“Art is a discovery and development of elementary principles of nature into beautiful forms suitable for human use.”
— Frank Lloyd Wright
That definition sounds a lot like the process of perfume making. It is undoubtedly an art, and one that inspires responses of many kinds — a specific memory, an attraction to a stranger, or poetry that praises the olfactory experience, to name a few.
Take Baudelaire, for example, who praises the natural perfume of his lovers in Les fleurs du mal. His poems center on the erotic and the sensual, and bring perfume into the forefront of passionate human experience.
Art gets all the more exciting when it inspires conversation between artists, a back and forth flow of inspiration. The poet that was inspired by perfume ends up inspiring the perfumer. Such was the case with a Possets perfume called Jeanne DuVal Mistress of Charles Baudelaire. This blend pays homage to the woman who inspired Baudelaire’s poem “Parfum exotique,” which begins:
When, with both my eyes closed, on a hot autumn night,
I inhale the fragrance of your warm breast
I see happy shores spread out before me,
On which shines a dazzling and monotonous sun […]
The Possets line is intertwined with the arts, with scents honoring visual arts, music, poetry, and literature. Pertelote and The Wife of Bath perfume oils are based on the Canterbury Tales. She Walks In Beauty celebrates a poem by Lord Byron, and is made to be sensual and strong, like the poet himself. The blend Howl takes the passion of Allen Ginsberg’s Beat Generation and turns it into a scent, with black patchouli, sandalwood, and musks.
There are novels that are centered on perfume — like Patrick Suskind’s 1985 novel “Perfume,” and Tom Robbins’ “Jitterbug Perfume,” a New York Time’s Best Seller from the same year — and novels that make space for its influence in the background.
In “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Oscar Wilde describes his title character searching for new sensations and experiences, with perfume as a part of it:
And so he would now study perfumes, and the secrets of their manufacture, distilling heavily-scented oils, and burning odorous gums from the East. He saw that there was no mood of the mind that had not its counterpart in the sensuous life, and set himself to discover their true relations, wondering what there was in frankincense that made one mystical, and in ambergris that stirred one’s passions, and in violets that woke the memory of dead romances, and in musk that troubled the brain, and in champak that stained the imagination […]
Some writers choose to recognize scent, perfume or otherwise, as part of the big picture. In “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, scent is an important part of how the strange world is perceived, and a part of what connects John to Lenina.
“But her perfume still hung about him, his jacket was white with the powder that had scented her velvety body.”
Then there’s Anaïs Nin, the sensual, brave, introspective writer known for her diaries. She herself has been the muse of many perfumes and wrote of her own scent fondly. In her diaries, she mentions wearing the scent Narcisse Noir — a heady blend of floral notes, orange, and musk — upon the recommendation of a lover.
If you’re looking for a way to combine your love of words with your love of scent, let it be known that there are plenty of choices. You can even wear a blend that smells like old books if you want — and why not? Perfume is for your own evocation and self-expression. As French perfumer Francis Kurkdjian is purported to say, “Perfume is the art that makes memory speak.”
If life is the chicken, and art is the egg, which comes first?
In his 1889 essay called “The Decay of Lying,” Oscar Wilde claimed that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” The statement opposes the Aristotelian mimesis, which believed that art was inspired by life, made to reflect the beauty and truth of this reality.
by Katrina Eresman