This is the current Studio Waft, for Studio Series 8.
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Hello & welcome to the Two-Year Anniversary of the Studio Series and its accompanying Studio Wafts!
These past few months have been so frenetic and chaotic — as it always seems, in hindsight, huh? — but now I celebrate the expansion of the Studio Series into a collaborative format. By publishing Studio Series 8, I fulfill a longstanding dream to create a project that commissions other artists and writers to create work and be compensated for that work. Your purchase of or subscription to the Studio Series has helped this come to fruition and so I thank you, too, for your support to get to this moment!
On to the show...
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A Crisis Project becomes a Beast Mode
As discussed in previous Studio Wafts, the Crisis Project initially began as an attempt to address a two-pronged concept:
1. To work with materials which are being affected by ecological or economic crises, and address the problems therein;
2. To work with materials which have thrown my pleasure centers into utter crisis.
And in the course of working with these materials, the concept grew:
3. To begin to address the phenomena of gender, misogyny, homophobia, et cetera, often lexically employed throughout the fragrance community, and to address this in olfactive form.
Some of you are aware that I have had constant run-ups against influencers, a kind of person so afflicted with a sense of commercial narcissism that their symptoms of grandiose entitlement often demand and cull an audience of equal hyperbole, and this audience is frequently a group of stunningly, desperately achieving-hypermasculinity individuals who toss around the term "Beast Mode" to mean ... well, many things.
Pondering the Beast Mode moment in the fragrance community, one day, I realized many of the perfumes receiving Beast Mode designation were ambroxan bombs, and, in my mind, I began to see a strange juxtaposition unfold.
If you don't already know, ambroxan is a high-impact perfume chemical, and this particular trade name comes as an amalgamated way of saying ambergris oxide furan, which is what it is, a natural occuring chemical found in ambergris, one of the holy grails of perfumery — stomach excrement from whales.
Now, whales are about as beast mode as it gets. They're huge. They swallow their food without much need to chew. Ambergris comes specifically from sperm whales, and how masc is that name, bro? Ambergris is often called whale vomit because, well, it's somewhat-digested chunks of stomach detritus that only become fragrant as regurgitated and photodegraded flotsam washed up on some beach.
Meanwhile, over the past year as I worked on the Crisis Project, Ben Horner and I found ourselves in many discussions about not only their transgender identity and how perfume allows individuals to assert themselves, whether in terms of gender or otheriwse, but also — in Heideggerian terms — the toolness of fragrance as something that needs to be considered, out loud, with respect to our mutual communities at-large.
This confluence of being a new indie perfumer dealing with issues like hypermasculity and greed expressed through commercialism, and being a queer artist hopeful to confront such kinds of issues in art and trade, occurred at a really choice time because I had already decided to work with a unique chemical that, now outlined, notably lends a connective thread to abutting issues.
The rarity of ambergris, the ecologically incited dearth of vanilla, and the according economical extreme of acquiring either of those materials now, as such, sort of the founding concept here, is really a secondary issue to all this now, it seems.
Or is it?
Are the problems of ecological crisis and economical greed not founded in hypermasculinity? In patriarchy? In a hateful subjugation of anyone who isn't a white cis-heterosexual?
Being a transgendered perfume fiend, I asked Ben if they would be interested in writing the first essay to accompany the expansion of the Studio Series and I think you'll agree the result was something beautiful.
I think it's important to admit and even underscore my own surprise for their thesis, which is in some perspectives antithetical to what we often hear as the solution to problems around gender identity. But what is most important is their assertion that we must address these issues at hand head-on in the our communities.
It is insufficient and even reckless to believe that perfumery is a realm of strict positivity. It is careless and convenient to be someone who owns or operates a platform for perfume and propose to eschew critical discourse in favor of puffery. When self-appointed thought leaders in the indie perfume world profess an admancy for positivity, it merely perpetuates a subjugation of anyone whose grievances with this hobby or this tool or this profession might carry a negative but valid tone.
So, if there is one thing that Beast Mode is, it is an attitude.
And we need to (re)shape that attitude when others refuse to.
Keeping two images in mind, perfume as a tool to assert identity in external space and the concept of "What is actually a Beast Mode?", I thus set out to take a project which was originally intended to be a paean for luxuriously expensive materials (for which I had a distaste) and sought to destroy it into something that was an elegy for bullshit in indie and niche perfumery.
During another whole take-down and rebuilding of the composition from scratch, it became clear that two things were necessary: First, a stroke of reductivism or minimalism, to let the perfume operate not as a kitchen-sink stew of materials pinpointed to aforementioned heavy concepts, but as a unique object with a sense of weightlessness and verve; Second, it also needed a sense of real musk to make nod toward true ambergris.
Although it likely wouldn't bore many of you to discuss how Beast Mode ultimately came together in the end, the more reductive a composition is, the harder it becomes to discuss, for both obvious and oblique reasons. The ingredients I list for it are all there, but it often feels different than the sum of its parts — there is a growing summary of reviews on Instagram I invite you to enjoy if you're interested in how it performs for others. In the end, a small addition of true civet helped bring this composition together: A recognition of perfumery's animalic origins and a bit of luxury, too, used skillfully and not as a bludgeon.
Lastly, I'd like to call out Stephen Grebinski, who so beautifully illustrated the zine for Studio Series 8, and on short order, to boot. Like me, Stephen was immediately taken with Ben's essay and shared a vision to pursue that felt perfect for our mutual aims. Down to the copper staples that bound the pages, the resulting zine recalls ephemera and imagery common to the queer experience, employing a certain patination that evokes maturity.
My dear thanks to Ben and Stephen for making this project something wonderful.
Honey, I am so exhausted — call me in four months, when this is planned to be completed and released.
As always, your purchase of a Studio Series set helps sustain the work I do in independent perfumery.
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