My Life: Art and Scent
This essay was commissioned by ÇaFleureBon, where it originally appeared.
I may have an Italian name, but my mother is French and I was raised bilingually and bi-culturally, speaking both French and English while growing up in both Arizona and France. As a child, the two cities I knew best were Tucson and Paris—a lively dichotomy. Tucson used to be a relatively small city and, in pre-internet days, was quite isolated, though surrounded by breathtakingly beautiful desert. Paris, on the other hand, was Paris: extremely sophisticated, rich in history and art, and very urban. At 13, I would take the Métro alone to run errands for my grandmother who lived just blocks from Notre Dame.
As a child, coming back to Tucson after a summer in France, I would carry intense scent-memories full of longing. France smelled completely different from Arizona: Foods, berries, and flowers, but also damp earth in the countryside and the smells of very old houses and chateaux; the comforting odors of the boulangerie with its baguettes and pains au raisin. And of course, perfumes that delighted and intrigued me. My grandmother was never without a huge bottle of 4711 (that she simply called “eau de Cologne.”) She sometimes wore Éclipse, by Jacques Fath. My mother favored Hermès Calèche, now, sadly, reformulated beyond recognition.
Perfume and Art
I have always had a very vivid sense of smell and have always collected perfumes. I began experimenting with making my own scents around 2001. At first, it was a curiosity, but by degrees, it became a sort of madness with hundreds of small bottles creating a whole new type of chaos in my studio. For awhile, I was confused by it and sort of tried to keep it private. Eventually, I finally had to admit that I had become a perfumer. I decided to combine my love of painting and scent and in my exhibition, Mirror 5, I showed paintings with a perfume for the first time. The paintings deploy very bright, slightly-off primary colors, painted wet-into-wet on a cold-white ground tinted with a hint of cobalt blue. They were shown in a gallery lit by bright fluorescent lights. I created a citrus scent, but one with an ozonic and mineral aura to reflect the whole installation. The gallery sold a lot more perfume than I expected.
Art is both a public and a private experience. People sometimes wear scent as a form of social communication, but perfume is also a highly internalized experience. To wear a perfume is to carry a private artwork with you wherever you go, one that changes over the course of the day and sustains your attention.
American perfumery right now is so wide open, particularly on the niche and artisan side. There is a bold DIY ethos marked by independence, irreverence and a fresh perspective. There is also devotion to materials and quality. But most importantly, very small scale perfumers can make and maintain contact with an avid and educated audience. This is the best kind of art world.