Perfumer Bruno Fazzolari.
It’s a fine point, but Bruno Fazzolari’s perfumes Au Delà (2013) and Seyrig (2015) don’t imitate perfumes from the past. Instead, they take their genres apart and discover what makes them tick. Even though Fazzolari refers Seyrig as “inspired by the aldehydic motifs of the late ’60s and early ’70s perfume” it steers clear of imitation. Seyrig shares a kinship with these floral-aldehyde perfumes but rephrases their ideas in a contemporary vernacular.
To call Fazzolari a “self-taught perfumer” is misleading. He is a formally trained visual artist and sculptor and therefore is versed in the discussion of aesthetics, form and the history of art. It would be more precise to say that Fazzolari is an artist who’s taught himself perfumery. * The two perfumes are perfectly pitched examples of their categories but aren’t ‘tribute’ perfumes. Au Delà is a floral chypre and Seyrig is an aldehydic chypre. They belong to historical genres yet resist retro-ism by redirecting the focus and removing the extraneous. They take genres known for a fussy intricacy and subject them to a methodical redacting.
The result is perfumes that share the sensibilities of their predecessors but dress them out differently. Au Delà is lush and enveloping and like the best historical floral chypres it has a calm surface and a strong undertow. It doesn’t feel spare by a long shot, but it succeeds in avoiding the complexity and complication of floral chypres like Miss Dior or Estée Lauder Private Collection that make them a bit demanding and ultimately anachronistic.
Seyrig’s challenge is a bit different. The ’60s-’70s green aldehydic chypres evolved as a response to the voluptuous animalic floral chypres like Ma Griffe, Diorama and Jolie Madame. They were more terse than animalic, more chic than voluptuous. They were sharp, though they matched their predecessors step-for-step in expansiveness. Their steeliness and a ‘pulled together’ formality could come across as tight-assed when compared to the buttery floral chypres of the previous decades. What they offered instead was a knife’s edge and a briskness suited to the plasticene aesthetics of the time. Seyrig’s explosive aldehydic opening has the flashbulb topnote that the genre is known for, but sidesteps the insecticide-brittleness that often follows, as in Paco Rabanne Metal and Estée by Estée Lauder. The ample sillage of the opening drifts away, leaving a bouquet that reflects the abstract nature of the composition. I can tease out bits—ylang ylang and rose in particular–but the overall shape of Seyrig implies color and movement as much as it does flowers. The topnotes grab my attention but the delicacy–not fragility–of the base makes me listen closely and satisfies an introspective urge in me.
Fazzolari has written that Seyrig is based on the syringa flower. The accord must be ‘built’ since, like muguet, no botanical essence can be gathered from the flower. The fulcrum of this accord is a crisp rose with crystalline, green facets. It ties an unctuous waxiness to a bright citric quality and evokes the temperament of spring flowers. Narcissus, hyacinth, lilac (a member of the syringa genus) may not smell alike but they all balance crispness and dampness in a way that suggests both rapid growth and a short life. Seyrig captures this vibrance and implicit dissonance of Spring flowers
The floral genres hang on a balancing point of abstraction and representation. Does a perfume seek to re-create the scent of a specific flower? Does it create the notion of a flower–an idealized flower? Does it dissect a flower into its constituent descriptors and then juggle them until they create something that doesn’t actually resemble a flower but highlights its properties? These questions aren’t new but they come up continually and how to read a perfume is an open question. Seyrig asks more specifically, how do you place a perfume in its genre?
Perfume genres are like chemical families more than conceptual frameworks. They describe notes and possibly the materials but they don’t communicate concept or intention. Genre can be an easy shorthand for both the perfumer and the wearer. It offers the safety of recognizability. I don’t think that’s what Fazzolari’s done, though. His references are a set of perfumes that, though lodged in the past, are significant. They defined the state of perfumery in their own times and continue to exert influence. An important point is that fumies know the standard bearers from the ‘60s -‘70s: Hermès Calèche, Guerlain Chamade, Paco Rabanne Calande, Guerlain Parure and Scherrer de Scherrer. Trace the line backward from there and the perfumes are even more iconic: Givenchy l’Interdit, Robert Piguet Baghari, Worth Je Reviens, Lanvin Arpège, Chanel 5. Given his historical references and the knowledge of his audience, Fazzolari’s use of genre is hardly a safe choice. It’s rather ballsy in fact.
By placing himself firmly within a tradition Fazzolari raises the bar. He explicitly asks us to compare his work to the sacred cows that have weathered criticism and trend. The comparison of ‘niche’ and ‘mainstream’ perfumery is a circular discussion if not a dead-end, but Fazzolari’s work highlights a distinction between large scale commercial perfumery and the independent artist. Commercial perfumery prioritizes risk aversion and the results are commensurate with the challenge: fragrances that kinda, sorta won’t really, um, offend. Making an ambitious perfume comes at a high risk of failure. Fazzolari’s ambitions pay off and Au Delà and Seyrig jump-start their genres and give them new relevance in contemporary perfumery
* I had the chance to write back and forth with Fazzolari as he was finishing Seyrig. He sent me samples of versions as he made them and we discussed them as a part of a wider conversation of historical perfume genres. I came away struck by the vocabulary of his process. Though the perfume genres he worked in were steeped in connotation and associations with their eras, the discussion of the goals of the perfume and how to meet them was direct and precise. It’s common when describing historical perfumes to discuss the styles that surround them–to imagine ‘the woman who wore’ a type of perfume. This sort of discussion can contextualize perfume and put a handle on it, but is less helpful in formulating and editing a composition. Fazzolari’s functional discussion of the manipulation of his materials’ properties demonstrates the value of artistic cross-training. His work as a visual artist transfers to perfumery and gives him an advantage that those trained at the large perfume schools may not have.
Images Philip-Lorca diCorcia.