Breaking Free with Nature’s Relentless Escape Artist
What is fragrance? A seemingly simple question, which of course, comes with a not so simple answer. Thanks to a litany of tangential meanings applied to fragrance throughout human history, attempting to decisively answer that very question has become a bit of a Sisyphean task. That’s because at its fundamental core, a fragrance is nothing to see… an inexplicable nothing with an unique power to somehow stir in us a great deal of something. Yes, the unassuming aromatic winds of olfaction have been known to cause unexpectedly profound (albeit not always positive) results in us all. Fragrance rarely makes a clean break during its escape into the world.
Queerly, fragrance is an emotionally-laced ether that is allusive (it defies explicit explanation), elusive (it is hard to pin down), and illusive (it is deceptively simple). Chasing this idea further down the rabbit hole was the initial spark behind Nothing 2 See, an immersive olfactive installation constructed for the Institute of Art and Olfaction‘s AIX Scent Fair, held May 6th-8th at the Hammer Museum in West Hollywood. Nothing 2 See was conceived as a personal reflection on the disparate pieces that pull at the layers of olfaction. To understand more about the thinking behind Nothing 2 See, let me start with off with some stacks of old coloring books sitting in my office.
Color in the Fragrance
During the development of Asphalt Rainbow, I spent a lot of time flipping through these old coloring books of mine, mostly looking for stencil ideas for the project. Coloring was always one of my favorite things to do as a kid, so returning to these old books has become one of the best windows back into that time in my life. But what do old coloring books have to do with understanding fragrance? I’m glad you asked. First, take a look at the picture of the rose above. Now imagine coloring in the fragrance in the picture of the flower. Your only direction is to color in the fragrance. This is an exercise I always used to love to do during exploratory scent workshops with children. The end results were always interesting and said a lot to me about how we think about our sense of smell.
Only a handful of kids ever deliberately disobeyed the lines and shapes of the flower like below, when coloring. I’ve repeated the same exercise with adults, and the results were comparable. Those select few who did decide to color outside the lines seemed to share a basic understanding of olfaction: the flower is not the odor and the odor is not the flower. Fragrance (in the form of odor) is a gas we experience as it is escaping the flower. It is something that emanates from a jump-off point (a source), and is thrown forth into this world as a gaseous projection of odor molecules. In other words. fragrance is breaking free.
Ultimately, as an escaping olfactive projection, fragrance has both shape and motion. Once set in motion, a scent’s shape unfolds dependent not only on its method of escape from the source (i.e. skin evaporation, diffusion into the air, ignition through flame…), but also on the make-up of the surrounding world into which it is breaking free (where it comes into contact with other points of possible scent contamination, manipulation, or further separation into base parts). Over time, scent either falls off, rinses off, or is broken down by us and our surroundings until becoming undetectable. And every time that fragrance escapes, the results are slightly different. Time and place matter in olfaction.
So this means the actual “fragrance” of fragrance is a gas. It’s not the flower. It’s not the tree. Fragrance is the invisible above that just wants to break free. The liquids and solids we associate with fragrance are simply mere carriers of contained olfactive molecules; even we ourselves are just acting as glorified delivery systems when we adorn our bodies in scented materials. As a gas, fragrance follows a few basic physical principles involving pressure, temperature, and concentration (the number of molecules confined to volumetric space) that help explain why it moves about a room and dissipates the way it does. Good perfumery practice should then focus on the “from where” a scent takes off when constructing the “what” it will smell like. A formula, whether intended or not, should always be part escape plan.
The Human Variable
Now that we’ve established that as a gas, fragrance wants to break free into the open air, and what role we might play in its ongoing escape plots, let’s shift to the remaining emotionally-laced part of this equation: the human variable. To put it bluntly, as it spreads out into space, humans can experience fragrance like a hammer on a slowly eroding tether. As aroma hits you smack in the face, sending your fight-or-flight instincts atilt, it may simultaneously beckon you back towards its origins. Fragrance where can i buy prednisone for dogs possesses the skill to both push and pull, littering its exodus to freedom with olfactive cues and clues. It is multi-level (albeit it invisible and inaudible) communication.
We talk of sillage as the physical trails left lingering along a fragrance’s escape path, but these same aromatic arms have the ability to trigger an emotionally inquisitive response in us, and based simply on how that particular fragrance makes you feel in the moment. Conversely, this alluring quality can just as easily be turned on its head, with malodorous fragrance instead instantaneously repelling you from any spot of odious offense. In basest terms, our lizard brain is telling us, “Find the good. Avoid the bad. Investigate.” And it all kicks off from there. These are the human emotional effects that stem from a fragrance’s escape. Welcome to the crux of Nothing 2 See.
Perfume as an Olfactive Game of Capture & Release
The end concept for Nothing 2 See comes from a fascination with fragrance’s innate desire to break free and the way in which the “how” of that escape can affect scent’s overall emotional resonance. The idea plays out inside and around three black scent cells, each housing an individual CM olfactive narrative:
The thought is to tempt people’s olfactive curiosity, offering them the opportunity to experience each scent on blotter alone (devoid of any other outside influence), or by diving headfirst into an isolated scent cell where the fragrance is diffused from within (opening the door to implied meaning through added sensorial materials). You choose how and when nothing becomes something.
In many ways, Nothing 2 See is also about the evolution in my own thoughts about fragrance creation, hence the images of me in the cell surrounded by my source materials. The more cognizant I became of olfactive stimuli over the years, the more I began to consider perfume less as a static beauty accessory and more as a series of overlapping layers of actively-encouraged reflexive thinking. It communicates. It has drive. It is chaos in search of clarity. This is the true beauty (and tragedy) of fragrance’s escape. As a creator, my role involves helping to stage these olfactive prison breaks.
In nature, fragrance is only one degree removed: a rose produces a scent to loop you (and pollinating insects) back to its petals. Think of this as an olfactive base line: the simplest of fragrance’s paths to follow with the least amount of interference involved. By the time we pan out to the fragrance of bottled perfume, the relationships become slightly more complicated. Ask yourself, how many degrees removed from the rose is the fragrance trapped in the liquid of your favorite bottle of rose perfume? Remember, the process alone of transforming a field of flowers into an organ of usable olfactive tools of the trade isn’t always the most delicate (i.e. pulverization, high temperature boiling, washing in chemical solvents…), and never results in an identical copy of the scent in natura. Then, of course, mixing them together only further complicates things.
So composition is always working with imperfect, fragmented pieces and repositioning them into other fractured structures to imply meaning and connection… Sometimes harmoniously… Sometimes resulting in Frankenstein’s monster. Interesting too, is how then this degree of source material fragmentation and manipulation can affect our deeper olfactive reasoning. As I chase a perfume back to the nape of your neck, am I instinctively looking for you or a lost flower in a field? And which level of olfactive perception dominates my train of thought? All of this stems from just a little Nothing 2 See… and we’ve only just scratched the surface.
Charenton Macerations was born from the idea that every level of olfactive creation involves some form of capture, maceration, and reintegration that is then played out in a tangled game of synaptic telephone. Nothing 2 See is an attempt to demonstrate a little of the ‘how and why’ behind this thinking. From the origins of material fragmentation, to the bottled walls of confinement, and the inevitable unravelling into molecular pieces upon escape, perfume is composition meant for decomposition, served with a side of emotional disruption: in experiencing fragrance we are witnessing the formation of clarity amongst chaos and erosion.
The duality of the maceration process (maceration of ingredients and of ideas), paired with the metaphor of the patient in the cell (a bottled fragrance as a confined jumble of fragmented thoughts and emotions), and the unending desire to escape (olfactive missives released into the open air)… that’s Charenton Macerations. And every olfactive story crafted inside these walls is of a so-called Nothing 2 See. You, the wearers of these scents, act as willing accomplices. The final ingredient is always you. Together, we break free.