This is Studio Waft 12, the periodic essay which accompanies every Studio Series Set and discusses processes and concepts behind my work. This is the penultimate Studio Waft, as the Studio Series will conclude with its thirteenth edition. The future thereafter ... ?
There are a number of interesting phenomena to which as an independent perfumer I have been privy, most recently the relay of praise by collectors for Resonance through private channels but with an ancillary expressed reticence to yet offer public plaudits due to a fear it will expedite a sell-out.
Considering this phenomenon raises some interesting perspectives:
First, an amity and protectiveness certain patrons of my studio afford me, many of whom are conscious of not only my expansion plans that were waylaid by the pandemic, but also the mercurial nature of inventory for independent perfumers. Perhaps this speaks of a certain kind of creative success to the work I've produced, in that same way many of us urban gastronomes refuse, for a few months (or years) perhaps, to speak of a favored dive restaurant for fear the word-of-mouth precipitates degradation of a certain quality or a sudden inaccessibility due to increased demand — a strategic reticence I unabashedly admit to having employed myself because too often great dive restaurants are not simply about dining out, but dining in, namely great food joints somehow nourish your psyche by setting a tableau to which you crave reliable return.
[At least I'd like to think that one thing I do well as an artist is set tableaux.]
In contrast, when I announced that Resonance's forebear, Io, would not be remade, I caused a bit of hysterical FOMO, or fear of missing out. This current collectors' reticence is conceivably an aftershock of that retirement, but nonetheless underscores a second perspective: the nexus of fear and capitalism.
FOMO fuels so much social media-driven capitalism today. It's especially lifeblood for influencers. But even for quotidian commodities, like food or toilet paper, we regularly see advertising campaigns whose goal is to stoke demand for a brand, a better toilet paper, a healthier chocolate cookie. A limited edition chocolate cookie. In the early months of the pandemic there was a severe fear of missing out on toilet paper, so much that even hybrid-wholesale stores like Costco had to ration its purchase while the phenomenon made national headlines. But toilet paper is a convenience item. A luxury product, really, if you look to other countries where its use is not commonplace.
It's really easy to just talk about perfume as a perfumer if you try hard enough: you mention some ingredients and their novelties; you describe lavender fields or jasmine harvests; you erect scientific jargon; you shout out mysticism or witchcraft; you fashion a little theatrical air about innate talent or of being a divinely blessed nose.
It's harder to talk about perfume economies as a perfumer — or any artful economy — in times of pandemic, or fascism, or really at all. Really. It's incredibly hard to talk about luxury products with a straight face sometimes, to be honest, surrounded by so many fear-filled events and so many dramatic everyday ups and downs in world news. At even the very best of times, a perfumer who vocally acknowledges the extremities of or directly confronts these perfume economies often risks alienating those who keep their lights on.
Moreover, it's especially delicate to confront the notion of over-collecting when you benefit directly from collectors.
And yet ... we all run to art. We all run to music. So many of us have been living inside headphones for weeks, months now. I have, lost in aural fantasies of disco and smoke machines. We collect and catalog that music, deep in our muscle memories. We reach for perfume as an escape the same way we cry or laugh inside poetry retrieved from long living room bookshelves. We spray our skin with fragrant portraits of times past and futures unmet. There is something great and human to collecting and cataloguing in the same twisty way that there is a fine line where too much explodes into a tailspin excess.
As I pondered the release of another limited edition, especially after recent comments I've made underscoring my feelings on influencers, I decided to approach someone whose internet presence feels influential not just in the fragrance community, but across several fields. I messaged old-guard beauty blogger Lena, who now writes and posts under H. L. Moody, and asked her if she had some thoughts on excesses of perfume ownership, specifically pinned to the hype machine of influencers, a phenomena we had both discussed before in DMs.
I was delighted when, after some ponderation, she came back with an essay on maximalism. (Above: Passage 1 of "Shelter in Perfumed Place" by H. L. Moody for Studio Series 12. This essay is printed as a folio of mailable postcards.)
To date, Resonance is the most concentrated perfume I have released, an extrait, carved out wide to attempt room for the pertinent elements of Io and Timbre and allow newer notes to mix between.
The most difficult part of Resonance to compose was its top notes, which took about four months of back-and-forth. I did not want to do a simple fresh yuzu/mandarin note as present in Timbre, but, in line with my internal vision for this project — which was a perfume after the fire of Io but before the verdant life of Timbre — something desiccated and burnt out. The spicy dried citrus note also personally references my decadent history with alcohol — specifically liqueurs like Bendectine and aperitifs like Antica Carpano — which here come together, believe it or not, with a careful thread of oud to evoke a sepia-toned mandarin peel and the dried pepper from Io to evoke spiciness.
For me, Resonance is a real dance between saturated naturals and moments of synthetic excess. It's a fading vision of long hours in smoky nightclubs and the cathartic sobriety found in forest solitudes.
It's about hearing an echo but being immediately conscious of your distance from its origin.
Addiction is a maximalism unhinged. But maximalism itself is not dangerous. In fact, as Lena elaborates in her essay, maximalism can be protective and liberating.
And collecting, too, even that of special edition objects, does not have to be toxic. Art collecting in its lesser publicized forms can be a symbiotic relationship between patrons and working artists.
Collecting toilet paper might be pathological. Stockpiling gasoline, borderline. But the external forces of society that force many of us to survivalist hoarding tendencies is where the abject behavior originates. A confusion of the demands for survival and the desires for living well. Is it not a goal of aesthetics to help us discern the limits of too much, too psychotic, or even too banal? Of liars and thieves?
To your possible disappointment, Escalator has nothing to do with the odors of department store machinery, although the imagery of elevation and transit between places does play into what's afoot. Escalator represents, for me, a moment of transition and escalating stakes.
Coming off the success of Relief, it would be easy to fall into derivation with the hope to recreate something as lovely as that. And here I feel that I did. I feel like these five vials of Escalator represent a failure of repetition — something that feels very easy to do in perfumery.
Escalator is to be another myrrh-based chypre — which may be especially delightful for some given the recent proscriptions of oakmoss in the European community — but in a less agrestic, less relaxing direction than Relief.
The basic sketch of Escaltor as presented to you looks as such:
Escalator 1 — myrrh / oakmoss accord
Escalator 2 — adds animalic synthetic musks
Escalator 3 — adds green floral structure
Escalator 4 — adds fixation
Escalator 5 — fails in an agrestic reversion to Relief
Escalator has a long way to go; I apologize to those for whom it might seem a rehash of Relief. Escalator is being made with the intention of being around for awhile, as are all the new perfumes in development, hence the transitional theme. I think that for any small perfumery, limited and special editions will always be a factor in the production of artful objects. But any intelligent person quickly determines that those kinds of objects alone rarely, rarely support a sustainable business model. And they certainly don't support a restful artistic practice. Perhaps this is why the fine art world is so desperately tough to penetrate.
Nonetheless, perfumery does enable a wonderful similarity to more traditioned fine art work, which is the serial nature of creativity. Building an oeuvre. Escalating an idea by re-refining its themes, escalating a practice by repeatedly critiquing it and chipping off the processes that no longer serve that vision. Perhaps, despite the failure, some of you see that here.
As always, your purchase of a Studio Series set helps sustain the work I do in independent perfumery. Thank you!
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