Art & Fashion: 23 posts

5 Things That Inspire Me

When I work on any long-term project, my office looks as if a tornado went through it. Since I prefer to work at a low table sitting on a cushion, my legs folded in the lotus position, I use the floor around me as my canvas. Books, research materials, and reference volumes cover it in random looking piles and mixed among them are items I find inspiring. Of course, the chaos is not entirely random, and I can tell you where I have my Japanese-English dictionary, Philip Kraft’s guide to fragrance chemistry or a volume of Persian poetry, without having to get up from my table. (The table, by the way, was a $10 acquisition from a Turkish shop, intended for making phyllo pastry.)

Casting a quick glance at the items that surround me today, I realized that they are much more than the materials I use for my writing, but rather the things that inspire me, the things that give me pleasure simply by looking at or touching them. I’m sure everyone can make such an inspiration collage–and I’m sure that for every person it would be different, but I wanted to share mine with you.

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Niko Pirosmani : A Movable Feast

The paintings by Georgian artist Niko Pirosmani (1862–1918) throw me off balance. It may be a strange reaction to art, especially to the one depicting animals, people feasting, gathering grapes, or fishing, but Pirosmani is not an ordinary painter. Why are the deer’s eyes so much like human eyes? Why do the revelers raising their horns full of wine look so serious? What are they celebrating? What went through the artist’s mind as he sketched and what did he intend for us to see? What motivated him to paint?

Most likely–and we have so little information about Pirosmani’s life that we can only guess–it was hunger that prompted Pirosmani to take up the brush. Born in 1862, in a village in the Kakheti region of Georgia, he didn’t have any formal education, and his stints as a train conductor and cattle herder ended in failure. He learned painting from itinerant artists and he wanted to open a workshop producing signboards. It almost came to naught. The first order he painted for free, while the second one never came. He remained poor and hungry for the rest of his life, a vagabond and a pariah.

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Abhisarika Nayika : The One Who Dares

At the end of the year, I was going through my papers and I found a few notes I wrote about Indian classical art and the theory of rasa. According to the Natya Sastra, a text about arts dating to between 200 BCE and 200 CE, the purpose of art is to transport the person who experiences it to another universe. Delight, entertainment, even distraction from the routine are reasonable goals too, but the main one is a chance to transcend the ordinary and feel wonder.

The theory of rasa is more complex and fascinating than my short description, but its essence is very easy to grasp. Think of a work of art that has touched you so deeply you forgot about all else. A painting, a film, a sculpture, a perfume. I still think that some of my most vivid experiences of this nature have been connected with scents, and I wrote about one of them previously when I described discovering Guerlain Après L’Ondée as a teenager.

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Perfume in Art and Design : Highlights from The Perfumative Zurich

What happens when a group of people from different disciplines, such as chemistry, political science, philosophy, sociology, art, sculpture, film, literature and perfumery, come together to discuss scent?  This month I attended The Perfumative conference organized by the Zürich University of the Arts, and it was exactly such an event. It was open to the public and the combination of talks, freestyle discussions and art installations based around scent made The Perfumative a vibrant and inspired gathering.

My contribution to the conference centered around scent, culture and the way perfume writing has evolved over the past years, becoming a legitimate subject comparable to similar discussions in the related fields of fashion, wine and food. You can see the range of topics covered in the program, and since the talks were recorded, I’ll share the link here once they go online. Edit: the video recording of my talk is now available at the conference website, https://perfumative.zhdk.ch/vortraege/ and scroll down.

For now, however, I wanted to share with you some of the observations inspired by the talks and discussions. Please feel free to contribute your own thoughts.

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Paul Poiret on Selecting a Signature Perfume

Who was the first fashion designer to launch a perfume? It was most certainly not Coco Chanel and her No 5. The first couturier who linked fashion and perfumery was Paul Poiret. His rise in the world of fashion happened at the turn of the 20th century. Although his success was as meteoric as his fall was swift and tragic, he left an indelible imprint on fashion and created a modern sense of couture and dressing, the very road that Chanel and other fashion designers would follow.

Poiret’s autobiography, King of Fashion: The Autobiography of Paul Poiret (V&A, London 2009) reveals him as a complex character that he was. While in its pages he can come across as pretentious and self-congratulating, his passion for art and fashion is moving. So is his openness to taking risks or even bearing opprobrium. “Do not kick up a fuss for something that is not admissible today, because  tomorrow it will be,” he writes. He knew what he was talking about it, since one of his first designs, a kimono coat elicited a vehement rejection from a Russian countess. “What a horror! When there are low fellows who run after our sledges and annoy us, we have their heads cut off, and we put them in sacks just like that,” she said. This kimono-coat was to become one of Poiret’s hits.

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