Now I love white musks, laundry
smells and starch but this was not a great scent on me, it breaks apart too
quickly and reveals a stagnancy beneath, a soapy off-water note I disliked
intensely. So while it was an intriguing idea to dilute the red of the blood
types, +MA is inherently less
interesting and quick to fade to boredom.
RED+MA however is a different olfactory animal
altogether. As the name suggests, the metallic blood concept has been combined
with the milky weirdness of +MA. The scent has been created by the wonderful
Antoine Lie, the creative (some say lunatic) nose behind a number of Etat Libre
D’Orange essays in provocation, including two of my favourite fragrances of all
time, Rossy de Palma, Eau de Protection
and the incredible Tom of Finland. He
also created the utterly polarising saline floral Magnificent Secretions, a heaving bilge note of metallic aromas,
blood, iodine, semen and white deathly clamminess. It is also glitteringly
compulsive. I wear it ONLY on cloth, lining jackets and on scarves, it gives
off a very creepy, dead flowers washed up on the beach aroma. Definitely not
for the fainthearted, but fascinating nonetheless.
collaborated with Comme des Garçons on Daphne,
the disconcerting and surprising fragrance for the tiny silvered and aristocratic
one, Daphne Guinness. A scent of memento mori, a map of her memories and
eclectic influences, Daphne is a very
difficult scent to like actually, but I was in Liberty sampling CdG’s glue and
brown tape Eau de Parfum so I sprayed Daphne
liberally in the crook of my arm. As I sat slumbering in the juddering hum of
the flight home, all I could smell was Lie’s masterly blending of incense,
rose, bitter orange and a really haunting saffron and vanilla duet that seems
to rise and fall like lovemaking skin.
these other scents because there are echoes of them in RED+MA. Lie’s work is quite distinctive. Stark and brutal, metallic
frameworks, coated in fabrics, petals and burnished leathers to soften the
impact on the senses. Eau de Protection
has a blood note buried amid the rose and cocoa, it beats very softly at the
heart of the composition, fanned by incense, patchouli and benzoin. The
Safraleine molecule Lie uses in Tom of Finland has a very distinctive metallic
under leather note, like 80s monochrome furniture, something Patrick Bateman
might fuck and kill on.
RED+MA has a full on metallic floral note as it
hits the skin, a bouquet of rusted wire if you like, milk-splattered and
dripping in liquid latex. I love scents with rubber and plastic associations.
Burnt flex, wire, plugs, Bakelite, barstool, rubber. A specific smell set. RED+MA reeks to me of latex and gimp
mask… Yes I typed gimp mask. I’ve lived an interesting life and without sharing
too many details, the fetish world has an utterly unique olfactory environment.
Controlled and theatrical it can be exhilarating and challenging. Quality masks
and bodywear have a particular scent that soften over time and adapt to the
wearer. This very specific scent of rubber on skin, heat, sweat, lubricant,
metal, perfume and make-up is smudged and rubbed beautifully through RED+MA. The metallic, tongue-on-fork
sensation, the whiff of bloodied rose, violet powdered skin and sugar syrup
poured over sweaty flesh. It is a very odd fragrance indeed. It does smell
repellant on occasion; the initial blast is positively criminal in its ferrous
intensity. My saliva runs, I feel a little dizzy and white. You can almost
taste the blood at the back of your nose like the aftermath of dental work; the
smell is that intense.
drydown is lovely, woodsy with a creamy lullaby feel. The aldehydes that
splatter across the top and drip the blood and milk through the composition
fade quietly into strange shadows, flickering in the background. (A friend
mentioned she could smell warm balloons as it settled…). The milk accord is not
a massive thing; it seems present in the overall lactic sweetness and rounded
quality of RED+MA. I think if Lie had
used a more blatant milk effect, like Bertrand Duchaufour used in Penhaligon’s Amaranthine or the ambrosial milk note
Nathalie Lorson used in the Zadig + Voltaire/Le Labo collaboration Tome 1 La Pureté, RED+MA would have tipped into excess, a perfumed experiment that
failed. As it is, the fragrance is still experimental enough to worry the average
For now I will continue to
admire its brutal facets, its way of challenging our senses. I like it enough
to wear it and think of fetish-clad postulants with stigmata, then the waves of
dizziness buffet me, reminding me of my love/hate relationship with sanguinity.
Blood Concept is a fascinating brand with a rigorous and concentrated aesthetic.
I love the press and marketing images they release through Facebook, they are
innovative and thought provoking. Asking us to perfume ourselves with an
abstraction of something that is vital to life and flows through our veins is both
weird and comforting. I think perhaps the concept of blood as scent is both
alluring and deeply discomforting. Internal as external. And this is as it