Perfume is a fundamental part of the fashion industry. Basically every major fashion house has its own fragrance(s), preferably an updated version every year (or more). Fragrance and make-up account for most of the couture-house’s sales and are therefore an important source of income that keeps the business rolling. At the same time, it gives the bigger public access to the exclusivity of those high fashion brands: if you can’t afford the clothing, which is significantly more expensive, you can at least have the perfume, and enjoy a small part of the luxury of the brand. So what relationship does perfume have with fashion?
Fragrance is a business, and it operates closely with the fashion industry. Like fashion, perfume is advertised as a way of expressing your individuality, as association with a brand that maybe you cannot afford, often as a means of smelling socially desirable, pleasant, (sexually) attractive. But perfume can be so much more. That’s why I would like to introduce Christopher Brosius’ “I hate perfume,” which might be the perfume equivalent of slow fashion. Brosius demonstrates that perfume can be a real work of art, an exploratory voyage of different smells that are interpreted differently by every individual, since our sense of smell is even more unique than our fingerprints. He writes:
“I hate perfume.
Perfume is too often an ethereal corset trapping everyone in the same unnatural shape
A lazy and inelegant concession to fashionable ego
Too often a substitute for true allure and style
An opaque shell concealing everything – revealing nothing
A childish masque hiding the timid and unimaginative
An arrogant slap in the face from across the room
People who smell like everyone else disgust me”
Indeed: most fragrances in your average perfume store all seem to want to do the same. There is few experimentation outside the standard norms like classy, elegant, pleasant, attractive, sexy, or beautiful. After all, the goal is to sell, and therefore the safe road is often more effective. But what if we opened the road of perfume to more unconventional objects and associations, like old books, bacon, dirt, or wet earth? Christopher argues:
“Get over the object, and focus on what it smells like.”
Besides his work being conceptually interesting since it explores the richness of our sense of smell, what truly makes this avant-garde perfumer exceptional is his talent to actually create perfumes that are not only “good,” but also intriguing, curious, interesting and thought- and memory provoking. It brings one further than “nice.”
Like the fast-fashion industry, mainstream perfumery seems to have lost its originality and capacity to touch us deeply. Yes – you might have a signature fragrance that you really love – but it is easy to be seduced by the beautifully advertised, fancy packaged and easy lovable scents that come out every season. It’s not unusual to have a drawer full of fragrances, some appropriate for day, some for the night, some you actually don’t really wear… Christopher’s philosophy is more about having few scents that are truly yours, and that are interpreted differently by different noses since they are so versatile. Besides, he encourages experimenting with the mixing of different smells or even costume perfumes, since smell is extremely personal, the exact reason why it can be so intriguing. In an industry that simply keeps repeating itself, initiatives like I hate perfume will hopefully call for a perfume revolution. And even though digital film doesn’t (yet) have an option to smell, I think this video holistically brings Brosius’ ideas and enthusiasm across.
More in-depth interviews with Christopher Brosius: