Friday, March 10, 2017

Interview: Chandler Burr Shoots from the Hip for Etat Libre d'Orange

Chandler Burr shoots from the hip. This is probably why I consider him a friend. Truth, you see, possesses that rare beauty that can cut like a knife, but still you end up admiring the scarlet track lines. Here's the interview he granted me for the launch of You or Someone Like You, the upcoming fragrant release from Etat Libre d'Orange. Fasten your seatbelts, darlings, it's a bumpy (but oh so effing good!) ride.

Elena Vosnaki: So Chandler...There is a certain path to follow in the realm of being interested in how a seemingly mundane thing can be artistic and can produce fascination. First comes learning about what makes a perfume lover interested in the first place (ergo The Emperor of Scent). Then comes learning about the craft (A Scent of the Nile). Then comes learning about the industry at large (The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry). Then come personal assessments of those mysterious smelly things (NYT Scent critic column). And there are scent dinners (how would it feel if we combined two complementary senses together?) and curating a "blind test" line plus an Art of Scent exhibition (how would it feel if we erased everyone's perceived memory with a magic wand like Men in Black and THEN asked them their honest opinions on Duschamps' Urinal?).

Does art directing a perfume launch feel anti-climatic in comparison?

Chandler Burr: Wow, you've synthesized my entire scent career arc into a frighteningly accurate dialectic. I actually have a very specific answer for you: It was not anti-climactic at all. In fact, art directing a perfume was quite difficult, more so than I imagined before I did it, and my view of whether it came at the right time or the wrong time in my trajectory is split exactly in two. In part I wish I'd done it in 2005, after Emperor, the New Yorker piece "Nile," and Perfect Scent but just before I joined the Times and prepared to become a critic. Why. Because not surprisingly it gave me a deeper, as well as a different, understanding and appreciation for the artistic, aesthetic, intellectual, and technical demands on a scent artist -- Caroline Sabas, in my fortunate experience -- in creating one of these fucking works. For the sake of my criticism, it would axiomatically have made it better. (I think every critic should at least try to create a few works in the medium of the critique. The result has to be humility and wisdom, even for those few who'd turn out to have talent.)

At the same time, for the sake of You Or Someone Like You itself, I'm glad it didn't come till after the Times and the Art of Scent exhibition because those two experiences made me think more about the pure aesthetics and the subtleties of scent art, and I put those into the work I did with Caroline.

 It's an extremely strange relationship, creative director and perfumer. I think the closest analogy would be architect and builder. (Definitely not composer and conductor, that doesn't fit. Nor does author and editor fit, at all.) Studio executive and movie director is actually very good. I had a vision for a work that I had virtually no ability to make myself. I had to communicate it to Caroline. At its best, human communication sucks. The difficulty of telling Caroline what I wanted / didn't want/ liked/ didn't like/ wanted changed/ how I wanted it changed, plus asking for her opinion, which I found extremely valuable, and understanding her perception and the obstacles she faced. Jesus.

Elena Vosnaki: Did Etat Libre d'Orange approach you or you them with the spermatic idea? Have they read your novel?

Chandler Burr: Etienne had read my novel and loved the main character and narrator, an Englishwoman named Anne Rosenbaum who years before had married an American guy -he's now a studio exec- and lives with him in the Hollywood Hills. Also Anne is a reader-- literature is crucial to the novel. Etienne really liked the title as well. Etienne had mentioned a few times over the years our doing a project together, and I think his collection is arguably the single most creatively imaginative and risk-taking in existence today, so I was interested. But I sure as hell wasn't going to creatively direct a scent. I never intended to. I always told people that. I think Etienne would tell you that he found me somewhat frustrating to work with because, along with being a perfectionist, I was highly ambivalent and undecided about whether I should be doing that job.

Although interestingly none of my doubt was about what I wanted for the scent itself. My doubt was entirely, Was I saying the right things to Caroline or was I talking gibberish? Was I clear? And I know for a fact I sometimes wasn't. Seriously frustrating. Was I too demanding? Was I perceiving reality? Was I "projecting" or self deluding when I hit things I wanted changed or didn't like? Creative directing a perfume is like asking a painter to create Rorschach blots, but in a way you want them, and then making yourself interpret them, and then asking the painter to redo them… Actually, that may be complete horse shit and incoherent, but that's what it feels like sometimes. The scent kept evolving. The Givaudan evaluators, who were very serious and committed to the project, gave me excellent feedback. We finally let Etienne smell the thing, and he liked it, but he liked it too much for my taste, and I thought, "Oh, damnit…" Then went back to Caroline and asked for more changes.

Elena Vosnaki: Is the scent concept a meta-reading of the novel's idea of Otherness? It seems so to me!

Chandler Burr: OK, no. No. Wait, have you read the novel? If you did and told me you did, I completely forgot. [Elena: Yes, I have. No, I did not.] Otherness is one very good way to describe You's central theme. Or stupid, racist understandings of Otherness as opposed to serious, meaningful understandings of Otherness. Certainly it's about the fact that the Big Four, the largest four theological global conglomerates competing for market share, should be shut down and that we need to replace God, which doesn't exist, with good, which does, and that literature shows us this. Hell, I've gone off the rails now, but that's sort of the point, which is that the scent's concept has zero to do with any of this. It's incredibly simple. It's the scent that Anne would wear. No meta, no super. I thought: She lives in LA, where in my experience 99% of people recoil at the word "perfume" and anything heavier than Eau de Thé Vert is considered a fire in a coal mine. I get that. Anne would wear a post-perfume scent. (When people, normal people, not you and me and perfume shrine readers, say "perfumey" they mean aldehydic + heavy floral, which they associate, almost always correctly, with grandma. For ten years, Giorgio of Beverly Hills covered Beverly Hills like chlorine gas, and it cured everyone in LA of every wearing "perfume" in quotes again.)

I knew Anne's scent would be Luminist, the school Ellena both pioneered and uniquely mastered, it would be Naturalist/Realist, i.e. it would contain references to the natural world. Anne is a gardener, and her garden--I put their house on Macapa Drive above the 101 if you want to googlemap it--is a central location in the novel. And that's it. That's all Caroline and I did -- tried to make a perfume for this person who doesn't exist.

(By the way, you know what a dick I am about "gendering" fragrances. You was made for a female character, and as I've often said if you actually believe that means men shouldn't wear it, you don't know anything about scent.)

Elena Vosnaki: Well... We're both dicks then. But Los Angeles is semiotically a loaded place for several reasons. Some of which are described in your text about the inspiration behind the scent. Some others are added by the recipient of the smell depending on whether their associations come from the cinematic realm (glamor and/or decadence) or an actual visit to the place (physical sensations hitting the nose velcro). What was the single most important element that you thought that You or Someone Like You needed to focus on?
Chandler Burr: A culture, for lack of a better word. Ethos? Mindset? You focuses on contemporary Los Angeles, which is more a state of mind than an actual place. The LA sun creates a huge olfactory output. The smell of that hot, hot sun hitting the asphalt, the concrete, the hills of dry dust and palm trees, the ocean water. The eucalyptus, the morning overcast, which for me always focuses the scents like a magnifying glass when I go out to my car at 7am and everything is silent and coated in gray. Then it burns off by 10 and the sun is creating a different perfume. Sorry, I'm giving real world references when my point is that LA lives inside these scents and radiates its fabulous, insane, beautiful LA-ness through them.

I think I don’t know how to answer this question.

Well, here's something. The version of You we went with wasn't the one I myself was going to choose. We went -- and I don't regret this at all, I completely support this -- with a very similar but different one because there was an aspect of it that Etienne, Caroline, and the Givaudan team preferred for a reason. I don't want to be specific, but we wore and talked about them at length, I listened to them, and in the end I thought "You know, I'm going to trust them." So I did. As a journalist and critic, I hated the plastic creative director script, "OMG, it's my scent, it's perfection incarnate, my perfumer reached into my brain and put my neurons in a bottle, I love this scent more than my own lung tissue" etc etc. I think You is a good scent. I think people who like its aesthetic school will like it. It's not Drake (a bore), it's not Max Richter's Sleep (which I'm playing on my computer as I write this) and it's not Katy Perry (so fun). It's The Chainsmokers "Closer" meets a Satie tone poem. And that's exactly what I wanted. 

Elena Vosnaki: Is it easier to work with a perfumer when you know a bit about the actual bits that go into the formula or did you find this knowledge detracted from the artistic process like -say- focusing on whether one is using Prussian Blue oils on thick canvas instead of the more fluid acrylic in the same shade?
Chandler Burr: I called Karyn Khoury just before starting to work with Caroline, and she gave me great advice, including "Be patient. Don't panic if you lose youself in the mods. Keep breathing, and they'll come back into focus." She also said, "I never suggest specific materials to the perfumer." That one I completely reversed on. I know I don't want birch tar or amyl allyl caproate. I know it. And I found that far from throwing Caroline, when I suggested a material, or specified one I didn't want, it actually helped her understand, it communicated what I wanted, even if the material I said I wanted wasn't, in fact, the best one for that job and she used a different one. I find it insanely helpful to know what I know about raw materials. Crazy helpful.

 Because I hate the "So what are the 'notes'?" idiot reductionism that we apply to scent but would never apply to painting or music because we respect those mediums ("Well, does it have violas in it? I only listen to music with violas. The oboe? I'm not buying anything with an oboe!") I finally got Etienne to agree that not he, nor Etat, nor Givaudan, nor I, no one was going to talk about the raw materials in You. It's THE FUCKING WORK. Don't walk down the street with your headphones on second guessing the sound mixer on Frank Ocean's music. Just listen to the music. They thought I was crazy which is to say they thought I was stupid. Maybe. I've seen two pages of comments on my "Don't ask me about the materials" stance, and on both a majority of people said, "Burr is such a pretentious asshole." Whatever, man, you do, go focus on "notes" and buy something else. Or smell You and buy it if you like it. See, THIS is really cool -- I wrote this a thousand times in the New York Times, and now I get to put my money, or my no money, where my big mouth is.

Elena Vosnaki: This is the best test for anyone's inherent arrogance I suppose! So continue being honest: How many mods did it take for this to get finalised with Caroline Sabas? I hear 200-300 or more is not unusual for major releases and I do know of a few niche ones which took as many. Is it always better to try and try again or is there a fine point when you are destroying the soul of the creation? I find that constant editing really does work with writing (and this is why I'm asking you as your being an author informs your frame of thought and habit). It does not necessarily work with musical interpretation however. One cannot bribring back that rush of feeling that is new and "innocent" once we parse a musical piece to bits; our playing tends to become effortless but a tiny bit constipated (for lack of a better term?). How is it with perfume art direction? Does one know when to stop?

Chandler Burr: I can honestly say I have no idea how many mods Caroline made. And I really don't think it matters. You know, this "number of mods" stat they hand out, 99% of the time it's bullshit like everthing else in our industry that's given to the public. The more the mods, the closer to sainthood or some crap like that. Bitch, please. You can nail a perfume in two mods, and I know because Frederic Malle did (and fuck me if I can remember which perfume it is…?! Frederic told me this at lunch years ago, and I loved hearing it. He asked for one, very small, very specific adjustment of the first mod, and that was it. He agrees with me that The Award For The Most Mods is only coveted by numbskulls.

Elena Vosnaki: Is this project to be repeated in a second scent launch or has the circle closed on this and there's a different stop to the bus ride on that path we talked about in the beginning?
Chandler Burr: This is it. I'm working on several other projects, all connected to scent, none to creative directing another one.

Thanks Chandler for a fabulous interview. Best of luck with the perfume launch!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Etat Libre d'Orange You or Someone Like You: Chandler Burr Shares His Inspiration Behind the Fragrance

The staccato bravado of État Libre d'Orange's fragrant creations is the stuff of legend. (Who can forfeit their sentiments upon smelling the infamous Secretions Magnifiques for example?). The credibility and creative inquisitiveness of Chandler Burr is the stuff of steadfast reality. Imagine combing the two into a single item that you can actually claim as your own.

To make it short and concise, Chandler Burr, author of the novel You or Someone Like You among other works, former NY Times scent critic and curator of museum exhibitions and scent dinners, has art directed a perfume for  État Libre d'Orange that officially launches on April 3, 2017, named You or Someone Like You.

Here is what Chandler told me about the inspiration behind the new niche perfume launch You or Someone Like You.

 "There is an Englishwoman who doesn’t exist. Her name is Anne Rosenbaum, and I created her in my novel “You Or Someone Like You.” She lives, with her movie executive husband, in a house high in the blue air of the Hollywood Hills, just off Mulholland Drive, overlooking Los Angeles above the 101. 

 I’m fascinated by LA, this strange dream factory that exists in its eternal, relentless present tense, its otherworldly beauty both effortlessly natural and ingeniously artificial. A movie that makes movies. Palm trees, the symbol of LA, aren’t natural there. They were imported, placed in the hills, “but then,” Anne observes to you, “so was I.” 

Los Angeles’ smells mesmerize, the astringent mint/green of eucalyptus, wild jasmine vines unselfconsciously climbing the stop signs, catalyzed car exhaust, hot California sun on ocean water (although “You” contains no jasmine or eucalyptus; if you need to know what it’s made of, “You” is not for you). 

When Etat Libre d’Orange approached me about creative directing, my perfumer Caroline Sabas and I created not a “perfume” -- people in Los Angeles don’t wear perfume – but a specific scent, the scent someone like Anne would wear, an Angelino Englishwoman high in the hills in the blue air."

Sounds like something I should dig with the fervor of a scent hound. Stay tuned because we have an exclusive interview with Chandler Burr coming up soon. 

Free shipping & Gift Draw at Neela Vermeire Creations

Good news for those who love the Neela Vermeire Creations line. Here is the news snippet I was informed of.

"To celebrate March and International Women's Day next week,
we are offering free shipping only within the EU until the 15th of March and you have a chance to win one of our special numbered amethyst bottle of Mohur Extrait (50 ml) when you purchase any 60 ml EDP flacon."

You know what to do...


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Guerlain: The liquidation of heritage

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Succumbing to celebrity culture has never been the Guerlain way.
Guerlain does not follow the Guerlain way anymore. Time to let that sink in.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Dame Perfumery New Musk Oil: fragrance review

There are as many types of musk as there are flowers in the field. Musk has diverged from a single ingredient to a pleiad of genres within a scent group. Although most divide musks roughly into either the "clean" or "dirty" camp, depending on whether they replicate respectively laundry detergent ingredients or the nether region gland secretions of a small animal, it is possible to profit of both worlds.


New Musk Oil belongs to the first camp, yet, without embracing any characteristic of the second, it manages to eschew the clinical sterility that some of its compatriots share. It's clean to the degree that a freshly washed apricot fruit is clean enough to eat. But that does not detract from the fact that it's a succulent, living thing in the palm of your hand, and that you can feel the palpitations of your own heart settle down as you consume it in abandoned pleasure. New Musk Oil is like that; it possesses an unusual fruity quality about it, under the primness of the more standard lily of the valley that's par for the course within this genre of clean musky scents, which recalls an apricot flavor. In fact I'd venture that it shares DNA with another lightly apricot-tinged fragrance in the line, namely Soliflore Osmanthus (osmanthus is a tree with small apricot-smelling blossoms). Makes sense.

Considering that the sensuous application of an oil to one's skin uses touch as the cornerstone of predisposing for the "my skin but better" effect, and that New Musc Oil shares the exact same formula with the alcohol-based New Musk Man cologne, I'd say that with this pretty and lasting oil from Dame Perfumery Scottsdale has won the hearts of women. Not only in the capacity of being attracted to the man who wears the scent, but in the capacity of claiming the oil as their very own.

Like the best out there it looks wholesome but holds a treasure of nuance inside. 

Blog Widget by LinkWithin