Monday, June 9, 2014

Guessing Games & The Aesthetics of Innovation

If you have been receiving the Luckyscent newsletters you will know by now of the second series of the Untitled Series by Chandler Burr, which was previously hosted on Open Sky. An improvement, I would assume, on many levels, the new distributor of the project assures a dedicated perfumista core audience. What it involves is easy but brilliant too at the same time: experiencing a scent without the guiles of marketing, design or promo routinely attached to it. No notes, no name, no perfumer, no house, just your sense of smell and small glass vials with a number on it to sniff for a month until the revelation is presented at the end of it (for this month, it's June 25th).

Chandler tries to offer "pure scent", involving fragrances which take the game a step forward and I totally see the reasoning behind this. Whether he succeeds or not is up to you and your own opinions on such matters. My own personal stance is that perfume is so inextricably tied to design & marketing (in fact I consider it ~for the most part and in most cases~ a division of design) it's hard to consider it when bared down to the bone; it detracts from some of its beauty and wit, a bit like the Elgin Marbles as seen at the British Museum rather than under their intended Attic sun; they're still artful and brilliant, but doesn't the whole concept involve context as well? Even so I do think the Untitled Series is a great gauge of just how much our preconceptions act on our perception of scent and how wrong or right we decipher scent each time based on those; I love blind tests myself when I fragrance consult, my subjects often producing stunning results.

To get you all revved up for season's 2 episode's 2 scent, out now, please see a summary of the previous installments and make your best guess on the latest! (There is already discussion on Basenotes, but you're welcome to post your own suggestions here in the Comments).
Here is how Chandler presents S02E02 in his own words:

”I've never met anyone who doesn't like S02E02. In dozens of talks over the years, I've given it to thousands of people in all sorts of cultures, and the range is pleased enthusiasm to hypnotized worship. I'm on the far latter end. Done by one of the greatest living artists, who I'm very glad finally to be presenting in the Untitled Series, S02E02 is I think a quietly seminal work in a specific way: We all know the majority of people today say they 'don't like perfume.' By 'perfume' they mean aldehydes and a booming voice and 'look at me' style. S02E02 forces you to redefine 'perfume.' Wait (people think, transfixed on the sidewalk), what is this? Did an island just materialize around the corner? E02 is the Debussy bridge over which one escapes Rachmaninoff's bombast, transport for all those who yearn for the fundamentally different and exquisite, the liltingly lovely.”

– Chandler Burr

For what is worth, I also have never ever met anyone who doesn't like it and I too find it liltingly lovely… :-)


                Season 1
The Untitled Series S01E01: Prada Infusion d'Iris by Daniela Andrier                         Prada
The Untitled Series S01E02: Mugler Cologne by Alberto Morillas                                Mugler
The Untitled Series S01E03: L'Etrog by Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Yann Vasnier      Arquiste
The Untitled Series S01E04: Yuzu Rouge by Raphaël Haury                                            06130
The Untitled Series S01E05: Eau de Lierre by Fabrice Pellegrin                                      Diptyque
The Untitled Series S01E06: Bal D'Afrique by Jérome Epinette                                     Byredo
The Untitled Series S01E07: Vanille Insensee Cologne by Ralf Schwieger                 Atelier Cologne
The Untitled Series S01E08: Rose Noir by Jérome Epinette                                            Byredo
The Untitled Series S01E09: Sel de Vetiver by Céline Ellena                                            The Different Co
The Untitled Series S01E10: Isle Ryder by David Moltz                                                     Hylands

                Season 2
The Untitled Series S02E01: Tom of Finland by Antoine Lie                                            Etat Libre d’Orange
The Untitled Series S02E02: ???


  1. i LOVE this idea! very fun. i much prefer to experience perfume outside of any market or design context first, only afterward seeing how it's presented. the container, the imagery associated with a scent are definitely important and influential, but i like getting acquainted sans context first.

  2. leathermountain20:22

    'without the guiles of marketing, design or promo' you say? I'm certainly nitpicking here, but the Untitled Series does have its own marketing, design, and promo strategy, and a rather attractive one at that, IMHO. Hard to imagine, even in principle, how anything can ever be distributed without any marketing. Open Sky's is certainly a minimalist aesthetic! I quite like my bottle of Open Sky Sel de Vetiver. But I also got Isle Ryder, and it just looks wrong and out of place in that kind of bottle. Most of my perfume is in the cheapest possible glass vials, anyway, as I do value the juice (and the variety) over the full experience, olfactory + visual + tactile (and arguably auditory).

  3. Anonymous21:33

    this is "blind" testing of scents, right? like you do at beer parties where they wrap the bottles and you don't know what you're tasting? those are fun.

    i did this - made samples of around 11-15 perfumes and identified them by numbers, and had three women who weren't perfumistas try them all. they all picked the same one as their favorite. it's been so long i don't remember what it was, but i found that interesting, considering they were of different ages and experiences.

    it was a fun time for all, though, so i highly recomnend this as a way to encouarge non-perfumistas to experiment with perfumes they might otherwise avoid or never come across.

    i don't necessarily believe the pleasure of perfume is tied to its wrapper or marketing - it certainly isn't for me. those are icing on the cake, but i've always been as happy with a tester as a fancy bottle. i love a good marketing story as much as the next person, but if a story is good and the scent isn't, i won't buy it solely for the story.


  4. Anonymous07:59

    I did some research and I would say S02E02 it could be le chevrefeuille Annick Goutal by Camille Goutal and Isabelle Doyen.Well let's see

  5. Anonymous08:38

    Beyond the art of making a perfume there is the ritual of wearing it!!!

  6. NFS,

    indeed trying the scent first makes for a "clean" palate, that's true. It also makes for an impartial first impression. So often the story or the presentation are so influential that it's hard to think outside of them.

  7. A,

    excellent point about this! I was waiting for someone to bring this up and I'm very glad you were the one.

    This is my main contention with Chandler (whom I admire greatly for his ingenuity and productivity): it's extremely hard to disassociate fragrance from the notion of commodity (even a "clean" presented slice is still a commodity if it participates in a project which is promoted and sold to a final consumer). Of course this is not to detract from the main concept of the project which is to showcase that what we smell doesn't always have to get swayed by what we see (which is a perfectly valid one!)

    Interesting what you say about Isle Ryder (I almost just typed Isle of Rye, how's that for associations?) since I have smelled OR seen that one and now I'm desiring to and contemplating which to do first!!

  8. C,

    thanks for the analogy and what a fun consultation that must have been! I agree with you, divesting one of their vision they might zoom into something they never thought it was possible to (which certainly broadens their horizons, always a good thing).

    Interesting what you say about non perfumistas being the best served by this approach. I thought that LS would be a better vehicle for this project as they're much more attuned to the perfumista, but you got a point there….

  9. Angela,

    thanks for guessing! I won't spoil the fun by saying yes or no, though. ;)

  10. Sophi,

    after hundreds of bottles, thousands of samples & decants and decades of my life submerged in fragrance, I can honestly say that you're absolutely right. There is that too.

  11. Anonymous23:56

    A scent being presented "as is", divorced from its marketing, should really be presented without any words at all - to stand or fall on its own merits. (New Clothes or No Clothes!)

    I wonder whether this could be done? Such a project would still excite comment and attract the "detectives" in the perfume world who want to work out what each mystery scent is.

    cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh!

  12. Anna,

    there's a point there to what you say!

    But how would a detective go without any other clue? Just by the smell, eh? That'd be very hard for many making the project non marketable. (and there's the conundrum right there).

  13. Merlin12:33

    'I'v never met anyone who doesn't like it and I find it liltingly lovely'. It sounds like the type of thing that may be on the verge of olfactory invisibility. That kind of scent which you think you can smell, but maybe you can't. Of course that is true mainly of people like me who do not have an acute sense of smell!

    My point is that if many people can just hardly smell it - no one is going to dislike it, lol!

  14. Merlin,

    I'm pleased to say that no, it's actually quite detectable, it makes its presence really known. It's there and no one is going not to notice, but it's lovely and smells as new as tomorrow too.


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