l’Artisan Parfumeur Passage d’Enfer, 1999

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(image The Confabulous Flag)

Perfumer Olivia Giacobetti

I’ve recently found my way to Giacobetti’s work, and I am fascinated. I still want to investigate her fig and flower perfumes, but having experienced Dzing! Passage d’Enfer, Safran Troublant and Fou d’Absinthe, I’m sold.

I love the scents of the perfumes that I’ve tried, but I am drawn to her for her artistic approach. Dzing! captures my desire for a considered use of abstraction toward specific ends. Abstraction isn’t throwing things at a wall and seeing what sticks. It is a specific and complex means of revealing attributes of an idea or thing, and has only as much randomness to it as any other means of composing work does. Passage d’Enfer shows that thoughtful juxtaposition highlights the frame of reference, and bends contexts to create new and unimagined possibilities. Juxtaposition is never simply about the two ideas placed next to each other. It’s about the space between them, the artist and the audience and what they together make of it all. (Please see above photo.)

While there certainly is more to the composition, Passage d’Enfer combines incense and lily and comes up with something both interesting and unexpected. While I can still make out the two components, my attention is mostly drawn to a third, new quality. It is creamy, soapy, spectral. It suggests an atmosphere like fog, which can’t be experienced in inches but must be taken in in yards, over terrain. It has a comfortable density to the touch that feels like it would absorb sound. It has a giving property and maybe even a forgiving nature.

I know I’m reading a lot into this perfume. But that’s what I want to do with perfume. And in order to do so I choose well-considered perfumes, ones rich with ideas. I’ve always loved the T.S. Eliot expression, “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” It tells me about subject, object, the things between them, and intent. By the same token a smart, qualified perfumer can show a willing and informed perfume wearer the world in a bottle.

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