De-Classifying Fragrance Ingredients | Part Five

The Christopher Street Extreme: An Olfactive Ensemble

Christopher Street Sign | Olfactive Ensemble

In olfactive storytelling, I believe that the main role of ingredients is to better reveal the subject being bottled. We rely on aspects of material transparency to help drive a sense of narrative… to provoke an emotional, transportive response when sniffing. In the case of Christopher Street, the ingredients are pushed to the extreme to create an olfactive ensemble effect: 15 separate material-based subplots are designed to help further unveil the larger fragrance story of Christopher Street. From bergamot (a single material) to “dance on skin” (an accord built from sweat samples), each are intentionally set up as points of reflection in the formula, acting as windows into Christopher Street’s 400-year history. When all are combined, Christopher Street further stands as an out loud and proud perfume of its own.

Christopher Street, the actual place in NYC’s West Village, represents a defiant story of the many: a cast made up of unlikely heroes. Therefore, the fragrance needed to reflect that same unique diversity. After all, that “all are welcome” sentiment is what made it such a magnetic beacon for artists and activists alike, going all the way back to its founding days in the 17th century. Together, the interplay of materials in Christopher Street is meant to feel like exploring the West Village with a crowd of familiar faces. Each ingredient functions as support for the overall formulation, as well as a specific callback to Christopher Street’s vibrant history: it is a perfume cum olfactive historiography. In the final fragrance formula, every ingredient gets to be part of the supporting cast AND the star.

Hey, I Know That Smell (Identity and Multi-Layered Narratives)

Dirk NYC | The Mechanics of Smell

To achieve an ensemble fragrance effect, Ralf, Fred, Shauna and I (the Christopher Street team), had a lot of discussions about how and what to make noticeable in the final formula. Who were the star smells here and what were their relationships to each other (physically and chemically)? That dual connection to each other and to the street was key to Christopher Street’s design. So, casting ingredients was a crucial part to the fragrance’s success.

To begin piecing Christopher Street together, we workshopped hundreds of formulation ideas before finally arriving at its current foundational structure. The base narrative was set as a nonlinear history built around a series of distinctive olfactive pockets discovered during our research into the neighborhood (specific reflection points representative of moments from Christopher Street’s aromatic past). Attention then shifted to sketching out more details to further define each sub-story by massaging and editing its notes in relation to the whole olfactive structure. We began to purposely play with definition and overlap in the formula to heighten the overall effect of the composition and strengthen its bonds. Ingredients, first made stars, were now further made guides and allusions by drawing from particular personal memories of recounted life from the West Village… and then condensed into a simple one fluid ounce bottle.

Now, for any ingredient to trigger what feels like a contemplative effect, it needs to be just recognizable enough to the nose to stir a sense of curiosity in the brain. When it reveals itself in the formulation, its odor needs to step far enough into the foreground for you to notice its presence to make you ponder it. Essentially, an ensemble type fragrance plays with both identity and structural commonality to drive continual emotional impact. Layers of “a-ha” moments are meticulously stitched together into an olfactive collage that is teeming with potential stimuli to examine.

With ensemble fragrances, every material is given a chance to step into the spotlight. Some perform solo (monologues). Others unite as accords (dialogues and choruses). But action never stops, occurring in the foreground and the background of a perfume, simultaneously and continually (creating a multi-layered narrative). Throughout the perfume’s progression, each ingredient awaits its cue to step forward, supporting the rest of the cast until that moment arrives. Locating where any material is hiding out at any given point of an ensemble fragrance’s development is part of the excitement in smelling it. That added level of discovery is meant to enhance the depth and complexity of the olfactive experience. The more you sniff, the more you might find. The more you find, the more you might learn. Only you decide how far down the olfactive rabbit hole to journey.

[In part six of the De-Classifying Ingredients Series, Act I of Christopher Street is used to explain ensemble pieces in more detail.]

More Decoding Fragrance Posts To Explore

De-Classifying Fragrance Ingredients | Part One
De-Classifying Fragrance Ingredients | Part Two
De-Classifying Fragrance Ingredients | Part Three
De-Classifying Fragrance Ingredients | Part Four
De-Classifying Fragrance Families
What’s a Fragrance Brief?

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