I first met Bruno Fazzolari at the end of an until then interminable cross country trip. My boyfriend at the time was a friend of his boyfriend at the time, which is a long story and another form of interminable I’d rather not get into. This at-the-time boyfriend and I stayed in Bruno’s guest bedroom, a nice cozy space within which to parse some of the resentments we’d built up during the course of the thirty days on the road. Or so we thought. Let me tell you: thirty days on the road with almost anyone is about twenty-five too many. When things refused to parse, I figured that was the end of Bruno – but I never forgot the bright white room in the middle of his house, a sort of (conceptually) hermetically sealed area he used as a studio. Years later we resumed contact and discovered we’d both activated our interest in perfume in decisive ways. I’d started working it into films, both thematically and through collaborative work with perfumer Andy Tauer. Bruno had started purchasing ingredients online, experimenting. He’d introduced scent into his art, and eventually started creating a group of scents he now sells outside the gallery. Recently, Bruno released a different interpretation of my favorite, Au Delà, which smelled so good when I sprayed it on that I carried the vial around in my pocket until just a little was left.
Brian: Where do you work on scents? Can you describe the place? Ideal? Not so ideal?
Bruno: My studio occupies several rooms in a residential Victorian building that’s over 100 years old. One room is for painting, one for drawing and one is for fragrance. Most Victorians have a “fainting room,” a tiny, street-side room on the second floor where (so the story goes) women would pause to rest after climbing the stairs in tight corsets. That’s where I work. My perfumer’s organ is very DIY, I made it with the pink foam I’ve used for my sculpture. It may not be mahogany, but it’s pretty close to ideal.
This version of the scent is pretty different to my nose, though I still haven’t done a side-by comparison. I like the idea of a flanker, although to most who love perfume it’s a bad word. I like how it creates an opportunity for the wearer to exist in some in-between space, where wearing the one scent recalls or conjures the related one. What was your objective here?
Until you asked, I didn’t realize this might be called a flanker! That term seems to belong to the big perfume houses where everything is a strategic, market-based decision. I think of this as a limited edition: a way of offering access to a beautiful and rare material and a different view onto the space of Au Delà. Painters and musicians often create different variations of the same piece. Something interesting happens when, say, the live version of a song changes your understanding of the studio version. As a creator, you’re always aware of how very small changes to a formula or a color can wield dramatic changes in mood or atmosphere.
The original formulation of Au Delà has a green-floral motif that I brought forward for this edition. Narcisse absolute smells a bit like violet leaf, but with a subterranean note of earth and roots that is beautifully supported by the oakmoss and labdanum in the base of Au Delà.
Why release a poster/print with the scent? Can you tell me a little about how those ideas evolved alongside each other?
I have visual responses to scent, so color is a huge part of how I understand fragrance. I’m usually developing a visual element and a perfume at the same time—it’s an integral part of how I work. One of the things I love about perfume is that many people can buy and own the original artwork, which isn’t the case with my paintings. This is a beautiful print. The handmade nature of printmaking means that each impression is unique, but the run is big enough to make it affordable so that more people can participate.
As for the image itself, I’m very inspired by the perfume community. Blogs by writers like Barbara Herman or Gaia Fisher are part of a wide appreciation for the entire world of perfume—not just the scents, but the whole culture and history of fragrance: visual, material and social. I hope this print contributes something to that dialogue. I created it to look a little like the ads of another time, but with a bit more enigma—a sort of visual-text poem.
I knew you before either of us talked much about scent. That was what – over fourteen years ago. I remember you worked in this white space in the middle of your apartment and that when I got a peek in there it felt like those white scenes from THX 1138. When did the interest in scent become a larger part of your conversation? Was it a shift or just a really gradual thing? And where does your fixation on scent come from do you think?
My studio is still in the same place, though I’ve annexed a few more rooms and the THX effect is bigger now! I’ve always had very deep responses to scent, visually and emotionally. Scents provoke color responses in my mind and sometimes I have very strong synesthesias that are actually unpleasant. So it was very natural to bring that into the studio. But access to materials and information was a problem. Around the time we first met, I remember talking with a friend about a scent project I had in mind, but the raw materials were so hard to obtain and the process was so mysterious that it seemed impossible. All that has changed now—which is why this is such an exciting time for perfumery. For the first time, perfumers can publish their work in the same way that independent film-makers, poets and musicians do.
Can you talk about some of the scents you really love? Maybe three or four? And what you love about them?
The original formulation of Diorissimo that I smelled at the Osmothèque is among the greatest masterpieces of the 20th century—bright flowers in May, but also earth and animals with a bit of Dior mid-century glamour. Knize 10 for its gender bending masculinity that merges flowers and leather. The Germaine Cellier scents—so daring. The original Kouros is a wonderful fusion of classical and modern masculine accords. I like how challenging it is: in the right weather, it’s amazing stuff, and in the wrong weather…look out!
I like this excerpt from a piece Bruno did for CaFleureBon in 2013:
“I began experimenting with making my own scents about ten years ago. 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. Three years ago, I finally had to admit that I had become a perfumer. I decided to combine my love of painting and scent. In my exhibition, Mirror 5, I showed paintings with a perfume. 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…”
Visit his site for more about his work.