As I write this, the stock market has, in Wall Street parlance, seriously “corrected” itself. Russia and the Saudis are in an oil-production price war. Fears of a pandemic panic and news of tragic deaths are causing cultural disruptions and a run on the toilet paper bank and the federal Lysol reserve. We are being encouraged to practice “social distancing” as if a people that prefers films, food and basically everything delivered to its home cocoons — and already favors the touch of a screen more than the touch of another person — needs to be told that. Is it just me or do we all need a place to retreat, to collect ourselves?
Let’s take a moment to smell the roses, so to speak. It’s National Fragrance Day on March 21, and we urge you to think (and read) about the power of the olfactory. The brain bulb in our skull that processes our sense of smell is smack up against that sine qua non of memory, the hippocampus. Neurologists speculate that this proximity is why smell and memory are so closely related. It’s why the smell of certain cookies transports you back to your grandmother’s house, or a particular perfume wafting across a room will break your heart all over again.
In this spirit, we’re recommending two very special books: Keiichi Tanaami: Early Pop Collages, Fragrance of Kogiku (Cornershouse Publications), and On Perfume Making by Frédéric Malle.
In an informative introduction to a truly fascinating book, Tanaami describes the sights, sounds and especially the aromas that literally scorched his childhood. Only 9 years old during the fire-bombing of his native Tokyo by U.S. forces in WWII, Tanaami populates manic collages with images of Hitler and Mussolini, nudes and all manner of images that were seared into his memory.
The book presents an onslaught of ordnance, comic book heroes and Hollywood notables in a medium that is not usually associated with Tanaami. In fact, these collages dating from the late ’60s and early ’70s were never intended to be exhibited. Nonetheless, Tanaami, who is often recognized as a forefather of anime and manga, was “rediscovered” by a new generation, including the artist Kaws, who has cited him as an influence.
Tanaami himself was heavily influenced by Warhol, whom he met in 1968. Pop Art of course was a global phenomenon then and as a celebrated artist and illustrator in Japan, Tanaami grew his following worldwide by producing album covers for Jefferson Airplane and the Rolling Stones. His psychedelically skewed animation is particularly of that moment but still strikes a chord in today’s chaotic news cycle. Search on “Keiichi Tanaami animation” for a few examples. You’ll enjoy it.
In contrast, Frédéric Malle: On Perfume Making is a fascinating breath of rarified air breezing through the world of haute perfumery. On Perfume Making is written by the son of pioneering perfumier Serge Heftler who founded Dior Parfums. Pioneering in his own right, Malle created the label Editions of Parfums Frédéric Malle, which operated like a gallery or publishing house. Malle would curate the development of a fragrance by partnering with contemporary perfumers and give them creative carte blanche. Pierre Bourdon, Jean-Claude Ellena, Edouard Fléchier, Olivia Giacobetti, Dominique Ropion, Maurice Roucel, Edmond Roudnitska, Michel Roudnitska and Ralf Schwieger are among the many perfumiers who have collaborated with Malle.
In the foreword, Catherine Deneuve writes, “I love the way Frédéric works, building intriguing layers of notes and experimenting with a new rainbow of scents: spraying my hair with musk in the summer months, heading towards amber notes in the autumn, then jasmine and gardenia for springtime. I flit from one perfume to another the same way for my film roles. I chose Noir Epices by Michel Roudnitska to embody Marie Bonaparte. For my most recent film, Les Bien aimés, directed by Christophe Honoré, I immediately thought of Ralf Schwieger’s Lipstick Rose for my character, who is ever so chic with her stylish tastes and Roger Vivier shoes. I love the idea of a perfume foreshadowing an atmosphere, reflecting a mood, and rounding out a character.”
PS: I’d also like to give a National Fragrance Day shout out to Saskia Wilson-Brown and her crew at the Institute of Art and Olfaction, the West Coast’s first organization to explore perfume in a larger arts context, including visual art, architecture, music, design, fashion, ad film — and our neighbors on Chung King Road in Chinatown.
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