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quarta-feira, 30 de dezembro de 2015

Mixing perfumes: Art or Sacrilege?

by: Serguey Borisov

Upcycle – to reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original.
After at a younger age we tried to mix one of mom’s perfumes with dad’s after shave (one with a distinct mouthwash base note) and got some kind of peculiar smelling liquid, we received some pedagogical feedback from our parents, stood corrected and went for the straight path again. At least, most of us did. But then again, not all of us were taught this way. Like for instance the people of the Arabian Peninsula; they got used to lavishly mixing up to 10 perfumes, smokes and attars right on their skin and clothes, being taught by their elder relatives. Some perfumers went for a classical training and started creating perfumes from oils and synthetics.
And then there’s this Dutch art-project by Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga, who mixes perfumes from different brands in order to create some new, perfume-like art form. (I am terribly sorry for the poorly chosen word, of course, not “to mix perfumes” but “to up-cycle perfumes”!) So I contacted Erik to find out more about his beliefs, methods and theories.

Sergey Borisov: Hello Erik, I found your enterprise Le Bienaimé (http://www.lebienaime.com/) very interesting in terms of both contemporary art and art perfumery, so I’d love to ask you some questions.

Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: Thank you for these kind words, and the fact that you consider my work as contemporary art  shows that you understand it.

Sergey Borisov: Please, tell our readers how you came to the idea of mixing & up-cycling perfumes?

Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: In the Benelux countries, I’m considered as the most important perfume critic – for what that’s worth. I have an artistic and journalist background – self-taught. With a friend, I wrote a very commercial book about perfume in the nineties. It was my introduction into the world of beauty, perfume, art, taste and ‘manners’. I had the chance to write about it in various Dutch and Belgian magazines in my own way. My style: I’m not impressed by name and status, I’m more interested what lies behind the world of beauty – and what makes it tick. My fascination with perfume– born at an early age – never fainted, so I started to write a lot about it which resulted in my blog –  www.geurengoeroe.com – this can be freely translated as ‘the pope of perfumes’, my international name.
Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga
Sergey Borisov: Why did you choose Le Bienaimé as the name of your enterprise? Is it a luxury or niche brand? What is the price policy for Le Bienaimé products?

Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: I call it ‘artistic refined and re-tuned’. Le Bienaimé reveals my ‘romantic’ feeling towards perfume, and my interest in what a well chosen name combined with a ‘logical’ bottle and a good story can do. It gives wings, a starting point to mesmerize and wonder about the strong message of beauty. The name Le Bienaimé conveys this yearning perfectly, as it was the nickname of Louis XV and the family name of the perfumer responsible for one of the best fragrances ever: Quelques Fleurs from Houbigant.
But to make Le Bienaimé not a boring, cliché, traditional house, I added a ‘political’, contemporary statement. I ‘improved’ the socialist slogan from ‘power to the people’ to ‘perfume to people’. This expresses also my fun view on business – too many brands take themselves too seriously. I add a touch of wit and ‘elegant fun’.

Sergey Borisov: The notion of up-cycling is a very post-modern idea. How did you come to it, and why do you like the idea of creative reusing better than the usual perfume creation process?

Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: Although writing is a creative process – forgotten by more and more journalists these days; as a serious journalist you must seduce the reader in a way, by thoughts, by the way you express them – I began to miss working with my hands. So I moved to Brussels for a change of scenery, to ‘retire’ with my ideas. There, I refined and sharpened my ‘philosophy’ and my thoughts about art and its function: everything has been done already, so why do it again, why create new things while you can do it with existing ‘artifacts’. Today, in my view, the ‘function’ of artists is to ‘reshuffle’ old things, place them in a ‘new’ light, and make people wonder about it and wonder about their own preconceived ideas. One day I decided to do that as well with perfumes.

Sergey Borisov: What are your ingredient materials? Do you have any distinction in commercial EDT, EDP, Extrait de Parfums before making your “melanges magiques” (like, do you prefer niche or luxury, or mass perfumes)? Do you use essential oils, absolutes, synthetic materials and/or bases and Attars in your up-cycling process?
Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: During the last ten years, my attitude towards mixing fragrances has changed enormously. I began purely out of sheer curiosity: what will happen if you start mixing? A whole lot, I’ve found out! My ingredients are regular perfumes that I receive, or buy for half the rate or less from some shop owners. Also on flea markets and in auctions. It’s very interesting to smell what a drop of a pure essence can do to a mass-market fragrance. For instance: I combined a whole lot of summer masculine fragrances made by Calvin Klein, Givenchy and Paco Rabanne, and the name for the result was easily found when I smelt it after three months: Typical Male. Not good, not bad – like most of mainstream fragrances. I was not satisfied. So I split and added rich patchouli (Nobile 1942) and a very cheap aldehyde cologne from Spain that reminds one of Chanel № 5.  The result was amazing: an edgy sharp opening calmly transforming into a warm woody base.

Sergey Borisov: There are some “bad” perfumes, those that people do not like. Some of them feel dated, some of them are of a strange, different taste, and some are just unbalanced. Would they be good “ingredients” for you? Are there any “bad” ingredients for you? Which “ingredients” do you consider “bad”? Is it possible to make something “good” out of “bad” ingredients?

Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: One of my guidelines is: how can I improve a classic concept, but I also go by my amazement why certain ingredients have not been mixed yet. For instance, I mingled different upscale vetiver fragrances. The result: just vetiver. So I called it Veryvetyver. Then I added a galbanum and a fig fragrance to it. Because of that it became different. The new name is VeryVert.
Making something good out of something bad is the most difficult challenge. I always have in my atelier different bottles that I fill with 2 or 3 ml samples. In one bottle I add only rose fragrances, in another one oriental fragrances and so on. Other bottles are filled at random - which lately resulted in a beautiful soft sandalwood composition that I called Santal Imprévu.
Sergey Borisov: What are your conceptual relations with your ingredient materials?

Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: Interesting question: I’m very attracted to the “battle” of classic, vintage and modern chypres. So now I’m trying to mingle them, hoping to create the best chypre perfume ever and I will present it in a huge bottle adorned with a lot of different perfume stoppers and will make it ‘the most expensive fragrance of the world’. Meaning it should always be one euro more expensive then the most expensive perfume at that moment. I hope that someone who understands the idea, a museum or a modern art lover, will buy it.

Sergey Borisov: I mean – do you like them? Do you love them?

Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: I think I have a conceptual relationship with perfume in general – the imaginary power it can evoke. For me, perfumes are a way of communicating, and with my work I show that you can perceive the world differently. Perfume can be more than a nice juice in a bottle. A good name or expression makes a perfume even more interesting I think. I’m working with a line for my introduction in Paris called P = Perfume. The unusual names make it interesting at forehand I think: Procure, Pro deo, Prodigal, Profane, Profiligate, Profit, Proforma, Profusion, Pro patria, Prophecy, Propitious, Protocol, Prototype.

Sergey Borisov: Do you like some “ingredients” more than the others? Do you use absolutes, oils, bases or molecules in your creation process?

Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: I love every ingredient material just because they smell or stink – I consider it as a kind of miracle that nature can produce this (even with humans). One of my favorite ingredients is galbanum and scented pea. Mostly I use existing perfumes, and sometimes I combine them with absolutes and oils. It’s an interesting process: with one drop of essential oil you can enhance a cheap perfume. I’m still busy with a vanilla fragrance that has to smell sweaty and rough instead of the sweet and rhum-like cliche – I added too much coriander oil. It’s not refined, but ugly in a way, and needs some extra work.

Sergey Borisov: Do you believe that “ingredient materials” are perfect – or intrinsically imperfect and need to be improved?

Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: It depends on the quality. Sometimes you smell jasmine that isn’t jasmine to me. White musk can be horrible and sometimes perfect – it depends also on the temperature and season in which you smell it.

Sergey Borisov: Do you wear fragrances non-mixed and do you enjoy wearing them?

Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: Mostly for analyzing fragrances for my perfume blog: www.geurengoeroe.com. When you work so much with perfumes like I do, you easily get bored. But then sometimes one new fragrance makes you wonder again why certain ingredients of perfume families work so well? I had it recently with lily of the valley. It’s in my head. So now I’m thinking: how would it smell during winter, can it smell cold and icy? So that brings me to a new idea: the four seasons… how does a flower smell during spring, summer, autumn and winter. The last fragrance I wore alone was Cuir by Mona di Orio – I was going to a social event. I overdosed it, just to see if people would react.

Sergey Borisov: What is your creative process? Could you describe it: what`s the idea that sparks the start, and how do you develop it? Is it possible to re-create your perfumes later?

Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: A creative process can have different sparks. Now I’m developing a new series called ‘Pornification of Society, Pornification of Perfume’. This is my comment towards the boring marketing idea that sex sells. In my perception it doesn’t. Some names: Come Again?, Fake It, Second Night Stand, Take A Shower First.
But I’m also creating perfumes led by ingredients. Currently one perfume store sells my line ‘Les Eaubades’, conceived especially for them. A ‘commercial’ line from my one piece series Les Eaubades in which I pay tribute to classic perfume houses by using their niche and mass-market fragrances. The Hermès work is called Hermjesty, The Dior is called Riod, the Guerlain is called Guerlainissimo!
About the development process: I recently bought a 15 ml extract of Jicky Guerlain. I have a friend who almost starts crying when I talk about my new sacrilege. So I thought: wouldn’t it be interesting to make classic, ‘heritage’ fragrances more daring by just adding civet, or more contemporary by just adding oud.
No, I can’t recreate my perfumes. Never. That’s the idea, to enjoy the ‘fleeting’ moment of a perfume in a real, pure way.
Sergey Borisov: Do you align your “perfume ingredients” by their main themes, or by brands, or by mood, in order to compose an up-cycled perfume out of them?

Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: By brands and by themes alike. For another niche perfume shop in Amsterdam I made ‘A Week In Fragrance’. For every day of the week a perfume that is based upon a popular perfume family. Thursday is called Ambracadabra – a mixture of amber fragrances mingled with an animalic touch. Saturday is called Green Washing – a mixture of classic green fragrances. Sunday is called PS or Perfume State – my attempt to recreate the lost Opium Yves Saint Laurent.

Sergey Borisov: Some of your perfumes consist of as much as 51 or even 72 “ingredients”! Those are huge numbers! How do you manage to understand the smell of such a heavy mix and improve it?

Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: These perfumes I don’t improve: the result of the assemblage makes the perfume. If the bottle is full, the perfume is ready. I found out that ‘bad’ fragrances really don’t exist. The result of any mixed composition is always a fragrance – you like it or you don’t. You can distinguish this very well in eau de colognes, high end, low end: you get cologne. I know a shop owner who sells Neroli Portofino by Tom Ford (one of the most creative perfume brands) as a modern 4711 Kolnisch wasser. 

Sergey Borisov: Does it make a difference to you using a modern or a vintage formulation in your ingredient material?

Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: It really depends; for example, for the recreation of Opium I mingled: Barynia Helena Rubinstein (vintage), Cinnabar Estée Lauder (vintage), Ispahan Yves Rocher (vintage), Jasmin Noir Bvlgari, JHL Aramis, Le Baiser du Dragon Cartier (extract), Tom Ford Noir, Opium Yves Saint Laurent (vintage extract), Terracotta Le Parfum Guerlain.
Sergey Borisov: Why would you recreate the true vintage Opium YSL using the true vintage perfume of Opium YSL? Why don’t you just enjoy the true vintage perfume?

Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: I had only 10 ml of the extract… so it needed some addition. And this project was a good way to find out how oriental notes work in general. How would patchouli, amber and carnation work together? There`s one very funny company in Holland that sells fragrance copies. Alien’s copy is named Strange, the J’Adore clone became I Love It, and the Opium clone was named Opus. This last one is a good base (€ 6,99 for 100 ml) for an oriental up-cycle perfume, a sticky and overly sweet patchouli. Besides that: what triggers me the most is still how to make exiting perfumes from existing perfumes. By the way, one client who bought Perfume State (my Opium version) preferred mine above the classic Opium.

Sergey Borisov: Did you present your up-cycled perfume creations to the brand’s art-directors or the perfume-creators? What were the brands/perfumers’ reactions to your up-cycling their perfume creations?

Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: Yes, I did. But very low key still. I want to‘re-launch’ my brand next year.
Some people from the brands didn’t understand it, some understood the artistic approach. What some of them don’t like is that they believe I ‘rape’ classic fragrances, they see it as an insult; they don’t like the fact that I ‘demystify’ the ‘fairy tale’ image of the industry. Others like it and are willing to help me to get my brand known in Paris.
Sergey Borisov: What is your price policy and how is the business going?

Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: I’m going to change it. Besides my expensive line (€ 3.00 for 1 ml) I want to launch a more consumer friendly priced line. I believe that my approach toward perfume is also interesting for a broader audience, an audience without any real perfume experience – 90 %, I think – but that can see my perfumes more as a part of design and lifestyle.  
Most of the perfumes are liked and disliked for the wrong reasons. My goal is as well to let people find their favourite kind of scent – free from marketing and publicity tools. And that’s a fun way to spend your free time, it gives you a goal. The perfect example is my brother in law. I presented to my friends and family a lot of fragrances I received from different brands. He was one of the few, who returned them with some questions. Together we found out that he liked leather scents. Since then he is a happier person, because like he said: every morning I wake up and can choose out of four/five leathers – what a fine day to start. Recently he told me he had bought a new one and could explain with the right words why he likes it. This should happen to everyone!
The business is going well but can go better. We’re still in a crisis so people tend to play safe. But it’s so much fun when someone is smitten by it. Recently a DJ from Chicago bought three of my fragrances in Amsterdam and was so enthusiastic. Because of him, two other Americans bought some of them online. That gives energy.
But it’s still a lot of work to convince perfume store owners that my line specially made for them is really exclusive and one of a kind. For instance, if a shop in St. Petersburg or Moscow is interested, I would build a small collection around a Russian theme. The perfumes are good, but the given names make them even more special. For instance, ‘Вешние воды’ (Veshnie vody) - a short story by Turgenev is a beautiful name for a green spring like fragrance.
Interesting is also that I don’t get much media coverage in the glossies: journalists are afraid that it might conflict with the advertisers. And they don’t know – like most of their colleagues – how perfumes work. They use ‘like’, ‘beautiful’, ‘exceptional’ without explaining what it means according to them. They are more interested in the story, the new top model, the photographer – just the lifestyle blah-blah-blah. And that’s interesting, because the classic houses emphasize now more and more on craftsmanship and their experience. As Geurengoeroe I’m asked more and more by brands to get their managers to think out of the box, to promote perfume in another way – knowledge combined with fun.
Sergey Borisov: You probably have heard of so-called “millefleurs”, which are the mixed fragrant trials of a perfumer’s creative work for big perfume houses. They usually discard it as chemical waste, with the help of some companies specialized in chemical mixtures. Could you suggest some creative up-cycling for these complex fragrant mixtures?
Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: Yes, I know about it. I call my own ‘wastes’ millionfleurs. In this light, I’m intrigued by the idea to improve, with or without a real perfumer, fragrances that didn’t convince the customer. Like all those ‘smells as’ fragrances you can buy for a tenth of the ‘official price’, but then in a reversed way: ‘Made by xx, improved by Le Bienaimé.

Sergey Borisov: From what I gather, the up-cycling perfume project Le Bienaimé is part of a bigger project of yours. Could you tell us about it?

Erik Maarten Jeroen Zwaga: This is the smallest luxury group of the world (and are my initials, you could visit my web-site http://www.emjz.com/), in a reference to the greatest luxury group LVMH. Here, I conceive new brands in different fields and they will exist as long as I want. There are some up-cycled porcelain and crystal, clothes and bags, furniture etc. The newest brand to be added soon: you can hire me as Sir Silly as the alternative for Lady Gaga. My house rule: everything has been done in the world of art and design. So it’s a matter of re-arranging ‘artifacts' to shed a new light on them, to present them in a different light and make people think about it. I don’t call it recycle but up-cycle.

I would have expressed my opinion on Erik's concepts and the fragrances themselves - however, I have not had a chance to try them. I would like to know your opinion regarding this postmodern approach: are you "in the mix" or not?

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