Once upon a time there was a boy who was angry with everyone and everything around him. So angry, that one night he decided to run away. Whilst preparing his bag to leave home he thought about what he would need. He packed his clothes but then his books and games. Fearing discomfort he packed his bed…
Dear Mika, I hope this finds you well. I have no idea where in the world you will be when you read this. My life so far has been made up of so many twists, turns and contradictions, that there is no way of predicting where or how you will be. For starters, I just hope you are alive! Even if the world has become a terrible or hostile place, without water and without seasons, I still hope you’re in it. Not because I want to maintain my presence for as long as possible, but just because I’m curious and you’re my only way of finding out….
You are nothing. You are just a drop in the most enormous ocean you can imagine. No one remembers a drop we only remember waves. You are as worthless and forgettable as a grain of sand on the last beach you stood on or as a single droplet of rain on your windscreen during the last rain storm. That is what they want you to believe…
On the 52nd floor of the tallest building in Tokyo Isabella holds her face in her hands in desperation. She tells me that my choice of vocabulary is “brutto” and that I’m speaking Italian like a butcher. I refute her criticism saying that I’m speaking not like a butcher but a New Yorker. She rolls her eyes and adds that this is the first time she has met someone who not only manages to butcher the Italian language but also speak it with the accent of the Spanish ambassador’s wife. I tell her that in that case, I shouldn’t have hired a Sicilian snob for a teacher. This is just another Italian lesson with my teacher Isabella, and a daily occurrence in my life at the moment as I endeavor to learn Italian in two months…..
My maternal Grandfather left Damascus, at the age of 15, with his possessions on the back of a donkey and ended up at Ellis Island. In the United States he built his new life and his business. My paternal Grandfather left his Atlanta Georgia roots and his Ivy League education to make his life as a US diplomat carving out groundbreaking deals in the middle east…
«In a small fish restaurant in Lisbon, Asia Argento sips her glass of white wine. We have escaped the set of Fanny Ardent’s new movie in which the Italian actress is starring. She plays a cellist and I appear as her accompanist in the final scene. I refuse wine, afraid to fall asleep on set and complain about the hours of waiting. She laughs and says smiling, “Don’t you know? Actors aren’t paid to act, they’re paid to wait!”. We have only met a few hours ago and…
When you close your eyes and think of your mother what do you imagine? When you close your eyes and think of your first love what do you imagine? When you close your eyes and think of fear what do you imagine? For me, almost always, I imagine the one thing that is the hardest to remember: smell. My mother always used to wear an Yves Saint Laurent perfume called Champagne and it would mix with the history of her day, from the smell of her cooking the evening meal to the slight petrol tinge of our old Toyota Previa. It was this strange combination of smells which meant that I was home. Smell is one of the most powerful things in my life. Even as a musician, smell has a far greater ability to trigger memories than music. I once fired an old assistant on a tour because she wore the same perfume as a teacher who made my life hell at the Lycée Francais when I was a boy. The fact that she found the same perfume as my evil teacher appealing meant that she couldn’t possibly be a good person. I was proven right, and as the months unfolded so did she. I should have trusted my nose to begin with.
By 2015 the perfume industry is predicted to be worth over 33 billion dollars. Although this is mostly thanks to over commercialised and celebrity endorsed rubbish, there is no denying the fact that perfume is a major part of everyone’s daily life. In New York recently, I was faced with Rihanna’s enormous perfume advert on Times Square, every day as I went to the studio. I finally got a chance to smell it and was underwhelmed at the most. It smells fake, cheap and it’s clear that what you’re really paying for is not the quality of the ingredients but the cost of the bottle, the advertising space and most of all, the cost of her endorsement. Why is it that people have such a problem realising that smell and perfume are the same thing. How you smell is as important as how you look. From a purely chemical point of view, it’s not the floral top notes that will get someone to fall in love or sleep with you, but the muskiness of your natural body smell. Obviously it’s not ideal to sleep with someone that smells only of B.O. as that would be too overwhelming. However, it’s when the mix of your body smell and that of the perfume is just right, that a branded perfume turns into your perfect scent. Personally, smelling of strong body odour would be just as bad as smelling too much of Rihanna’s perfume.
In a nutshell, here is how the basic perfume making process works today. Most of the time, a big brand or celebrity will decide to sell and market a perfume. They will hire a production company who will in turn select a marketing company as well as a perfumer, or ‘nose’ to create the scent. The marketers will do countless studies and market analysis to figure out what perfume would sell best, and who the scent should be aimed at. With this very precise brief they will then commission a perfumer to take all this research and mix a scent that would please the targeted demographic the most. Often, perfume bottles and even add campaigns will be designed before the perfume even exists. The ‘nose’ will sit at a desk and make endless blends of hundreds of scents, some precious and most synthetic. Every perfume is decided into three layers; the Top Note the Middle and the Base Note. The first smell you get is the Top Note, this is mostly light and floral or citrus. This will quickly evaporate however leaving the Middle and lastly the Base note. The Base note is actually what will react or adapt most with your skin and when its smelt on its own can often smell awful. These often smell woody or musky. Yes! Similar to the body odour you’re trying to cover up in the first place!
Unfortunately, most really commercial perfumes are all about the top and middle notes. The base notes are often seen as too ugly or off-putting. Think about it, when you put a fresh cut lily to your nose and smell it, there are so many deep and musky smells, almost bad smells, that combined with the light top and middle notes smell perfect together, but more importantly smell natural.
I have collected smells for years. I have calmed down now, but I went through a phase of storing anything that I thought smelt good or interesting in small brown glass vials. From rose oils to pieces of tarmac and even the hand of a plastic doll. You can imagine how excited I was to come across the work of eccentric New York perfumer Christopher Brosius. His perfumes range from traditional scents to ones called Doll’s Head, In The Library or Burning Leaves. Self taught, Brosius did not go through the insanely rigorous and competitive training that you must now endure to graduate as a top ‘nose’. He even goes so far as calling his brand “I Hate Perfume”. He is more of a renegade who fights the normal commercial limits of making scent. If I had the chance to have a perfume custom made, it is clear that my main ambition would be to evoke a memory. If it was the memory of childhood for instance, then it would be the smell of my mother, but in my perfume memory of her, the Yves Saint Laurent would be as important as all the other “ugly” smells of a normal day. I would want the Cooking and even Toyota smell in there. My perfume would evoke a memory, and that would smell better than a million roses.