Concrete by Comme des Garçons: Architecture + Perfume


Kate Apted


Welcome to APJ!

In researching the link between architecture and perfume, a lot is made of linking a smell with a place, or trying to recreate the scent of the inside of a building. I think it is too far a literal understanding of the two. I believe there is a more subtle joining that allows each their artistic and symbolic existence aside from the other, yet in mutual complimentarity.

Architecture + Perfume

Parfumo gives these featured accords:
Top: Cumin, Cardamom, Clove
Heart: Rose oxide, Jasmine sambac
Base: Sandalwood, Cedarwood, Musk

There was a real uproar when Comme des Garçons released Concrete. People wanted the scent to either smell photo realistically of concrete, or to be an avant garde interpretation that challenges the wearer, as has often been the case with prior Comme releases. The bottle was made to look like a concrete pebble, but the violet, fresh scent disappointed many.

Then there is the well loved and highly lauded Avignon, also by Comme des Garçons. It is held as the quintessential church incense. Again, it is said to capture the inside of a Western European church. It is owes its popularity to this fact.

I have to agree that Concrete does not work, olfactorily, with the material commonly used by my favourite architect, Tadao Ando. He is a modern minimalist from Japan and has made some incredibly iconic buildings using cement sheets. It seems almost incredulous that the perfume, Concrete, could remotely capture the essence of an Ando building. Ando has taken the ordinariness of concrete as a cheap, lifeless material and infused it with a zen-like quality to impress solitude, introspection and stillness.


Church of the Light, Osaka. Photo by Kate Apted of her book, Tadao Ando.

Another, predictably, favourite architect is the late Zaha Hadid. I was fortunate enough to see Galaxy Soho in Beijing and revel in its stylistic curves. It seems so outlandishly out of place, plonked in the midst of hutongs, which emit their centuries old unique scents. Any of the Oliver and Co space series of perfumes should, intellectually, belong in a forward looking Hadid building, but they don’t. I found Galaxy Soho almost lifeless; few spaces are rented or inhabited, and the feel is surreal. Lonely, wistful, too ahead of its time.

Perfumes that read the emotional landscape work best in architectural wonders, not olfactory copies. A haunting En Passant by Giacobetti for Frederic Malle is much more fitting for an Ando cement church. Both espouse inner contemplation and speak the same hushed whisper on the wind. But neither are informed and shaped by the other; they find complimentarity by accident.

Something to fill the vision not met by people is needed when visiting Galaxy Soho. It is so perfect in itself that no scent could complete it, but it needs a soul; a friend that fills in the gaps. I can imagine that whatever scent Hadid wore would waft around and give a homely comfort. It is already an ozonic feeling place, that adding to that via scent would just make it worse. La Nuit by Rabanne or Bal a Versaille from Duprez are large in their sillage and create an aura of confidence and worldiness.

Likening a scent to a particular style of building reduces a perfume to a symbol dependent upon the building and removes any potency of meaning and value for the scent on its own terms. That is a huge shame for the perfumer and the architect. Linking the two creates an interdependent meaning and reduces the independent vision of each.

If you happen to know what, if any, perfume Zaha Hadid wore, or what Tadao Ando wears please let me know. I am intrigued.

What are your thoughts on architecture, buildings, spaces etc and perfume? Are you a fan of replicating in scent form your favourite spaces? Or do you prefer to fill a room with linked scents, such as mango and coconut in a bamboo beach hut?

May you journey in peace and good will,

Kate xx


35 thoughts on “Concrete by Comme des Garçons: Architecture + Perfume

  1. Hmmm, I don’t think I’ve ever tried to connect architecture and perfume, but I do think the CdG Incense series does a good job of olfactorily recreating the feel of certain sacred spaces, which are not necessarily buildings. For me nature is just as much a sacred space as a religious building.

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  2. I turn to the outdoors as my sacred space , and revel in the unique smells of each season in my rural neck of the woods…..for this there are plenty of perfumes already on the market that mimic what I smell in my vast backyard.

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  3. Trust you to throw us a curve ball, Kate😉 I can’t think if I’ve ever connected scent with a building, except in the case of churches, where incense rules the roost. But not incense alone, there’s also the scent of beeswax, ancient wood, starched linens, extinguished candles and sometimes the smell of fust or damp. I don’t know if there’s a perfume out there that combines some or all of those elements, but it would certainly be interesting to smell it if there was.

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  4. Oooo!!! Kate! I just thought of something!!!! The ballet studios of my distant past!!! The smell of wooden floors, rosin for the pointe shoes and sweat emanating from bodies. I used to love the smell of rosin, as well as the sound it made while crunching up the chunks.

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  5. What a great piece, Kate. Thank you!

    I was one of those disappointed by the Concrete scent, not because it wasn’t photo-realistic, but because it didn’t pick up on the textural variations inherent in the material. Fine, fine, I have a particular weakness for polished concrete. I think it’s beautiful. And big brutal slabs of the stuff too, like on the Southbank in London, or the Barbican. The Tanks at the Tate Modern are spectacular spaces–the old underbelly of the powerstation, including where the oil was stored–now used for performance, audio, and video art.

    Can you give or design a space a smell, or is it something that accumulates over the years? The materials, the use, the people moving through, the lives lead there. (I adored the smell of the very-old-house I lived in.) Though I do love the idea of granting an unused building a soul, or a friend…

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