Hello APJ Friends and Family,
Admission time everyone, I have a crush. Since I found you all on the scentbloggosphere, and started reading the stuff you’d all known for years, I have been hearing and reading about one name consistently. Some people love him, others feel otherwise, but no one can dismiss the changes he has helped bring to the way personal scenting is viewed by the greater public. This man, alongside Luca Turin/Tanya Sanchez, Victoria of Bois de Jasmin, Denyse of Grain de Musc, Robin of Now Smell This, Patty from Perfume Posse, has been a positive voice for change. Educating, expanding the horizons and realigning perfume into the modern consciousness in ways it’s never been before in modern times.
He was the New York Times fragrance reviewer, yes, but have you read his books? The Emperor of Scent, The Perfect Scent? Excellent reads in the perfumed maze of literature but did you also know he wrote a book, A Separate Creation, about how we are biologically pre programmed if we are gay? Or his novel, You or Someone Like You, a story about a gay Jewish young man whose mother was not Jewish? This man is not only sexy, erudite and engaging: he can also write a rollicking tale that is a page turner without being a pot boiler.
You might want to grab a cuppa, or a glass of something, I hope you really enjoy this interview….Please welcome APJs very special guest today
Interview: Untitled + Art Of Scent Exhibition
I have a couple of questions firstly about your very interesting “Untitled” series please Chandler. There is so much I love about it, the blind testing and the history of that being the way you measured your frags for the NYTimes reviews, that you have brought all these prominent houses together to do it, the hype and fuss you were able to generate: all these things thrilled me. I’d like to know why you felt the need to send 50ml bottles: surely a 10ml atomiser would have served the purpose as well and been easier to ship?
Actually they’re all 30ml bottles except for E03, which was 15ml. Mailing a 30ml and a 10ml is virtually the same thing logistically, and I very consciously chose to give those who bought each episode a serious amount of the work and not a mere sample.
It was a great shame that it wasn’t open to the world as I’d’ve loved to have been part of the experiment and so would some of the rest of the crew down under?
It’s infuriating and disappointing for us as well. We tried every possible way of getting around it, but it is just flatly illegal to ship alcohol outside the US. That includes 10mls. We talked to people at the US Postal Service, UPS, FedEx, etc. Maybe in the future. People send perfume illicitly all the time—you just write “book” or “sample” or something on the customs form—but if it’s caught the contents are either refused or destroyed and, if it comes from a business like Open Sky, the fact that it’s illegal can lead to serious problems. So there we are, unfortunately.
What were the most important things that the fragrances needed to possess before being put into the series?
One criterion was the inclusion of works that in my opinion are hugely underestimated. The quintessential example is Mugler Cologne, one of the most ingenious works of olfactory art ever created, a masterpiece by Morillas. I have another coming up in the next three episodes. It was and is very important to me in this series that participants re-experience—as pure works in and of themselves with no interference—these pieces. A second criterion was presenting works that I think are the most aesthetically important, that changed the state of the art. Sel de Vetiver by, brilliantly, Celine Ellena. A third: works whose structure and technical performance are landmarks. Epinette’s Rose Noir. A fourth criterion: The introduction of artists whose work is not well-known but which I think will stand the test of time. E10.
I suppose the fundamental criterion is that the Series be utterly unlike anything else in the world or anything anyone’s done before. I’m continually reimagining it.
Are there any in the series that you would prefer not to wear but judge them purely as excellent fragrant pieces that are best enjoyed without their usual accompanying fanfare?
Very interesting question. There are actually two. I included Schwieger’s Vanille Insensee Cologne because it is a fascinating reinvention of the cologne trope in the most unlikely way possible—a structure indelibly (we thought) associated with “fresh,” as in the olfactory concept of fresh, which has nothing to do with a natural-world freshness but is a brilliant aesthetic / social construction, built from a material (we thought) fundamentally contrary to the idea of “fresh,” a material of opaque sensuality.
The cologne trope was irrelevant and outmoded; Schwieger did a Modernist version—this is the most trenchant, perfectly-fitted example of Modernism’s mission and definition, “the reinvention of old, traditional art forms with new materials, technologies, and aesthetics so that they speak to the modern person,” that it’s possible to find—and suddenly it became fascinating again. I simply wouldn’t wear it because…I don’t know why, I just wouldn’t, but I wouldn’t watch Midnight Cowboy again and I loved it the first time and it is a masterpiece. Likewise Bal d’Afrique, a 21st century abstract expressionist work that is like being choked to death with a silk rope dipped in mango and passion fruit. A great work.
Currently you have just finished, I think, the first The Art of Scent exhibition. Were you happy with how it went, did you get your desired result?
Yes, absolutely. 150,000 people saw the exhibition, it was a huge success with the public I’m very happy to be able to say, and it established the aesthetic and design premise I will build my curatorial work on.
What will you do differently when you take it on a world tour? (I have no doubt that this will happen)
We’re working on the touring exhibitions, and we’re planning on adding an entry section that will prepare the visitor better for the experience, provide context. Nothing big. The show’s Museum of Arts and Design / New York installation has been retired permanently, and we’ll be looking for new architects and designers with whom to collaborate on the traveling shows, which is going to be fascinating.
Please give me the most important reasons that you think people should treat Perfume as Art, because though it ticks some of my art boxes I still lean towards craft/trade as a whole, especially in these days of fragrant chemistry.
That scent is a major artistic medium, equal to photography, paint, music, and dance is simply incontrovertible in my view. Indeed, it’s grossly obvious. The medium is utterly artificial, which all art mediums must be to allow artists to create fictional works, works of art, which are defined in part by the condition of being artificial things created by human artistic visions. Music is made of tones that exist in the natural world, and it is the most wildly synthetic, artificial, human-manufactured thing there is; when the hell would a group of notes in a man-made key come together to produce “Claire de Lune” or “Beat It”? Answer: never. When would any perfume—any—come together, those materials, all made by people, in those quantities by anything even remotely resembling natural means? Answer, obviously: never.
I’m not sure why there is this ridiculous confusion coming from the fact that some of the materials used by scent artists are “naturals”—very much in quotation marks since there’s nothing natural, at all, about a rose petal whose oil has been extracted in a man-made machine with steam or by a gas at critical phase in yet another man-made machine. Clay is actually natural, or a hell of a lot closer to natural than a vetiver absolute that’s been manufactured with a solvent; sculpture is utterly artificial. Wood is natural; architecture is utterly artificial. All these materials are used to create works that force the public experiencing them to grapple with the artist’s purpose: to change the way we perceive the world, reality, and ourselves. Any work that does that is a work of art. In my view I think it would be impossible to find any logical, intellectually honest way to exclude scent from all the others mediums as an art medium.
Could you tell me about the exhibition catalog that came with the piece and how to get one please?
I’m as proud of The Art of Scent catalog that we put together as I am of the exhibition itself. If that seems strange to you, well, I believe it is arguably a greater achievement than the show. (“We” by the way is our heroic team at MAD, Yasi Ghanbari who oversaw the entire incredibly complex project, the wonderful catalog designers Christian Hansen and Gloria Pak of Hnt Creative, Heather Barrett, Patrick Gosse, Eric Koelmel, James Reardon, Tony Perez, and everyone from The Estée Lauder Companies, Hermes, Guerlain, l’Oreal, IFF, Givaudan—I’d make the list three times this long if I included everyone.) When I arrived at MAD the catalog we created was deemed by everyone flatly and categorically impossible. The brands would never allow their works to be taken out of the packaging. It would be impossible to convince them to allow the works to be treated as true works of art and sold with competitors’ works as a curated art historical collection. And so on.
Photo Stolen Now Smell This
And we did the impossible. We created a limited 1,000 pieces of this catalog of which only a few hundred remain for sale—a single collector bought 25 copies the first hour it became available—it will never, ever be reproduced, and it is, I think, with all due humility, an object that will multiply in value both monetary and historic as the first and only one of its kind. There will be future catalogs from my future exhibitions. But there will never again be The Art of Scent catalog.
Best to you,
Photo Stolen VromansBookStore
Stolen Post Script from The Perfumed Dandy…
To learn more about Chandler and his various projects, including where to buy ‘The Art of Scent’ catalogue and join the ‘Untitled Series’ simply click on any of the links in the article, there’s also that intriguing profile of Chandler by the art critic Blake Gopnik, that’s worth a peek.
My conversation with Chandler is one of a series with a number of bloggers organised by the inimitable Lanier of Scents Memory. Do look out for the others in the project which will be appearing over the weeks ahead at:
Another Perfume Blog: http://anotherperfumeblog.com/
Australian Perfume Junkies 8/9/13: https://australianperfumejunkies.com/
Scents Memory 20/8/13: https://sentsmemory.wordpress.com/
Smelly Thoughts: http://smellythoughts.wordpress.com/
The Fragrant Man: http://thefragrantman.com/
The Perfumed Dandy 31/8/13: http://theperfumeddandy.com
The Scented Hound: http://thescentedhound.wordpress.com/
What Men Should Smell Like: http://whatmenshouldsmelllike.com/