Meet the duo of perfumes with a multisensory trail
When BarnabÃ© Fillion and Jochen Holz talk about their collaboration – a series of striking glass bottles enclosing a new line of fragrances – it is neither scent nor even aesthetics that come to mind. It’s sound: âI remember being in Jochen’s studio and being so inspired by music,â says French perfumer Fillion. âWe were listening to Eliane Radigue and Pauline Oliveros, both pioneers of electronic music, who in fact became the inspiration for this first sequence of seven scents.
These perfumes are part of Arpa – what Fillion calls “a research project” with artists exploring the “phenomenon of synesthesia through the development of perfumes, music production and an artistic residency”. Through spaces in Paris, Kyoto and Mexico City (where Arpa took over Casa MÃ¶bius, the modernist house and studio of the late architect Ernesto GÃ³mez Gallardo), Fillion will direct his creative explorations towards synesthesia, which causes a mixture of the senses . Some synaesthetes can, for example, taste the sounds. Fillion, who worked as a photographer and model before turning into a nose, experiments with images and sounds as âtexturesâ. Over the past decade, he has used his senses-blending skills to create fragrances for Paul Smith, Le Labo and Aesop, as well as in collaboration with Scottish whiskey brand Royal Salute and concept artist Anicka Yi, who often uses perfume in his work and has created two sculptural pieces for Arpa, including a diffuser sculpture inspired by âfantastic mushroomsâ.
But it was Holz, the glass artist based in east London, who was one of the first Fillion contacted about his Arpa project. âJochen’s work is extremely free and playful, but at the same time so subtle in his use of color,â says Fillion. âI was interested in how we could modify the synesthesia of the perfume with the color of the bottles,â explains Fillion.
Fillion’s pitch intrigued Holz. âHe had this elaborate presentation, which was very deep in the sense that it would encompass big ideas – planetary constellations and elemental forces. I was drawn to it, “he recalls.” I’m always a little too busy, so I have to be convinced, and Barnabas did it very well, no bullshit.
Fillion’s visual prompts, referencing Italian futurism and the Memphis group, entered the melting pot alongside Holz’s more practical considerations of materiality – with the need for a secure closure adding a new level of precision to his glass carving process. âWe created the shape and palette around the existing corks,â says Holz, âwhich involved a lot of refinement and manipulation of the proportions. The result, however, is an elegantly simple cylindrical bottle that layers three colors of glass, reflecting the base, heart and top notes of each fragrance. The first three fragrances – Arco Spettro, Fosforo and Recedere (all at â¬ 266 for 50ml) – will be released at the end of the month.
âArco Spettro is inspired by Dallol in Ethiopia, which is the hottest place on the planet,â says Fillion of the musky blend of guaiac wood and vetiver with juniper and frankincense. âThe Dallol Salt Desert sits atop a volcano, creating a multi-colored mirage that is expressed in extreme colors: pink, yellow and the same teal green that Jochen uses a lot in his work. Recedere combines licorice and neroli with cedar and moss. Intoxicating and hazy, it is an olfactory translation of Hallerbos, a Belgian forest famous for its spring carpet of bluebells. âAt that point, the light through the forest turns absolutely blue,â says Fillion. âSo the bottle is dark green, the pipette inside is blue, and the yellow at the top is like sunlight between tree trunks. I would say all the colors we used are retro-futuristic, reflecting the utopia of cosmic travel.
Even the unboxing of an Arpa perfume is designed as a multisensory experience: the bottle is enclosed in a shell of glycerin soap, which can then be used for washing; there is the imagery of Nathalie du Pasquier, founding member of Memphis; and each fragrance has its own soundtrack, created by composers such as Cyrus Bayandor and Joseph Schiano di Lombo, delivered on vinyl. The accompanying magazine declares: âAt Arpa, you will listen to the perfume.
Each fragrance is also available in an artist’s edition (â¬ 388), where the design details are more experimental. âWe tried very different things, like pressing glass onto wood or cutting it with scissors, and created decisive textures rather than purely decorative elements,â says Holz.
Their common passion for electronic music – and in particular modular synthesizers – inspired Fillion to make perfumes also modular; thus the seventh in the series (which will be released with the three remaining scents at the end of this month) is designed to be layered on top of all the others in the collection, “like a kind of oscillator or amplifier”, explains Fillion, adding that the name Arpa is a nod to the ARP synthesizer as well as to the artist Jean Arp.
But how would the two creatives define themselves through their work? âI would create a sundial,â says Holz, as to how he would capture Fillion’s characteristics in a design object. âIt’s pretty basic,â he adds. What if Fillion imagined Holz as a perfume? âIt would be very free, generous and benevolent, with elements of transparency – referring to his glasswork, but also to his personality. And then there is the element of fire involved in his workâ¦ It would be a very interesting project.