Perfumer Liz Moores.
Twenty years ago, with a few exceptions, perfume producers didn’t publicly identify the perfumer. Ten years ago some perfumers were becoming rock stars. The relationship between the perfumer and the audience is changing and the role of the perfumer is being redefined. Social media has been seen as the marketing tool of the independent perfumer. It’s often characterized as a way for eager fans to feel an affiliation with perfumers.
But something different has been going on. There is an exchange that is affecting the nature of the work. Interesting work seems to be happening at the juncture where the perfumer and the audience come together.
I have an open question about calling writing about individual perfumes “reviews”. Perfume writers have become a sophisticated lot and writing on perfume has a level of commentary and interaction that is more than product review. Writing about perfume is moving from a review format that dresses itself in objectivity to a more fluid discussion. The sheer number of perfumes and the body of perfume writing that has accrued empowers writers to look at individual perfumes in a way that contextualizes them both within and outside of perfumery. We’re reaching the critical mass where intersubjectivity is possible and writing about the state of the art is an informed, creative and interactive endeavor.
In an odd way, the exponential number of new releases, long cited as the decline of niche perfumery, is our liberation. It is impossible to maintain authority on the complete state of the art. Perfume writing and online discussion allows a sort of community curation. We share what we find compelling and form the questions that will guide us through the thousands of new releases. My question over the past few years has been simply, where is the interesting work happening?
The notion that a well informed perfume audience should wait passively for the perfumer to dole out the creative goods has never sat right with me. The noblesse oblige model of the arts is hit or miss at best. The shut-up-and-appreciate model that Francis Kurkdjian once notoriously espoused in an interview with Persolaise, does me no good. It’s not how I experience perfume.
I’m suspicious of marketing strategies that oversell ‘artisanal’. It’s the currect catch-meme and a lot of new perfume lines talk the talk and pose the pose. Producing a small volume doesn’t necessarily impart virtue and more is needed than a mission statement of sincerity. Papillon Artisan Perfumes is the real deal, though, and my question of where the interesting work happens leads me straight to Salome. It dives into the discussion of how to reassess historical perfumery without illusion or nostalgia. Let others weep about the good old days and the demise of the chypre. Moores has done something about it. She’s sprinted well past questions of how we reconcile restrictions on materials and fretting over whether a style is deemed regressive or retro. She made a beast of a perfume, laughed at the idea of taming it and then set it loose.
I’ve read that Moores has approached her profession as an avid lover of perfume and it shows. She seems to take on all comers and engages actively with her audience, letting them know that she’s as much a fan of perfume as she is a perfumer. Questioning how to work with historical precedents, Moores lands in the company of a couple of other innovative perfumers, Bruno Fazzolari and Antonio Gardoni. Interestingly, all three are also known for their engagement with their audience not simply regarding their own work but in the broader discussion of perfumery.
The Papillon line started with three perfumes that have gained popular and critical success. The ‘sophomore’ perfume in a young line is indicative. Will it be safe? Will it try to ride on the coattails of early success? I admire Moores for spending the capital she accrued with her early success on a daring perfume. Salome is far from mainstream in its aesthetics. It would never have survived the winnowing process of commercial perfumery. She took the risk of making a big unequivocal perfume that’s intended for her audience, for the people with whom she’s allied herself. It has the feeling of being both a gift to fumies and a challenge and tells me a lot about the potential interaction between artist and audience.
(Image source unknown.)