quarta-feira, 13 de janeiro de 2016

A Story in Scent: Euphorium Brooklyn, As Told by Stephen Dirkes

by: Stephen Dirkes

(Editor's note: I've been in conversation with Stephen Dirkes for the better part of a year, after first hearing about Euphorium Brooklyn fragrances from some of you in our forum and reaching out to him to learn more. It's hard to believe this house has been in existence for only a year, given the seven amazing releases we have seen so far: Wald, Usar, Cilice, Suédois, Pétales, 100 Tweeds and Chocolatl. Once you enter the convoluted fictional microcosm that is Euphorium Brooklyn, it's hard to shake its scents, images and stories from your mind. Its charming characters, their adventures and experiments, as well as their triumphs and sorrows, offer us the opportunity to completely lose ourselves and experience art and perfume at another level. The founder and perfumer behind Euphorium Brooklyn, artist and musician Stephen Dirkes, is no less fascinating in real life. I originally planned to publish an interview with Stephen, but after studying his responses to my questions, I decided no one can tell us his story or explain the raison d'être of Euphorium Brooklyn better than Stephen himself. Here are his words and his images [and in the videos, his music!]. If you like what you see here, the fragrances are available for purchase at Twisted Lily, including samples and a Discovery Set, and with international shipping available to most countries.—Jodi Battershell)

I began my many years of creative expression as a classical musician. I studied composition at the Royal Conservatory of Music, University of Toronto, University of Michigan, Simon Frazer University and STSI Banudung, Indonesia. My early interest in composing for theatre and dance led me to score film and TV. I moved to Asia to set up recording studios for scoring and producing electronic music. Revolution in Indonesia sent me off to Europe and I developed my interest in film, new media and animation in Prague.
Image: Tal Shpantzer

Upon relocating to New York City, I worked on film sets and media production houses while continuing to compose music for other people and ultimately founded a production company to direct and produce experimental and fashion films. I've been fortunate to screen my films at international film festivals, exhibit in art galleries and win awards for my efforts. Commercial successes enabled me to explore more elaborate personal projects. One such project was a stop motion film project entitledEuphorium Bile Works. The film was set in 1860s Brooklyn and explored the outlandish lives of the three men that founded a secret society, drug factory, and perfume house as manifestations of their shared philosophy of "Transcendental Sensualism." While taking months and months building miniature sets of the factory these men built, with a small team of friends, artists and, animators, I began exploring the materials and history of perfumery as the focus of endeavor for these men. Perfumery materials, their history of trade and olfactive properties became a wonderful way for me to weave the characters, history and story together. One member of the art department team, Adam Maiolo, was a perfumista and we started to have sniffing sessions at the end of our work day. I was hooked right away. I began to build a perfumer's organ and referenced the process of palate training I took as a coffee cupper [taster] in college. I began to create the perfumes I was writing about and became completely obsessed with perfumery.
Image: Tal Shpantzer

Euphorium Brooklyn perfume house, its perfumers, and the perfumes are a manifestation of this journey and inform the collection and stories behind the collection today.

I have always been interested in creative expression and have been trying to develop and expand my creative skill set to be facile at taking total creative responsibility for my art making. Yes, perhaps an ego-maniacal/OCD/Wagnerian "Total Art" conceit it may be… I wanted to bring a product to market that was a singular creative expression. I delight in the perfumery, extensive research, storytelling, filmmaking, photography, music that goes into Euphorium Brooklyn.

I've read that "Indie-Niche" perfume houses aren't supposed to advertise and reviewers get suspicious when confronted with elaborate background stories (lol). Well, in that "the point" of Euphorium Brooklyn is creating a rich, layered immersive art experience, that reductive conceit isn't going to work for me. I do feel completely aligned with the notion that "Indie/Niche" perfume houses are the direct creative expression of an individual artist. I just want to take that notion much further. Euphorium Brooklyn isn't the "Faux-Indie" perfume house that takes a one-line marketing statement, hires a corporate perfumer, a marketing team and purchases the creativity lacking in their boardroom. (lol) The perfumes are about the story and the story is about perfume and the layers of cross-reference resonate and amplify, not take away from what's in the bottle.

I decided to study perfumery myself because the journey of study was so interesting, exciting and rewarding in and of itself. Beyond the joy of the process, I had complex, layered considerations to express in scent that didn't really follow a "Scent Pyramid" approach utilized in traditional perfumery studies. There are also many concerns for a commercial perfumer to enable them to function within a larger corporate structure with technical requirements that I would never draw upon. I had palate training as both a coffee cupper and a sommelier and I referenced those experiences to develop my nose and utilize the hundreds of materials at a perfumer's disposal. I've had extensive traditional classical music education and apply some mental constructs from music composition regarding harmony, variation, and duration-based structures to my work as a perfumer. My transition from composer to filmmaker was a very rewarding and also self-taught, hands-on journey. I think this transition emboldened me to embark on a study of perfumery and it has been a tremendously enjoyable journey.

Research, research, research! Each fragrance we have launched represents a small mountain of research, history, and ephemera. In broad strokes, Euphorium Brooklyn is a repository for my many and varied interests, such as: perfumery materials, multi-media art, global trade, cultural influence, exotica, pseudosciences, 19th-century thought, science, and aesthetics, transcendentalism, and sensuality. My perfumes are about perfume and perfumers. Each fragrance begins with an exploration of each of the three perfumers of Euphorium Brooklyn [Etienne Chevreuil (Cilice, Pétales), Christian Rosenkreuz (Wald, 100 Tweeds) and Rudolph Komodo (Usar, Chocolatl), plus a collaborative effort of all three together (Suédois)—jb] and what would drive them to create a scent: their background, history, possible cultural influence, personality and resources. This exploration leads me to a scent palette to start from. Extensive testing of combinations and accords further refines the concept of the fragrance.

With each fragrance I present extensive notes about perfumery materials and their histories and origins because my perfumes are as much about Benzoin or Vetiver and where they come from as much as they might be about conveying an emotion, mood or location. I connect these materials to my perfumers' creations in directly in terms of what these perfumers could have experienced or would have been interested in, from their time period and personal background. Usar, for example is a study of Vetiver and the specific little village in West Java, Indonesia it is harvested and distilled from. This is important to the perfumer, Rudolph Komodo, as it represents his longing for this country and its culture as a homesick Indonesian living as an expatriate. All of the materials used in the fragrance, express the perfumer's history, intension, and aesthetic while also introducing additional layers of of meaning and nuance that are embraced in the story of the perfume itself.

I find a traditional aspect of perfumery to hide/disregard aspects of the materials used in the craft in favor of the "fantasy" of note listings and lifestyle/aspirational marketing, really missing some of what is most intriguing to me about perfume. I realize that I am at odds with many perfumistas in that I own hundreds of raw perfumery materials and only a few perfumes.

I wanted to make connections between certain aspects of 19th-century thought and perfumery. Particularly, transcendental and fanciful aspects of Victorian thought as expressed in mesmerism, transcendentalism, occultism, theosophy, phrenology and several other "psuedosciences." I really enjoy the cross-purpose/comedic aspects of the deadly serious Victorian intellectual, pursuing the most ridiculous, "wrong-headed" theories with an incredible amount of seriousness, diligence and toil. As much as I present the pretentious, academic and historical underpinnings of Euphorium Brooklyn, I try to have that clearly fly-in-the-face of my perfumers' basic "Sex, Drugs, and Rock n Roll" hedonism behind the scenes. All of this comes together in the "Komodo Process" which is both an expression of all of the intellectual aspirations and academic underpinnings of the perfumers. Alchemy, chemistry, philosophy, transcendentalism, biology, and spiritualism find specific, mechanical expression in this manufacturing process. My "Komodo Process" also references ridiculous claims, inferences and enticements of  perfume advertising from centuries-old snake oil and tonics to contemporary ad copy. In 2016, details of the "Komodo Process" will  be revealed!

I've also had a long time interest in the incredibly complex mechanical devices of the Industrial Revolution.
Image: Tal Shpantzer

Each of the three Euphorium Brooklyn founders bring their unique background, skill set and agenda to the fragrances of Euphorium Brooklyn. Not that each of them are connected to a fragrance category or particular style of perfume, but more that their backgrounds, personalities and drives motivate them to create certain things. There are certain scents that only Etienne Chevreuil would use and they would reference his French background, interest in the storytelling/ mnemonic aspects of fragrance and belief in sensually as a conduit for spiritual experience. Conversely, German perfumer Christian Rosenkreuz's interest in medicine and technology informs his scents in wholly different ways. In general, I wanted to establish an overall Euphorium Brooklyn aesthetic for the perfume house and felt that rich, heavy fragrances with a dark presence of earthy, rooty and smoky notes captured the 19th-century industrial setting of the story. I launched the first three fragrances (CiliceWald and Usar) in a heavy oil-based formulation to further connect the fragrances to the thick, resinous oils my perfumers would have been working with.

As much as any writer, director, or storyteller informs their work with personal experience, I'm informed and motivated by my life, the places I've lived, and people I have experienced. Having had my share of intense life experience (lol) living and working in Canada, Korea, Japan, Italy, Indonesia, Czech Republic, Germany, Brazil, and now New York City, I find I have a wealth of inspiration for my storytelling and suspect that it in part explains the international/cross-cultural aspects of Euphorium Brooklyn.

My filmmaking and specifically my work in stop motion animation directly informs Euphorium Brooklyn. Perhaps the most direct connection between stop motion animation and fragrance is in that it was a stop motion film project that created the characters and world of Euphorium Brooklyn that the perfumes are an expression of. More conceptually, I'm attracted to stop motion as an incredibly laborious effort to create and capture "real" tactile objects and environments. The verisimilitude of digital effects and the "close enough" aspect of those techniques kind of kill me as an unsatisfying and weak substitute. Much like "artisan bread makers" came to be as a self-conscious remedy for decades of an American "Wonderbread" aesthetic, my "handmade/small batch" approach to perfumery is very much an appreciation of old time/timeless and idiosyncratic/bespoke creative expression. After years of taking months and months creating little worlds in which days and days are required to make the most simple of gestures come to life, becoming a perfumer seemed less daunting at the outset than it might have without my background in stop motion. Perhaps the efficacy of determined, relentless baby-steps emboldened my efforts.
Image: Tal Shpantzer

2015 was the most amazing of years. I wanted to release the collection of fragrances quite quickly to establish this world and contextualize the work as soon as I could. By presenting as much of a complete collection as quickly as I could, I wanted to facilitate for people the chance to "binge-sniff" and get a real sense of the house and the story these scents spring from. That meant for a lot of work to bring seven fragrances to market. As much as Euphorium Brooklyn is my personal vision and effort, I have had the most tremendous support and assistance of my partner, Tal Shpantzer and her photography, social media posting, and feedback. Twisted Lily has been a fantastic supporter and my sole/exclusive retail partner. The greater community of online perfumistas, reviewers and friends have kept us going the most. For lack of outside investors and funding, we are overjoyed by the growth of Euphorium Brooklyn as it really has progressed, bottle by bottle, post by post, review by review, fan by fan. Any success is wholly dependent on the tremendous support and interest by the wonderfully welcoming community of perfume-lovers that have promoted us so actively on a word-of-mouth basis.
In 2016 I will be re-launching our first three fragrances (Cilice, Wald and Usar) in perfumer's alcohol formulations with some tweaks here and there. I will also make a small 8 ml decant and several "discovery set" options available for the curious to explore our collection and confirm personal "bottle-worthy" choices with a modest investment.

Our first exciting announcement for 2016 will be the launch of a special set of three perfumes in 8 ml decants. The "VOLUPTUARY SET" will include our re-launch of Cilice with our recent releases, Chocolatl and Pétales Eau de Parfum. Selected for their uniquely romantic, sensual and decadent aspects, we will host a Valentine's Day launch event in New York for this romantic trio of chocolate, flowers and leather. Please follow us on Facebook for details of the event and continued updates, offers, events, news and new launches throughout the year.

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