Thursday, 6 April 2017
The secluded town of Marfa, with its scorching temperatures and dry landscape, would probably be the last place one would associate with a luscious white floral fragrance. However, for Memo Paris this creative contrast turned out to be the perfect inspiration. “I loved the name Marfa even before going there and I was not disappointed - the landscape is as beautiful as the name,” says co-founder Clara Molloy.
After Les Echappées, Cuirs Nomades and Graines Vagabondes, the fragrance house has now inaugurated its fourth collection, Art Land, with Marfa, a concoction of orange blossom, tuberose and white musk. But how exactly does one recreate the olfactory landscape of a place almost devoid of all natural vegetation, save for the odd cactus? “We were looking for a ‘sand effect’ because of the desert, an element of softness. But we were also looking for heat, and for originality. This side would reflect the art part of Marfa,” Molloy explains.
Out of all the fragrance’s components, be mandarin, ylang ylang, agave or sandalwood, there is one in particular that takes center stage. “With the tuberose we found a flower that had sophistication and a different vibe than all the others,” she states. “You cannot hide a tuberose in a fragrance, it is always noticeable. I thought that was interesting because good art is also like that – it stands on its own.”
Seeing as this is the first scent in the Art Land range, it’s only natural to wonder what other fragrances Memo Paris has up its sleeve, to which Molloy simply responds, “I wish I knew! You cannot predict where and when inspiration comes. The collections are a way to stimulate our imagination, it is like changing the language you usually use, speaking French then Russian then Spanish…” No matter which language the house decides on next, it will be intriguing to see which cultural capital becomes the successor to this beautiful debut.
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In Part 1, Joseph Quartana explained the story behind each of the nine scents in his Les Potions Fatales collection. In the following interview, the Six Scents and Parfums Quartana founder discusses the deeply personal process behind his latest range of fragrances and redefining gender in perfume.
First off, how is Les Potions Fatales different from your previous projects like Six Scents?
This is the first time I’ve explored a singular concept in perfumery. All of the Six Scents were of collaborative nature and about trying to get the designer’s unique vision across. I spent a lot of time selecting those specific designers because I felt like they have interesting visions. They were all influential enough in the industry that they should have a fragrance but are not necessarily big enough to do so. That was the whole sort of spiel.
Six Scents also built on your background in fashion.
Absolutely. I was a buyer for 14 years so that was a logical extension of the work I was doing already, just more curatorial.
So how did that shift from a collection like that to Les Potions Fatales happen?
I was actually going to relaunch the best sellers of Six Scents, this was in late 2013, but at the time my business partner and I decided to go in separate directions. I had just closed my shop, Seven New York due to a landlord dispute/nightmare, and Six Scents was suddenly penniless after our "divorce" so I was at a crossroads. In short, I lost 15 years of work and hundreds of thousands of dollars, so I was really angry. This whole collection was a catharsis of all the venom that had built up. So it comes from a real place. After I finished the collection I felt so much better. I got it out.
Each fragrance has a dedicated perfumer with their own signature style. How were you able to keep the common thread flowing throughout the collection?
I told them two things: first the guiding principle behind the development of this is the notion of the femme fatale. Beautiful but deadly, just like a poison flower. It's deceptive. That's really what we were going for from the packaging to the films to the formulas. Secondly, I told them to think about gasoline — which is sweet smelling but you know it's toxic — so that they didn't waver too far from the original concept. That's how I held it together.
From a merchandising perspective they're all going in different directions. We did this on purpose, we didn't want there to be any overlap. It became obvious what they were going to be once we looked over all the folklore and had this holistic picture of it. For example, Bloodflower should be a gourmand, Venetian Belladonna is a fruity floral, Digitalis is a green, spicy aromatic. They fell into line in that way, it was a happy accident. We did a lot of field testing with both random people and creative professionals. I didn't want to hear that it smelled like something else out there. If we got that feedback, we had to go back to the drawing board and pivot it.
Fragrance itself is about deception in a way, because what you smell in the beginning is not what you smell at the end.
Absolutely. It's not necessarily what we think it is. Another thing: perfumers traditionally were also the poison makers in the royal courts. So historically there's always been a huge connection between the two crafts. David Apel, who did Digitalis, was fascinated by that concept. It’s so fundamentally rooted in the history of perfumery and yet no one has done it. It’s been staring at us in the face, so much so that we didn't see it.
In terms of gender assignment, some of the scents have a femme fatale and others a more unisex character.
Well, there's the flip side of the femme fatale concept and that’s the metrosexual movement, men being held to the same beauty standards as women. It’s a pretty recent phenomenon, this didn't happen in the 1950s. So our men's scents are pretty "boys". The folklore ultimately dictated what the gender would be though. All of them are unisex except Venetian Belladonna and Midnight Datura, which are definitely more on the feminine side.
It's interesting that a lot of them are unisex because floral scents were traditionally seen as more feminine. Obviously there has been a shift with that.
Well, in this case just because they are based on flowers, doesn't make them necessarily floral; it's the folklore we interpreted. But yeah, commercially it's been a huge hang-up for men to wear a floral but it's been changing. With this whole collection I wanted to make it dark and romantic. Perfumery lends itself to that concept so naturally, right?
Usually with flowers, there's this idea of them being a delicate object which has a vulnerability to it.
At the same time they have a wicked power to seduce and, in the case of these, to literally kill. That's a serious power. I look at them as strong. As a male I will be the first to admit that these are feminist and female empowering.
From the films to the packaging, it’s all one unified concept.
Nothing is arbitrary. This is the result of me really meditating for hundreds of hours on the folklore and visual symbolism. Me sitting in my local bar every night until four in the morning staring into the bottom of my wine glass and jotting stuff down. It just came alive, I don't know how else to put it. The packaging is an extension of all the research. The sleeve is symbolic of the hallucinations you get from being poisoned with the flowers. The colors were selected through a blindfold test. I had people smell the fragrance without knowing anything about it, and asked them what the first three colors were that came to mind. I wanted them (the boxes) to look like they smelled, sort of a synesthesia effect. The box front badge design is supposed to be a combination lock. We were inspired by Hellraiser. In the film there's this mystery box which is where the demons come from, it's a Pandora's box of sorts. and we chose a blue amethyst inspired vessel because that was what the ancient Greeks used to hold their poisons. You've got multiple layers to the unveiling of the experience, like an onion.
Throughout the three years of creating the line, what’s been the most fascinating thing that you've learned?
For me personally, that I can actually see a project through with this degree of scope, from start to finish. I've surprised myself. I've never worked on something this long in my life, this was a fucking journey [laughs]. I would liken the whole process to writing an album with nine different songs. I was reading up biographies on Depeche Mode and followed a lot of how they went from one album to the next. What I was setting out to create with this collection was cult items. I didn’t expect them to be successful in the beginning, but instead and hopefully 10 years down the road. And that’s just like the Depeche Mode albums, when they first came out they were hated, except by the most avant-garde people. You should see the early reviews, they’re so scathing. They stuck to their guns, didn’t listen to critical reactions and their fan base just snowballed from there on out.
In a way, it’s good if a fragrance is polarizing. I would rather have something that gets love or hate reactions than just the average, middle ground.
Absolutely. That middle ground is the worst insult. I really prefer a scent which elicits a reaction. It’s like effective art in that way. You might not like it, but does it strike you? Do you learn something about yourself, does it have a jarring effect, does it stop you in your tracks? That’s the power of a good fragrance, and I’m all for it.
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As far as inspirations for a perfume line go, Breaking Bad is pretty much the pinnacle of badass-ry. And just like its source material, the Les Potions Fatales collection by Parfums Quartana is highly addictive and undeniably captivating. “I was watching an episode of the show, and in it the protagonist Walter used lily of the valley to poison Jessie’s girlfriend’s son, Brock. A lightbulb went on in my head. I thought to myself, why hasn’t anyone done poisonous flowers in perfumery yet? That’s when the eureka moment happened,” Joseph Quartana explains.
Packaged in psychedelic original artwork by Aersoyn-Lex Mestrovic, each of the range’s nine eau de parfums explores the folkloric, mythical, and biological traits of its namesake flower. “The notion of deception is the concept that runs through the entirety of the collection. Things are not what they seem,” Quartana adds. In the following text, the brand’s founder depicts the narrative behind each scent.
The Tale of Fiery Seduction: Venetian Belladonna
“We wanted it to be straight-up super slutty and seductive. Firstly, venetian belladonna was equated with aggressive female sexuality. Secondly, it was used by the witches of Italy to put seduction spells on men. So we put plum, honey, all of these feminine notes into it. The witches would also drop it into their eyes, partially because it was considered cosmetically attractive to have blown out pupils, but also to have black masses. They were putting a hallucinogen into their eyeballs, so we made the scent psychedelic in that way too. Styrax progeny, which smells like something is on fire, was added into the dry down. The idea is that once the witch seduces you, she burns you with her hellfire. It’s also a symbol for the fire of passion. There is both the literal aspect of hellfire, and then the symbolism of passion.”
The Tale of the Rageful Hunter: Wolfsbane
“Wolfsbane was used for the extermination of the wolf population by dipping the arrows into the poison. It was also used for warfare in the same way. With this scent we were trying to capture the virility of a hunter, the rage of a warrior and the ferocity of a wolf. It's so vicious and intense. I wanted it to be a macho scent, so dripping with raw male sex appeal and rage that you don't know if he's going to kill you or fuck you. That's what we were going for, and making it opulent. Not only in the sense of dark, rich woods but by literally having symbols of wealth in there. That's why we added black truffle to reinforce this excess of luxury. We also wanted it to be so full of rage as to be psychedelically intense and got that twist by incorporating absinthe into the heart note.”
The Tale of the Deflowered Floral: Lily of the Valley
“Lily of the Valley is a light floral. Muguet was always used to celebrate innocence in spring time. It's said to come from the tears of the Virgin Mary and used in May Day festivals all over the world. Lily of the valley flower was one we really struggled with. We could not decide on a concept, after two years we were not happy with it and kept going in circles. Finally, we just focused very strictly on it being toxic, because no one has focused on its dark side. You have tons of lily of the valley fragrances out there, but they're all quite floral, innocent, spring-time bullshit. So we wrapped it in a black little veil, dirtied it up with cassis on black leather, corrupted its innocence. I liken it to the wedding dress the next day. It's a floral scent that's deflowered. It's not virgin anymore.
The Tale of Wicked Liquid: Hemlock
“In ancient Greece hemlock was used to execute prisoners, most famously Socrates, by inducing vertigo and ultimately death. It’s name is derived from the Greek word for ‘konas’, which means to whirl about, so we added a black vinyl accord to suggest a wicked black liquid. The flower itself grows in green fields, so notes such as crushed leaves and patchouli were added to create a vegetal backdrop.”
The Tale of Forest Fairies: Digitalis
“Digitalis in small doses was used for the treatment of heart conditions. In moderate doses it was a hallucinogenic drug, used to summon fairies in the forest and alter one’s state of mind. We wanted to evoke a magical wooded stream through ozonic notes and the scent of wet moss, plus give it a sparkling and bubbly quality with the incorporation of floral notes like iris, jasmine and neroli.”
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The Tale of a Gothic Vampire: Bloodflower
“Each of the fragrances vary in a spectrum of being very loyal to the folklore all the way over to being completely imaginary, like in the case of the Bloodflower. For me and the perfumer Alexandra Carlin, the first thing that came to mind is the album Bloodflowers by The Cure. So we went into a gothic direction with it. Our concept was to make it really vampiric. We had to add a blood accord, but had to make it more palatable. I was back home for the holidays in Jersey with my very Italian family and what we drink after the meal on Christmas Day is black sambuca. It smells like licorice and anise. I thought, let's try throwing it into the Bloodflower recipe and see what happens. It turns out it really blended nicely with the clove, orris and rose. Suddenly it all harmonized. It transforms the blood accord into sweet blood that you want to lap up. You, the smeller, become the vampire.”
“One of the fascinating things about bloodflower as a flower is that it's eaten by the monarch caterpillar before it transforms into a butterfly. This notion of metamorphosis is why the fragrance transforms so quickly into this very sweet drydown. And so the accompanying film is really about that metamorphosis, the idea of spiritual ascension, shedding the body and finding the white light.”
The Tale of the Drunk Moon Goddess: Midnight Datura
“Midnight datura is a white flower that only blooms at nighttime and is known to glow in the moonlight, hence it's nickname 'moonflower'. It figures into lunar worship and witches used it to hunt and worship the goddesses of the moon, Diana and Artemis. Midnight Datura is an homage to Diana; we imagined many daturas glowing in the moonlight, which is why we made it a super floral scent with 10 different flowers. We gave it a powdery note to suggest the glow. Initially I had some reservation about using powder as an accord as it screams grandma to me, but in this case, the perfumer, Lisa Fleischmann, is only 27 and this is her debut fragrance. Point is, if powder is ok for a 27-year-old, well, then everything old is new again. The femme-fatale here, like Diana, is on the hunt, she's a little drunk (hence the rum note), and wishes to open her flower after midnight. It’s unapologetically sexual, much like Venetian Belladonna.”
The Tale of Medieval Masculinity: Mandrake
“Originally Mandrake was shaping up to be a female fragrance, then Carlos Vinals and I had a eureka moment, like wait a second, Man-drake. So we shifted it back over to the masculine side, mainly with the addition of the leather. There is one accord in the scent called deadly addiction accord, that's basically a creamy gourmand wood. With Mandrake, the root is as important as the flower. It's said that when you pull the root out of the ground it emits a sonic shriek that is fatal. In folklore, mandrake was actually used as a kind of medieval Viagra, a fertility enhancer referenced by Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This whole fragrance is really a celebration of the male phallus.”
“It's also said that if you mix mandrake with milk and verbena you can summon a demon. The creamy gourmand wood aspect is the milk, and then the aromatic aspect that also simulates the scream is the verbena. It's a sexual male fragrance. And to really emphasize the root aspect we added birch leaf and root, which, combined with the creamy gourmand wood, captures the effervescence of root beer. Mandrake itself also smells like apple. It's one of the only poison flowers we really liked the smell of, so it became the essence of a heart note and we reinforced it with pomegranate and rhubarb.”
The Tale of Narcotic Nectar: Poppy Soma
“Poppy Soma was done by Emilie Coppermann, who was the understudy of none other than Jean-Louis Sieuzac, who co-created Opium for YSL in the late ‘70s. She wanted reinterpret her mentor's original vision and update the concept for 2016. Our version is vastly different. Poppy Soma is the sweet white sap that bleeds out of the bulbs, which is collected and refined into black tar opium (that is then smoked). Ours is just that, the before and after of the nectar, its sweetness, and the pungent smoke that is then consumed as a drug. It's dream inducing, literally narcotic, and as the Chinese used it for sex, we wanted to impart a warm sensuality to it as well.”
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