Sep 152014

What would you say you’re trying to communicate when you write about perfume?

The first thing I’d say I try to communicate is what the scent smells like. And that starts off in a really kind of empirical way: it smells like these notes. Then I move to what it makes me feel; what it’s conveying, what all these things together are evoking. And I try to situate it in a history: What must this scent have meant for people during its time. Emotionally, too: how does this scent make me feel? I try to hit all of those things.


Why? Because I don’t think people take scent as seriously as they should. I think in people’s lives scent actually has a lot of meaning. And because there’s not a lot of discourse around it they just experience it without really being able to analyze it the way you can other things. It’s culturally available to talk about movies or poems or fashion even, but with perfume, this very intimate, personal historical thing, they don’t really have the language to talk about it, so I try to initiate that conversation.

Why is that important to you?

It’s important to me because I think scent is important to people. It’s part of their memory; part of their cultural history. People can say, When I smell this, I return to my fourteen year-old self or my twenty year-old self or when I fell in love with this person or the way my grandmother smelled. These are important things. And I think they’re worthy of analysis.

If you could go back to the person who was going into the mall and spraying ten different things on herself, you as a teenager, and tell her anything, what would it be?

I don’t think she needed to know anything. If anything, she could tell me things. Because she was just open. She liked what she liked, she sprayed what she liked on her, and there wasn’t a lot of censorship. She just liked what she liked, and I think that’s something we can all learn from.

Where does the censorship come in for you now? Do you struggle with that?

Well, I think when I wear something people tell me they don’t like, it hurts my feelings, and it makes me second guess whether I should like it. We’re living in a culture where people don’t like perfume, they don’t like scent, they don’t want to smell you. So I’m very self conscious about scent. That girl didn’t give a shit what anyone thought. You know? I was wearing fifteen different perfumes. I wore whatever I liked. If people were like, I have a headache, I would just be like, roll a window down. I didn’t care.


Barbara Herman is the author of Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume and the website Yesterday’s Perfume. The short film above, These Things That Stink, was shot during a reading at Scent Bar in Los Angeles during the fall of 2013. The interview was conducted in May of 2014.

Dec 122013

29 palms

I usually start my sketches out of the blue, in the moment. Sometimes it is a moment where I just need to get out of it, with “it” being many situations, like filling bottles or emailing. Usually, this does not lead me far, as there is no time really to see, but it helps slipping out of the moment, sometimes. The result might look like the procrastination sketch I did during a 1 minute break the other day.


‏The [first] illustration done in 29 Palms, two weeks ago, took a bit longer, maybe 30 minutes. What we see is the view from Hotel Harmony in 29 Palms, sitting in front of room 5, looking over the more or less flat plain towards the hills, or mountains, that are already part of Joshua Tree National Park. In the front is a palisade made of panel sheets, that transforms into a rough fence made of dark, sun burnt wood. The hills are in flame and full of contrast, as it is later in the afternoon and the sun brings out all the contours of the rough, seemingly lunar hills. It is a big wall in the distance, waves of stone, kept away from what seems like a safe perimeter by the fence and panels. Inside this perimeter, there is organized nature, a pathway, a little rim marking it, a planted green, dark green bush, with silvery reflections there where the sun points to leaves in the right angle.

So you see: Sketching is seeing, too. I have seen these mountains many, many times as I travel to Joshua tree about every half year. I always stay a day or two at the hotel Harmony, looking down to 29 Palms, and to the right, where the rising planes grow into mountains. But I think I never watched them so closely. A nice side effect: A scenery really sticks in your mind, probably for the rest of your conscious life. Sketching is memorizing.

Somewhere in my brain sits this canvas and I can bring it back, while I write these lines, waiting in Zurich for the dough getting ready to be formed into little breads for dinner later tonight. There is snow outside.

When I started sketching this scene, I could feel the bigness of nature outside this little perimeter of civilization. A civilization that is overly present in the spread of things that is called Los Angeles, spreading out into what was fierce nature not long ago. Our civilization comes with a destructive force. It is loud, insane sometimes, colorful, splendid and exuberant. It eats itself through bushland into the desert. But the same forces allow me to sit there, with a cold drink, watching the waves of stone, exploring their beauty. The civilization brought me here by plane, by car, fueled by gas from another desert, or from below the sea. Watching them makes me realize how small and limited our efforts are. They will still be here, when the Harmony Motel is long gone and no perimeter is left to sit and muse about nature´s grandeur.

[Andy Tauer is the perfumer behind Tauer Perfumes and Tableau de Parfums, an ongoing collaboration with the films of Evelyn Avenue’s Woman’s Picture series. He keeps a blog where he talks about his creative process, and a sketchbook, where he documents the places he’s been and seen. Every month here on the blog he talks about something he’s sketched in his infamously scarce spare time.]


Jul 202013


Perfumer Andy Tauer makes incredible perfumes. Over the past year, traveling back and forth from Zurich to Italy (and Paris, and Russia, and LA) he’s sketched the various things he sees along the way into his virtual sketchbook, an i-Pad he bought a few years ago. Each month, starting now, Evelyn Avenue asks him to pick one of these sketches and to describe the circumstances behind drawing it:

It was a Friday in Rome, a hot and humid day. I was told that the weather in Rome this summer was odd: Lots of thunderstorms in the afternoon due to the humidity, very unusual for this time of the year. I had a hotel near the Stazione Termini, the main rail station, affordable but not super close to the historic center of town where I wanted to visit a perfumery. I walked from my hotel towards the historic center of Rome, had a cappuccino on my way, in a little side street, enjoying the good coffee and watching tourists trying to find their way through the labyrinth of medieval Rome. As often, I woke up early and I ended up being too early on my way, with the shops still being closed.

I ended up at the perfumery, but it was still closed. I know the area a bit, and being 10 minutes from the park of the Villa Borghese, I decided to walk up there. It was eleven in the morning, but already pretty hot, and thus I was looking for a place in the shadow. And I wanted to take a moment to sketch, and to think about Thursday. Thursday, I visited my future distribution partner for Italy. A family owned business. Nice and decent people. A very Italian enterprise, with nephews and mothers and nieces working in this family venture. We discussed my brand, my vision, my wishes and smelled my creations. For a lot of reasons I had to search a new partner who can help me bring my products to this great perfume market. It is one of the most advanced, most mature markets for “niche” perfumery, and Italians love artisanal products. Thus, it is important for me.

The discussions with the distribution partner were nice – on one hand, personal; on the other hand we had to find a deal: How to operate together. Who gets what share. Tough business stuff. I need a partner in Italy as I cannot simply ship perfumes there. Back then, on Friday noon in Rome, I had not decided with whom I want to collaborate and I did not have a full picture of whether the conditions discussed were viable for me and my products.

In a sense, I had a very important decision to make. For me, for my Italian perfume loving fans, for the potential partner, and – although not worried – I was in a state of insecurity. And I felt very sorry for my former distributor from whom I had to part. In a sense, it was a feeling of being cast adrift, the thrownness of a creative mind who has to deal with business, a prerequisite for continuing work as creator. It is this business framework that enables it all, my perfume creation fun time, my talking to perfume lovers worldwide, my salary at the end of the month, my freedom as creator. Yet, this perfume business comes with its obligations and rules that are not always easy to meet.

I had a lot to digest, and was imaging a future that was and still is very uncertain.

I was also very tired.

When entering the park I was looking for a moment of peace, and tranquility before talking to the perfumery owner hoping to learn more about the perfume market in these difficult days in southern Europe. I know this park with its uncounted pine trees pretty well as I go jogging there whenever possible when in Rome, and I wanted to hide somewhere in the middle. But then I got a bottle of water from one of the Gelati carts that offer all sorts of things, for a reasonable price. I sat next to it on a bench, on the left side of the cart, overlooking a good part of the park. To the left was the entry area with the busy street and the cars passing by, in bright sunlight, in front of me another bench on the other side of the alley, with an exhausted couple, tourists, like me enjoying the shadow and the ice cold water, with bits of ice dancing on the surface. Behind them was a little hill, still very green for the season, topped by a statue of a guy on a horse, like you see everywhere in Rome. On the right the Gelati outlet, and further down an area of pine trees, like dark arthritic old fingers pointing to the blue sky, hiding the villa Borghese.

Looking to my right, I observed the markings on the tree’s bark, cut there years ago by lovers or friends. The tree was hiding most of the Gelati cart, and I wondered whether those who left these marks still remember them. Probably the A’s and D’s will still be visible in the bark, attesting eternal love, when the lovers have left this world. Quite likely that the love will end before that. I was witnessing an argument between a French couple, jumping into a big fight, with loud French arguments, a back and forth, physically as well as vocally; both were tired by the heat, and the cause of their argument seemed much smaller than the dark universe that they were jumping into.

There were a lot of tourists strolling by, many watching me closely when I started sketching on my ipad what I saw to my right. Especially children, with their curiosity of minds that haven’t seen it all yet, were approaching me, shy but determined to get a glimpse of what I did there. I started with some contours, main lines of the cart, the line of cobblestones leading to it, bringing in the perspective, together with the shape of the tree. I loved the contrast between the straight, dark metal lantern bar, and the inclined, twisted trash bin behind it. When doing an illustration, I always look for elements that bring in an element of queerness. An asymmetry.  I wanted to bring the attention in the illustration there, by rendering it dark (as it was in reality). Then I started with some details on the cart: Potatoes chip packed tightly, flower decorations on the cart’s front, bottles neatly arranged on a board, the reflection in the cart’s side mirror. I added more details and a bit more perspective by another trash can in the background and two of the many pine trees. Leaving things off is important when drawing, and often, there is a moment when you have to end it, because adding more will not help but takes out the tension of an illustration. I guess this is true for many other crafts. For sure it is true for perfumery: Adding more lines might just lead to confusion. It is important to know when to stop.

I cannot really pinpoint why I chose to illustrate this particular view to my right, but I know what it did to me: I left  the worries and my thinking about the business and started to flow on a different wave. Seeing, observing, trying to find the contrasts in dark areas, looking for parallel lines, searching for patterns that repeat themselves. Sketching is also cutting reality into little pieces. Often, when looking at a scene somewhere, like in this park, there is so much that you think: I can never come up with an illustration. There is too much going on. I learned (or I am learning) to look behind the things I see. Sketching is surgical work: Cutting off, cutting into what you see. And it is a lesson in seeing: Things are not how we seem them, often. Our mind interprets and brings in things, shapes, contrasts, colors that aren’t there. Thus, in a sense, sketching is looking behind the surreality that is produced by our brain when interpreting the light collected in our eyes, transformed into electronic signal sent towards the brain. It is a meditation. A state of the mind that – although intensely focused – has a relaxing effect.

When I got up it was past 2, and I strolled down into the flow of people and cars again. And I realized that I had made up my mind.