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Innovative Retailers – Perfume doesn’t always smell of roses
The Place: Brooklyn, New York
The Story: American Anglophile Christopher Brosius is a perfumer despite the name of his establishment whose mission “has long been to capture and bottle every possible pleasant smell”. His products are stocked in select locations all over the world (including bizarrely the Lutyens and Rubinstein bookshop in London W11 – the only English stockist). And you don’t want to mess with him because “people who smell like everyone else disgust me”.
Okay… “A childish masque hiding the timid and unimaginative.”
Now hold on... “An arrogant slap in the face from across the room.”
Surely not: “Perfume is discovered fully only by our lovers when we are together – naked.”
Steady Mr B. “I can give you scent experiences you never dreamed possible.”
Enough already: What I mean is that Christopher Brosius does not make usual flowery fare. He makes scents that you might not know you wanted to smell of. His Smoke series for example contains the following fragrances: Bonfire, Burnt Wood, Smoke House, Sweet Smoke and Smokey Tobacco. Each perfume has the whole history of its meaning and inception explained in meticulous detail – it is pure olfactory theatre. The names alone are something else: I am a Dandelion, Gathering Apples, In the Library. And it helps to read the backstory otherwise you will never know why a perfume called Memory of Kindness for example smells of tomato leaves.
Any products other than traditionally blended perfume? Yes, he creates wardrobe sprays, room sprays, an insect repelling spray and sells ‘accords’ with names like Cheesecake, Doll head, Soccer ball, and Bay Leaf. As the man himself says “I am a natural born nose and I have an innate olfactory talent for capturing the reality of scent”.
I see. What’s an accord? Ah, he makes a great many ‘accords’ (aka single scents), which he says are “the vocabulary of perfume and using them creatively is the grammar of the language of scent”. So it is possible to layer different accords or have them pure. And there is a proper way of applying them.
Which is? A separate finger for each. And the order you apply them will change the composite scent encouraging people to buy several and experiment with them. Clever. Most of his accords are sold in 15ml bottles. But such is the demand for some of them that he now does a premium accord range in 2ml travel sizes too, which sell for $12. Double concentration of Beautiful Launderette, Old Leather, and Soaked Earth to name a few. There are also seasonal fragrances such as Gingerbread (that is available until December 31).
Where do his scent retailing ideas come from? A whole host of intellectual and personal sources including many literary ones, apparently, with one of his scents A Room With A View, being inspired by a passage from Forster’s well-thumbed novel. It smells of the scent of the hills above Florence, the vineyards, the wild grass, and hot dusty Florentine earth.
Get away. And that will be $115 thanks very much for a 15ml bottle.
What’s the shop like? Aaaaagh. Don’t call it a shop. It is a gallery. Brosius sees a strong connection between perfume and art. He has created installation pieces with his products and in 2006 had his own exhibition entitled ‘Scent is Life’ that explored the autobiographical connection between scent and memory. And in 2003, 70 of his scents were included in the US Design Museum’s Triennial Exhibition. His purpose with the gallery “was to show what perfume is made of, how it’s made, what it can express.” So you can see him and his assistants at work. As a child he wanted to be a scientist or an artist and he considers a perfumer to be a combination of both.
The packaging looks quite plain though. Well, all the bottles and boxes he uses are drawn from laboratory equipment and the materials of the artist’s studio. There is no gendering of perfumes – all are unisex so no need for endless flowers and kittens or muscly men. “Well made perfumes will change with time. They grow richer with each passing year”. It’s like wine see, so fancy bottles are irrelevant.
Can he make me a perfume? Not at the moment. He’s too busy with a long list of such requests. But the process is intricately described on the website along with his pet hates in custom perfumery. For the record, he will not travel to you, he will not recreate old scents “an insult to the artist who originally created it” and he will not sell your perfume to anyone else because it is “an invisible portrait of you”.
Has perfume always been his life? No, he has done a lot of things and was even a taxi driver in the 1980s where he first discovered that he hated perfume. “Women would get into my car in the evening wearing some horrible scent that made me sick. Twelve hours later in the cold freezing dawn my eyes would still be watering and my stomach churning.” But the I Hate Perfume brand and gallery have been going strong since 2004.
What next? We’ll have to wait and see. But for the man who regularly induces people to part with $90 for a 15ml bottle of a scent called The Smell of Snow nothing is impossible.