The Queen of Flowers by Svetlana Valueva
What an exhilarating evening it was on January 31 in Denver. It wasn’t the snowstorm or the bitter cold but the hoards of people who flocked to Denver Art Museum to enjoy the first “Untitled” evening of the 2014 season. And lucky, lucky me; I was there to share in the festivities and better still to present a new work of aroma-art commissioned by the museum for the event (Untitled #63: au naturel) that was a ‘translation in aromatic form’ of a painting in the museum’s permanent collection called “Young Girl with Flowers”, by Eugene Carriere. This isn’t my first project with DAM but it may be the first time that I have been able to present a new work that has never been smelled before as well as to give a talk that is specific to my process as an artist (as opposed to presenting researched designs and speaking about the aromas from a more purely educational standpoint). I have had the pleasure of doing this sort of thing at BMoCA (Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art) but this was my first at DAM and I liked it. I liked it a lot. It was right up my alley, as my grandmother used to say. To invoke the historical content available in a visual work from the late 19th Century and to apply it to an aroma art translation allows me to delve into the concurrent themes in perfume history, materials in use, trends in art, culture and scent as well as to speak directly to the image and what it feels like to view it. To bring all of this to play when designing is for me, instant love. I can feel all of my senses engaged and it is like riding a delicious wave taking you to distant times and places. I can feel myself there smelling the air and sensing the fabrics of the costumes and the bodies of the people around me (and what their skin emanates). It is immersive and complete.
Young Girl with Flowers by Eugene Carriere
When I first saw “Young Girl with Flowers” I knew that this would be my chosen subject for the perfume. I have been asked many times how I come to find inspiration, or what makes me want to create perfumes and often I have answered that the name and scent come together or there is some sort of sensory stimulation that sends me down the rabbit hole in search of what the perfume story wishes to be. With this perfume, the name came last. I wanted to work purely from the image without a ‘product name’ potentially distracting me.
The image is striking, no? It’s dramatic and rich, but playful and sweetly innocent. I love this girl playing with flowers in her hair (with that shock of red, they would be roses. Or maybe geraniums? Let’s use both). And that porcelain face so light and smooth. Is she playing dress up? Is she the Queen in her own heroic story? Is she working out how to be a woman and how she wishes to be perceived? There are many ways to come to this image and decide what it’s all about. What came for me was to speak to the drama, the sense of light and dark as well as the playful innocence paired together with the woman she will ultimately become. I made this perfume for her to wear. She is the Queen of Flowers.
this image perfectly evokes the rich texture of La Reine des Fleurs
Anyone who has studied perfume has come across the concept that “jasmine is the King of flowers and rose is the Queen”. The image itself sets up the first impulse to make this perfume with a rose dominant heart. And as geranium comes to mind as well (plus it has so much in common with the chemistry and aromatic signature of rose) it’s a natural pairing. Now the 19th Century influence…yes, it must be a more classical construction and yes, it will contain mostly naturals as this would have been the norm for the time. But, the dawning of synthetics had begun and this perfume must have a modern element. There is youth mixed in this after all. Peach…oh yes, that face speaks to me of peach, but a soft note; it can’t be a juicy, jolly rancher of peach. Aldehyde c-14 can do that soft, fuzzy, creamy note that is that smiling face that comes out of the image and floats on top. The base needs to be dark and rich. The blackness is there and this says that the perfume must rise up and float at places and plunge into depths as it dries down.
What I chose is ultimately an oriental base (balsams, resins, vanilla and civet) but winks at chypre with just a little moss. The effect is something that I personally adore: a rich, luxurious velvet of a dry down that is kept from being too sweet by the balsams and civet but keeps you coming back for one kiss after another with just the right amount of deliciousness.
Rose perfumes are not usually my *thing* to wear for myself. They don’t really smell good on me, with the exception of Rose Vert, which I love. La Reine des Fleurs is the second exception. It unfolds like the opening of the most sensuous flower and seems to last forever on my skin (until the next day). I can’t stop smelling my arms when I am wearing it. In fact it makes me feel like the heroic queen in my own story, too.
In case you’re interested to read more about the perfumes that I created for DAM and the Passport to Paris exhibit, you can check out the interview I did for their blog. I also created some pared down versions of La Reine des Fleurs with recipes that you can check out on their DIY tumblr. There’s some great shots from the Untitled #63 to check out on flickr , too, in case you’d like to take a peek.
Lastly, I’d love to share by giving away three 3 ml deluxe spray samples of La Reine des Fleurs! Please post a comment and tell me about your favorite roses, rose perfumes and/or 19th Century paintings to enter. The draw will be open through February 25. oxox
image credits: queen of flowers image by svetlana valueva found here; young girl with flowers image was generously allowed by Denver Art Museum.
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