By Allison O'Rourke
We often think of fragrance in a literal sense, a pleasant aroma to wear on our person that can be neatly identified and categorized, say as a certain flower or fruit. Never do we realize that the history of perfume is based on much more and its true purpose is to evoke emotions and capture memories, and transcend the traditional notions of good and bad smells.
At Thierry Mugler, the inspiration to interpret the arts of literature and film through fragrance, came from the best-selling novel by Patrick Sϋskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, and the soon to be released film version directed by Tom Tykwer. The story can best be described as a chilling olfactory version of The Silence of The Lambs. Like the base note of a good perfume, the memory of the movie lingers long after you’ve seen it.
This feeling can be both good and evil. For the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, is not your typical Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Rather, it is a mixture of Hitchcock-like suspense and romantic lushness. What the movie accomplishes successfully is to open the audience’s eyes to the power of fragrance. Ben Whishaw gives a stellar performance as the main character, and Dustin Hoffman adds a touch of comic relief to an otherwise dark movie, as the erstwhile perfume expert Giuseppe Baldini.
Grenouille, born into a wretched world of Paris in the 1700s, is an orphan who possesses a remarkable ability to detect the subtlest scent: from the essence of virgins, yellow plums, jasmine, the smells of a tannery and a dank cave, which are some of the scenes in the film.
One of the most powerful images is when Grenouille revels in the scent of the first virgin he sees and is taken by. He accidentally kills her, and tries hard to distill the essence of her scent. The memory of this beautiful maiden comes back repeatedly in the film, as a metaphor for his ultimate obsession: to create the world’s most powerful fragrance.
Ultimately, he commits more than thirteen murders for his quest to get the perfect blend of perfume notes. Each murder is not savagely described or detailed (for this gracious bit of omission, we are grateful), but the uneasiness does not cease from the first moment till the last. But he does succeed in creating a fragrance that makes people love each other in such a pure, extraordinary way. When you walk away from the movie – which is more than two hours long – you will never again look at a perfume in the same way.
In an effort to recreate key moments throughout the book and film, Thierry Mugler, in partnership with International Flavors and Fragrances perfumer, Christophe Laudamiel and fragrance technologist Christophe Hornetz, developed 15 custom-made scents which create an olfactory journey reminding us that perfumery is both an art and a cultural experience.
Recreating atmospheres and moments from the book and film, these 15 essences range from disturbing to divine to sensual and breathtaking, with names like Baby, Paris 1738, Atelier Grimal, Virgin No. 1, Boutique Baldini, Amor & Pysche, Nuit Napolitaine, Ermite, Salon Rouge, Human Existence, Absolu Jasmine, Sea, Noblesse, Orgie, and Aura.
A truly original project tying the mysterious realm of perfumery to literature and film, the perfumers used several modern day techniques to truly capture the perfumes and scenarios of the novel. For Baby, the perfumers “Les Christophs”, interviewed mothers asking them to describe the aromas of their own babies in order to develop the sweet-sour and milky scent. Also used was headspace, an analysis technique to isolate aromas in a pure and living environment. This was done to capture the scent of live flowers, milk, and various other ingredients.
The limited edition Perfume Coffret from Thierry Mugler is an exquisite collection that includes 14 “perfume” related compositions and an Aura fragrance enhancer created by Vera Strubi, president of Thierry Mugler Parfums.
After reading the novel and viewing the cinematic interpretation on film, one cannot help but be entranced by the odors of the time. One whiff of each essence from the Perfume Coffret and you are immediately transported back to various moments and scenes from the story. It can only enhance the sensory experience and allow us to understand the true power of scent.