I am quicksilver, the fox in the night, emotional about the poetry, love & desire in scent, read me.

Thursday 24 September 2015

Necro-Floral Nocturne: ‘Room 237’ by Bruno Fazzolari

The eerie celadon-toned wash of Room 237 in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining is the creeping inspiration for one of the most unsettling perfumes I have discovered for a while. I’m enthralled and a little appalled by this claustrophobic essay in abandoned floral silence. Room 237 by Bruno Fazzolari is uncomfortable scent making, a prickling journey of disintegrating soapy compulsion that is hard to shake.

Foxy bottle of Room 237 by Bruno Fazzolari

I have been wearing this lurid aroma for a while and find myself in love with the toxicity, its suggestion of nocturnal soapiness on the edge of mould, mingled with absence, mildew, wall, tile and fleeting hints of phantom ablutions. It is like nothing else in my collection.

Room 237 by Bruno Fazzolari
(shower curtain impression I)

Bruno is a San Francisco based artist who earned his MFA at San Francisco Art Institute in 1996 after graduating with a BA from the University of California, Berkeley in 1991. He has exhibited in groups as a solo artist in LA, New York and across California. He has synaesthesia, the much discussed condition which allows those that suffer if I have to use such a term, to taste colour, see music and taste sounds. The senses to a certain degree are cross-wired, but this description barely does the condition justice, it is far more complex and abstract than that. Many people see it is a gift, a secret talent, a special viewfinder on the world. I think for Bruno, odours splinter into tonal impressions that move and shift with rather distinctive emotional effect. These colour mood boards that form inside his mind and sometimes on paper act as a point of departure for olfactory exploration.

Bruno's sensory colour
breakdown of rose otto
(source - Bruno Fazzolari blog

There are many different manifestations of synaesthesia and experts continue to redefine the mechanisms and protocols of individual experiences. Some people feel skin sensations on hearing certain sounds, others see colours instead, letters have colours, sounds and words have tastes. A particularly rare manifestation is genuinely empathetic; synesthetes witnessing for example a touch to a person’s cheek will feel that same gesture on their own face. It is a deeply intriguing and emotive subject and makes for very interesting discussion when applied to the creative arts, be they visual, musical, olfactive or even gustatory.

Bruno’s own experiences with synaesthesia are concerned with his visualisations of perfumery materials and how their tonalities develop as they drydown or shift on skin and blotters. I can relate to this in my own way. Throughout my years of writing, I am always searching for new, innovative and interesting ways to discuss and intrigue with olfactive prose. I am overtly preoccupied with colour and use chromatic definitions and comparisons a lot in my fragrance writing. In Bruno’s own words on his website’s blog he has an intriguing explanation of synaesthesia:

‘Consider how yellow is a quality of the experience of lemons. It's very natural to know that an experience of lemons includes yellow — but not exclusively, since your actual experience of a lemon is multi-sensory. When you experience a lemon, you don't isolate a single aspect. The tactile quality of the skin, the scent, the colour, the sharp, sour taste, all of these are mixed together. The yellow is not wiping out the rest of your experience with its yellow-ness. And so you know the lemon to be yellow in a very ordinary way. In your actual experience, there is one, undivided, ever shifting, smelling-vibrating-seeing-touching-thinking-tasting experience that is the experience of a lemon—and that experience includes yellow-ness.

I'm not sure that describes the experience of synaesthesia very well, but maybe it demystifies it a little. For me, scent "has color" in the same way. Complex scents like rose oil or jasmine absolute, have several colors and those colors change and shift.

Bruno Fazzolari

A recent 2012 documentary by Rodney Ascher called Room 237 gave a multi-voice showcase to various theories regarding the symbolism supposedly buried within the ornate controlled structures of Kubrick’s masterpiece. Everything from carpet patterns, larder tins and Danny’s sweater to the Minotaur & labyrinth theory and Native American Indian genocide are discussed with earnest and rather disturbing sincerity. Interestingly Stephen King has refused to watch it; but then Kubrick’s The Shining is a very different beast from King’s modulated tight, building prose hysteria. 

Stanley Kubrick's annotated copy of 'The Shining'

It is a film and experience that really does divide. I adore horror films, it might surprise many of you to know that, but it’s my favourite genre of movies. I like them schlocky too, but nothing beats the visceral thrill of beautifully crafted psychological horror. Fear soothes me, the unsettling reminds me I am alive. I like to be disturbed, provoked and challenged. Safety in art forms is dull. Yes, I can admire the majesty of true beauty, but there has to be a catch, a flaw, just something off. This introduces a singularity.

Danny. Patterns. Overlook. Carpet. Sweater. 

The prowling, Steadicam menace of The Shining is an experience that roams the senses long after the film descends into door smashing theatrics. The film is full of moments that resonate with glowing hazard, thunder and shine. The twin girls, the snowy maze, blood tsunami, the Overlook bar scene and of course Jack’s slippery, macabre rendezvous in the sickly clinic-hued haze of Room 237. In the book a certain Lorraine Massey books into Room 237, an older woman whose has a penchant for younger men and bellboys. When one of these young men leaves her she overdoses and dies in the room. Her presence and lingering hunger is saturated into Kubrick’s vision with Jack’s creepy encounter with an initially beautiful nude woman who rises from the bathroom and kisses him only to age rapidly into a pale, grasping crone, reaching for desperate desire.

Room 237 scene - The Shining (1980)

It is one of the most unpleasant scenes in the whole film, all the more so for the way it is lit and filmed in queasy shades of enclosed viridian and washed out jadeite. The sense of close up skin, hair, nightmare intimacy and forced engagement is vividly realised. I first saw The Shining when I was about thirteen and this scene just horrified me. Obviously it was wholly unsuitable at the time, but I watched it anyway, gleefully freaked out. When I first noticed reviews of a scent called Room 237 popping on blog sites I knew I had to have some.

Up until the launch of Room 237, Bruno’s work had fundamentally been linked to and inspired by his artwork. Lampblack for example, a bizarre collision of bright bitter grapefruit, orange and nagamotha was created to accompany an exhibition of ink paintings at the Gallery Paule Anglim in 2001.  The name refers to the black painters’ pigment made from burnt lamp soot; it smells so disconcerting on skim, like cold morning sun trying to penetrate a dirt stained window. It has a sensation on skin of making you feeling observed, as if someone were looking over your shoulder. A shadow following you and not your own. Lampblack works, (and it shouldn’t really) because Bruno has ventured far enough into a swinging bulb-lit hinterland as to allow the shadows and light to coalesce and writhe. I’m not sure how I feel about the acerbic top notes, but the atramental body and sooty bleed are addictive and impressively focused. 

Monserrat takes its name from the colour monserrat orange, a gorgeous peachy, faded tone that reminds me of Renaissance frescoes which is fitting as the fantasy note Bruno has played with is setting plaster. You can smell this odd chilled damp wall effect amid the musks, jasmine, grapefruit and powdery carrot seed. As it settles it gives off an odd buzz of Berocca effervescent vitamin tablets. Orange and I do not play well; I turn the note oddly dark and strip out the brightness. When I returned to this an hour or so later the chalkiness made me smile which is interesting. I’m not sure why, but I rather liked the fading flat Fanta effect.

Jimmy is a strange tight floral scent inspired by James Schuyler, the American Pulitzer award-winning poet whose work is intimately conversational and yet somehow imbues the everyday with heroic beauty and pathos. I’m a poetry nut and love the poems of American writers like Ashbery, Plath, O’Hara, Sexton, Bishop and `Berryman. Jimmy has the softest lipstick accord over a mossy base, peculiar in light of its inspiration, but the floral notes have a gentle poetry as they float over a skein of powdery heliotrope and Bruno’s abstract daylight note. It’s not for me, but the violet note is sheer and rather sad.

A friend smelled Five and said ‘wet dog..’ which is pretty bang on. Factor in wet dog on a beach and a mineralised sandy air facet and it’s how the scent unfolds. It was premiered at an exhibition of bright colourful artworks lit by buzzing fluorescent lights so Bruno has in way lit the scent with ozonic touches and the pretty vibrant zing of neroli and bergamot. It smells damp and ragged as it evaporates, the notes don’t quite hold together for me, but that initial kite-flying exuberance is bright enough.

Olivier Messaien is considered one of the twentieth century’s most influential composers. He is also one of the oblique and potentially frustrating too. He eschewed many standard descriptions of his work, believing only in music with or without colour. Like Bruno, Messaien was a synesthete, in his particular case, seeing colours when he heard certain notes. His life’s work of notes, chords, harmonies, progressions and structures are transfused with this extraordinary vision of the world. It’s an acquired taste. Bruno’s Au Delà is his homage to Messaien, a bold, rambunctious chypré-licked floral with shards of neroli and coriander played over an overtly raw-edged marriage of sticky jasmine, orange flower absolute and a cold amber derivative which seems to emphasise the jarring haze of the white flowers. I struggle a little with jasmine this jammy sometimes, so as much as I rather liked the overall sense of beauty within the glare and disconnections of notes, Au Delà is not something I would wear. The final fade is the part I like most, a shudder of bruised violet then nothing.  

Room 237

Room 237 is Bruno’s masterpiece though, a perverse enclosed universe of soapy paranoia and urgent proximity. The opening reek of aldehydes feels like alien arterial spray reeking out of the bottle, shot through with lemon from one those tactile squeezy facsimile lemon things and cut with sharp metallic tarragon. It all slows down dramatically as a queasy astonishing costus effect nudges its way against your body, under your nose as if an unwashed scalp was trying to make contact from the other side.

The perfume comes boxed as an art piece in a brown card carton, accompanied by an art card linking it to its artistic inspiration. In this case Bruno has created a miniature business card impression of The Shining’s lurid green bathtub and shower curtain in a screen-print type effect. Bruno Fazzolari boxes are stamped with the perfumer’s personal take on the Japanese hanko or stamped seal. In Japan, hankos are very official and must be registered with the government. According to Bruno’s lovely blog he was looking to create a unique way to personalise his boxes. His elegant abstract three-unit symbol is an adaptation of an old alchemical symbol for gold. The finished pictogram resembles stylised trees, flowers and lollipops. Bruno had the original stamp carved in stone in Japan and sent to him in California. The resulting stamp is perfect, a lovely hybrid of Bruno’s wants and echoes of other more esoteric sources.

Bruno Fazzolari box, typeface & hanko

Room 237 is intimately odd, I find myself preoccupied with the soapiness. The listed fleabane is essentially a daisy note and combined with bay and other offbeat floral aberrations setting a scene of potent connubial ablution. A mix of shave cream, hair spray, bay rum and Lux soap ghosted over an insistent tactile vinyl odour, a dread mildewed cling of old shower curtain. It smells hyper real then intensely imagined like a trick designed to disorientate you.

Room 237
(shower curtain impression II)

The oppoponax is weird stuff here; it’s a resin I find hard to handle sometimes, translating as a sweetish, greasy smoke or a vaguely faecal haze of dread. Oscillating between noble and cadaverous depending on the levels used; in Room 237, it is pungent and cloying, deliberately so I think to provide textural relief from the roaming phantom soapiness. As the shudder and shrill rendering of the opening notes fade down, the true disquieting nature of the grimy soapy florals begin to bloom like damp stains on forgotten walls and ceilings.  

All the while it is well nigh on impossible to stop inhaling the scent despite visions of damp cling and unwashed bathroom tiles. Bruno’s mature handling of his frankly macabre and contradictory palette works with fucked up precision and timing. The smell of pissy spattered flowers, abandoned fittings, lost skin, ghostly scalp, forgotten frailties, powders, plastics, mildew, residues, soap lather and phantom bouquets. All of this has been assembled into a haunted scent of foreboding sway and surprisingly tenacity.

It has been some time since I was quite so jolted by a perfume, but Room 237 has a fabulous, insidious inspiration and impresses as a necro-floral nocturne of some considerable power. It is difficult, confrontational, perturbing, compelling, dirty, haunting needful, salacious and deviant. But I will be wearing and loving every mournful, mould-possessed drop of it. We all need to live a little in Room 237, fear and uncertainty are good for the jaded soul.

For more information on Bruno Fazzolari, please click on the link below:


24 September 2015 


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