Pierre Bourdon: Perfumer on Art and Fragrance


Pierre Bourdon is the creator of fragrances like Iris Poudré, Yves Saint Laurent Kouros (1981), and Shiseido Féminité Du Bois (1992, with Christopher Sheldrake), and Dolce Vita (1996 , with Maurice Roger). When asked to link his creative sensibility to a pictoral style, he responds, “The period between impressionism and fauvism – a creative period which balances on figurative interpretation and transcendental reality. Having said that, I am equally fond of Vermeer’s paintings, in which the reproduction of light is almost supernatural.” Read the rest of the interview on Scented Pages (edit: link no longer working).

If you were to name your favorite art work, what fragrance would be associated with it?

Jan Vermeer. Woman with a Pearl Necklace. c.1664. Oil on canvas. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemaldegalerie, Berlin. From abcgallery.com.



  • MC: Great question Victoria!

    Vermeer is one of my favourite painters too, but I find myself drawn equally to de Hooch’s Dutch interiors, backyards and domestic scenes. Like the roses, it must be a northern thing 😉 I can’t think of a perfume to associate with one of de Hooch’s Delft courtyards though.

    Vetiver Extraordinaire is quite rightly associated with the odours of northern French forests in autumn. However, it coaxes a granite minerality from vetiver that few other scents based on this note attempt to use (Creed’s 1940s Vetiver is the only other I can think of).

    That damp, mossy and misty scent reminds me of cities like Edinburgh, Bath and London in autumn as much as it does France’s forests. Vilhelm Hammershoi’s foggy London cityscapes and chilly Danish interiors come to mind for me when I wear Vetiver Extraordinaire. Maybe Hammershoi’s famous 1905 view of the British Museum: The sense of mist, of decaying leaves, of wet but solid stone is very powerful.

    I can’t remember the name or artist who took the photograph Incens & Lavande reminds me of, but I will describe it and perhaps you or one of your readers can help. It isn’t a great work like a Cartier Bresson or a Josef Koudelka: It’s by Doisneau, perhaps, or Depardon, and it’s a naked woman bathing in a spartan Provencal room. She has her back to the camera, like one of Bonnard’s paintings of his wife bathing, but she isn’t among Bonnard’s silk wallpapers and oriental screens. Instead, it’s a bare-stone room, she’s bathing with a zinc jug and one of those old tripod bowls. Southern light is pouring through the window, I can’t remember if you can make out the hills beyond.

    It’s a beautiful and intimate photograph. Why Incens et Lavande? I think this room smells like someone has been smoking in it, and there’s definitely the scent of old-fashioned lavender shaving cream. It’s a lived-in man’s room, to my mind: Again, the smell of wet stone, this time with ashes and lavender. Amber gives it a warmer intimacy.

    Oddly this scent also reminds me of some of Gwen John’s self-portrait sketches. October 6, 2005 at 4:39am Reply

  • MC: Found it. Willy Ronis, Le nu provençal, 1949:

    http://www.kathleenewinggallery.com/artists/images/ronis5.jpg October 6, 2005 at 4:42am Reply

  • parislondres: Thanks for this post dear V! I do like a few of Bourdon’s creations.

    I love way too many artists but this minute I can only think of Marc Chagall and how happy I feel when I get to see any of his paintings or stained glass creations and I can only associate these to the perfumes from Serge Lutens. Chagall’s use of incredibly bold colours and Serge Lutens’ creations both evoke strong emotions and leave an impression that is so vivid and beautiful. I am transported to places with wonderful traditions, strong colours and stunning beauty.

    Have a super day! October 6, 2005 at 4:13am Reply

  • Liz: Working backward from my favorite perfume, Bandit has always reminded me of Rilke’s Third Duino Elegy (this is a poem, not a piece of visual art, but I can’t help mentioning it because the association is so strong for me). “How he was caught up and entangled in the spreading tendrils of inner event already twined into patterns, into strangling undergrowth, prowling bestial shapes.” Oh, thank God for Rilke. And to fulfill my daily Duchamp quota, I can definitely see a link between Bandit and Duchamp’s Etant Donnes, which I love. Yes. October 6, 2005 at 12:28pm Reply

  • Liz: V – I posted that before I even saw your previous post. LOL! October 6, 2005 at 12:29pm Reply

  • Laura: Hi dear V! I love the paintings of the early Renaissance master Ucello (no way could I choose just one favorite painter, much less painting!. For his work, I’d chose Jicky–both are tonic, bracing, colorful –their styles reduce to a sort of essential geometry in an oddly ‘modern’ way. Gosh, all of this makes me want to experience both immediately! October 6, 2005 at 8:58am Reply

  • Liz: I went to college outside of Philly, and I consider the Duchamp gallery at the art museum one of the most intoxicating places on earth!

    Thanks so much for the link to the quotes site. Marcel is responsible for my all-time favorite quote: “There is no solution because there is no problem.” He also once said the only -ism he believed in was eroticism. 🙂

    Etant Donnes is in many ways just the Large Glass in another medium. The Large Glass exists in any number of media, really – it is also a long prose poem full of quasi-scientific mumbo jumbo that is deeply witty and mysterious. So perhaps I will just announce that Bandit is Etant Donnes, and therefore the Large Glass, in the medium of perfume. Who’s going to stop me? 🙂

    And with regard to Rilke, I confess I can’t read German. So I should have said “Thank God for Rilke as translated by Stephen Mitchell.” It’s amusing that I have a favorite translator when I can’t read a word of the originals. October 6, 2005 at 1:31pm Reply

  • Liz smellslikeleaves: Ack! What a difficult question to answer. Guerlain Vol de Nuit makes me think of William Turner’s paintings, with their soft, feathery skies of burnished gold. Oh, and Caron Narcisse Noir definitely brings to mind the most sumptuous, elegantly patterned Gustav Klimt paintings. I’m still thinking about Manet’s Olympia and John Singer Sargent’s Madame X… October 6, 2005 at 1:41pm Reply

  • Liz: Narcisse Noir = Klimt is genius! October 6, 2005 at 1:43pm Reply

  • Liz: I’d be thrilled to read your review of Bandit. My review of it on MUA is almost completely uninformative. I just make a lot of grand pronouncements and quote another passage from Rilke. LOL! It gives the reader absolutely no sense of what Bandit actually smells like (although it gives a long, amusing, and horrifying list of things Bandit doesn’t smell like, but has been accused of!). October 6, 2005 at 1:55pm Reply

  • Liz: And here I had no idea my Bandit review was evn remotely political. My writing is so layered. October 6, 2005 at 2:05pm Reply

  • Liz: “To write and not be a writer” is a line from Cocteau’s “Orphee,” which I suppose I am accomplishing by clogging up your blog with my musings while getting paid to do something else entirely. Incidentally, Orphee is the name of one of my cats. My Orpheus, aka Orphee, smells absurdly marvelous. To stay on topic, there is also a perfume called Orphee that comes in a bottle shaped like a man’s torso and smells of watermelon. Needless to say this was an intense disappointment. October 6, 2005 at 2:18pm Reply

  • Liz: Nor should a perfume called Orphee come in a bottle that looks like two-fifths of a Calvin Klein underwear model.

    The real Orphee – the one napping in a pool of sunlight as we speak – smells of soft spices and powdery musks. And just to bring things full circle, he was named for Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus. 🙂 October 6, 2005 at 2:28pm Reply

  • Marina: V., we are very much on the same page re: Pierre Bourdon. I am quoting that same statement of his (about fauvism, etc.) in the review tomorrow. Great slavic minds think alike and all that 😀 October 6, 2005 at 11:28am Reply

  • Tania: I could not possibly name my favorite artwork, but when I read your question, I instantly thought of the fur-covered teacup by Meret Oppenheim at the MoMA, and of Cabochard. October 6, 2005 at 11:50am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dear N, you are so right about Chagall! The last time I was in Paris, my mother and I went to Opera Garnier and somehow managed to get tickets at the very last minute for an opera. The opera turned out to be so-so, however the seats were terrific, and the view of the ceiling was great. It was so tongue in cheek, especially against all of that Second Empire. October 6, 2005 at 12:01pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Mike, thank you for these amazing descriptions. I also love de Hooch’s works, which have a tinge of melancholy, yet it is not overly obvious, as well as quiet confidence. It is a Slavic thing to discover any tinge of bittersweetness.

    Vetiver Extraordinaire as a Hammershoi’s 1905 view of the British Museum is a brilliant analogy. Another painting is Whistler’s London Bridge conveys a similar feeling–eerie, dusky, mist over grey stone.

    I agree with you about Ronis’ photo and its capturing of a very intimate moment. I almost smell lavender and garrigues on the wind that enters the room. Thank you for sharing.

    Speaking of Iris Poudre, I was browsing through my favourite online art gallery, and found this portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter of Mme. Rimsky-Korsakova:
    Somehow I can imagine her trailing Iris Poudre! October 6, 2005 at 12:17pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Laura, I need to start a book for these wonderful quotes I see in the comments, including yours: “their styles reduce to a sort of essential geometry in an oddly ‘modern’ way.” How perfect for describing both Ucello and Jicky. I could not agree more! October 6, 2005 at 12:19pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: M, oh yes! The great Slavic minds, indeed. 🙂 Cannot wait to see it. October 6, 2005 at 12:19pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: T, the question is badly worded. I should not have said favourite, as it immediately sets up the problem of choice (the evil of capitalist society).

    Perfect! Fur covered teacup and Cabochard are a great match. Now, where is Liz and her referrences to fragrant Duchamp? 🙂 October 6, 2005 at 12:22pm Reply

  • Liz smellslikeleaves: Ah, how could I have missed that? You’re right, Caron Tabac Blond would ABSOLUTELY be Olympia! What other perfume better evokes a brazen, naked stare? I haven’t yet sniffed Je Reviens, but now I’m even more compelled to do so. October 6, 2005 at 4:23pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: You mentioned Rilke , and I remembered the reason I decide to learn German–another favourite German poet. It was Goethe’s poem:
    “Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn,
    Im dunkeln Laub die Gold-Orangen glühn,
    Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht,
    Die Myrte still und hoch der Lorbeer steht…”
    I was always dissatisfied with translations of it in English (although I do not mind any poetry translated into Russian from whatever original language was). Here is one:

    Thank you for mentioning this beautiful poem by Rilke. It is one of my favourites. October 6, 2005 at 1:07pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: On the topic of Duchamp’s Etant Donnes. It is installed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and on my next trip, I should definitely take another look.

    Here is the installation (it looks like a door moored into a wall, but it has a couple of peep holes…):

    Have you seen this site that lists some of Duchamp’s quotes:
    http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/Duch.html October 6, 2005 at 1:12pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Ah, nobody shall stop you! I certainly shall not. In fact, I am planning to review Bandit, but I am almost intimidated to approach it with connoisseurs like you around. I shall do it, though.

    Duchamp’s quote you mentioned could be related to my experience in academia. First, you create a problem, then you think of a solution (deductively, if possible). Finally, you run regression analysis on the variables that may or may not capture the phenomena you observe. The result is presented as evidence of causality.

    My German is not as good as I would have liked it to be. It also did not help that my German teacher was obsessed with quark (cheese), and every sentence I have learned from him had some relation to quark. On this topic, I can converse at length. October 6, 2005 at 1:45pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Liz, how perfect is your Narcisse Noir and Klimt comparison. I cannot think of anything better for him.

    Manet’s Olympia and John Singer Sargent’s Madame X are difficult, but I would offer Worth Je Reviens for Madame X and Tabac Blond for Olympia (seductive and confident–it will not turn its gaze away from you.) October 6, 2005 at 1:50pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Clearing misconceptions is a very important thing to do. Why, your review of Bandit sounds almost like what Marx said about socialism (save for quoting Rilke). October 6, 2005 at 2:03pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Well, it is very layered indeed! 🙂 I confess of liking Marx, especially early Marx. For instance, “man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him.” Yes, that is exactly how I feel about work sometimes. I am enslaved.
    This is my utopia: “possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.” Although, in a sense, I am doing so–political scientist by day, perfume writer by night… October 6, 2005 at 2:11pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: LOL! Please clogg away. I am actually working on some process tracing analysis, which painfully boring, therefore a break from it is most welcome.

    Orphee (fragrance) cannot smell of watermelon. It is just wrong. October 6, 2005 at 2:24pm Reply

  • KS: Wonderful question! I’m a big Frida Kahlo fan and think Timbuktu evokes her spirit and life. When I see her many self-portraits with monkeys, her photos with hawks, Xoloitzquintle dogs, deer, I do think Timbuktu’s mustiness, earthy aura (mixed with a touch of flower, spice) would conjur up Kahlo’s home and lifestyle. Just spritz some Dzing! into the air and you have the artist’s varnishes and mineral spirits to boot! When I visited the Blue House in Mexico City years ago there were empty bottles of Schiaparelli perfumes in Kahlo’s bedroom. But never having smelled the old Schiaps…I can’t say if they would make me think “Frida.” Kevin October 6, 2005 at 8:47pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Liz, your Orphee is very special. Being named after Rilke’s poems makes anyone very special indeed! October 6, 2005 at 4:49pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Liz, about Je Reviens–it is a very interesting fragrance, combining the cool, slightly aloof elegance with a dark sensual facet. I think that you might find it interesting. October 6, 2005 at 4:58pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Kevin, I envy you for visiting The Blue House. I have been planning to take that trip for ages, but at this point it is not clear when it might materialize. You made me want to revisit Schiaparelli. Thank you for such a vivid imagery. October 6, 2005 at 9:05pm Reply

  • Mosaics: me to, i was planning to have my 3rd visit at schiaparelli…. thanks kevin!!! April 12, 2007 at 9:20pm Reply

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