It takes a creative soul to make fragrances

“I do think it takes a creative soul to make fragrances,” she said, “but I don’t think it makes us artists.”

Nonetheless, she continued, “museums are filled with things that I don’t see as art.” And in an era where some of the most successful artists are those who are good at marketing, she added, “I do think Untitled is more interesting than a lot of the stuff you find in museums.”

— Perfumer Daniela Andrier, quoted in Fragrances as Art, Displayed Squirt by Squirt at the New York Times. The article is about the the new The Art of Scent exhibit at The Museum of Arts and Design in New York City. 

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  1. Untitled *is* really interesting. Love that stuff.

    • Robin says:

      It is not a favorite of mine, or even my favorite of her work…but very glad to see she is included in the exhibit — I do think she’s brilliant.

  2. Erin says:

    Is it grouchy of me to be irritated that so few perfumers ever cite anybody else’s work as their favorite, something they wear often or find interesting? I know that these people have to be good marketers and other creatives also do this – trust me, though it happens less often, the authors who claim to not read a lot or read while they’re writing bother me, too! – but why couldn’t she have said Jicky or Angel is more interesting and historically significant than much of the stuff you find in museums? *grouse, grump*

    Also, may I say I’m also tired of Burr’s obsession with “no notes” argument? His analogy this time seems particularly weird, as in any architecture criticism I’ve ever read the critic frequently discusses how the use of materials has created a certain effect in the structure.

    • Erin says:

      Too many uses of “also” here… Maybe I’m grumpy because I’m tired.

      • Robin says:

        Totally agree…and when perfumers are asked what scents they wear, they either say none, or list one of their own, or list something vintage. It’s really rare to hear a perfumer talk up the work of another living perfumer.

        What bugs me about CB’s insistence that notes don’t matter is that he DOES frequently mention notes (or did in his NYT column), it’s just that they’re always synthetic aromachemicals with trademarked names. It’s as though notes don’t matter except to those with insider info.

        (ha, and I’m not even tired so have no excuse. hope you get some sleep!)

    • Dilana says:

      I agree that most art criticism discusses materials. In fact, that is usually so basic to art criticism as to constitute the basic identification of the piece. (The Mona Lisa is a small oil painting; Casablaca is a movie or film; The Clock is a video installation etc.). And the history of technology and availaibility of material is integral to the history of art. )
      Plus, there are few precise ways to describe fragrance except by notes, because we do not have to many “non-ingredient” ways of describing smells, particularily the lmitied ranger of smells evoked by perfumes. (Something can smell rotten, or acrid, but a perfume in unlikely to do so, at least intentionally).
      . A building may be described as shiney or gold in color, even if does not have actual gold sheathing. However, it is a little hard to describe a fragrance with leather notes, except to say that the fragrance is, in part, like leather.

      • Robin says:

        CB has a point, which is that you can’t read a list of notes and have any idea what a fragrance smells like. But to do without notes is to have no discussion at all, at least, no discussion that is useful to a perfumista looking for what to smell next -> unless you rely absolutely on the taste of the “expert” or “critic”. So as a consumer, I object wholeheartedly to the notion that you can’t discuss notes.

    • victoriaf says:

      It’s not because they don’t respect other’s work though. Often perfumers don’t mention anything contemporary fragrance is because they don’t follow the market that closely. Sure, they might smell something that’s new or mentioned by a client, but you would be surprised how few perfumers smell fragrances at stores in their spare time (and even fewer wear perfumes other than their own mods in development). Being familiar with the market is the job of a fragrance evaluator, and the pace of projects is so ridiculous that perfumers have hardly any time for anything else.

      And then there is a political issue of mentioning a competitor’s product in print. It gets even more complicated too, because selectively mentioning one perfume brand might upset your other clients.

      I agree with both you and Robin on the notes. It strikes me as amusing on some level. After all, Burr chose to highlight raw materials/perfume notes as part of the Pitti Fragranze exhibit, he uses perfume notes in his scent dinners, and notes are frequently mentioned in his perfume descriptions.

  3. fumemad says:

    The same thing struck me as well – in fact, a lot of discussion on art is about materials use and how they are used. What I question actually is why Burr seem to think it is necessary to have the validation of perfumery as an art in a museum? Am I missing the point?

    • Dilana says:

      Yes, I do get the sense that Burr is unaware of the theory or history of aesthetics, which is rather odd, since his raison d’etre seems to his goal of placing fragrance (and most specifically commerically prepared pleasing scents) in that world.

      And yes, in comtemporary times, “art” is pretty much defined as that which is placed in a museum or performed in some form of theatrical space. Thus, people contorting and leaping to music with pointed toes in a symphony hall is “dance” and art; people doing the same sort of moves with pointed toes to music in a gym is sport.

  4. fumemad says:

    “people contorting and leaping to music with pointed toes in a symphony hall is “dance” and art; people doing the same sort of moves with pointed toes to music in a gym is sport.”

    LOL! :D

  5. Merlin says:

    I have some sympathy with the ‘notes are not so important’ stance. I tried and really enjoyed Madame Rochas recently and looked up the NST review. The review pointed out how different this perfume smells given its rather conventional notes. The notes said very little to me but the review also talked about how elegant and soft the perfume is – and how it is also warm and inviting. Those words conveyed a lot more.

    Still, I think a review that did not mention the primary notes would be deficient. And also I think more mature noses than mine can probably conjure up the impression of a scent from a list of notes much better than my own juvenile one!

    Think though how many fragrances share citrus as a main part of the top note, jasmine and rose as part of the middle, and musk/sandalwood/cedar as a base. And such fragrances are so wildly diverse!

    • Merlin says:

      Now I’m thinking that while notes are necessary, and while rather general adjectives like ‘warm’, ‘elegant’, ‘soft’ are useful too – more abstract aesthetic terminology, like ‘minimalist’ or ‘baroque’ are important as well. Perhaps he is just wanting to challenge the idea that it is the language of notes that is primary?

      Okay, now i’m over thinking it!

      • Subhuman says:

        I actually prefer reviews that use descriptors like “warm”, “translucent”, “heavy”, “sweet”, etc. rather than note-by-note breakdowns. Imagery like “this perfume smells like the inside of a leather bag filled with cosmetics”, or “a radiator in a dusty motel room” often proves far more useful to me than “this has jasmine, and then the jasmine gives way to cedar with a hint of tuberose”. I mean, I know what jasmine smells like, but the jasmine in perfume A can smell so vastly different than the jasmine in perfume B, or C, or G, or X. Which jasmine should I be conjuring in my mind as I’m reading the review? Note breakdowns can be fun when I’m already familiar with the scent and want to know what others are getting out of it, though.

        I’m so over Burr at this point that I’m under him. Whatever he’s trying to do, he’s trying too hard, and his prose is so purple it’s starting to stain my monitor.

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