Artists & Perfumers: 80 posts

Articles about perfumers, artists and other interesting personalities. Also, please see Interviews.

Leonard Foujita : The Japanese Star of 1920s Paris

In the summer of 1913, an artist arrived in Paris. He was 27 and discovering the city of lights had been his obsession since he was a child in Meiji-era Japan. Foujita Tsuguharu was from a well-off family, the son of a general in Japan’s imperial army and a graduate of the prestigious School of Fine Arts in Tokyo, but he arrived in the French capital as a complete unknown. His goal was to learn, paint and be inspired by the city.

He moved into a studio in Montparnasse and soon met artists like Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine, Fernand Léger, and Pablo Picasso. He worked as a copyist at the Louvre, took dance lessons from Isadora Duncan and staged exhibitions with other painters. In Japanese, Foujita meant “a wisteria field,” but in the Montparnasse circle he soon became known as Fou-Fou, Mad to the power of two. Foujita didn’t mind. He welcomed the notoriety by cultivating a flamboyant image complete with a bowl cut, earrings and a lampshade as a headdress. He added Léonard to his name for a French inflection and as a tribute to Leonardo da Vinci. In the Paris of the Roaring Twenties, he was a star and a natural, more successful than either Picasso or Matisse.

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Monsieur de Givenchy : Cinema, Fashion, and Perfume

The great couturier Hubert de Givenchy passed away at the age of 91 on March 12th. It’s fitting that in remembering him every obituary mentions his collaboration with Audrey Hepburn. It was thanks to her that he found fame, recognition, and a chance to design the wardrobes of Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Princess Grace of Monaco. Today we take for granted celebrity endorsements, but in the 1950s it was novel. Yet, the collaboration between Givenchy and Hepburn was different from today’s business ventures between Hollywood stars and designers. The duo inspired each other, serving as each other’s muses. Givenchy’s clean, elegant lines and innovative techniques left a lasting imprint on fashion.

Hepburn contacted Givenchy to design her clothes for Sabrina (1954). Givenchy was in his 20s, running his first boutique on Plaine Monceau in Paris, having previously trained with Elsa Schiaparelli. Givenchy had an impressive career working for Christian Dior, Jacques Fath, Lucien Lelong, Pierre Balmain and Robert Piguet, but he was unknown. Hepburn felt that his designs would be perfect for a young woman who returns from a sojourn in Paris. The Hague exhibit told the story of Givenchy initially refusing the offer. As he told at the interview recorded for the museum, “I was busy preparing my next collection so I told her I wouldn’t be able to do it, but she was very persistent. She invited me to dinner, which was unusual for a woman to do back then, and it was at dinner that I realized she was an angel.”

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Audrey Hepburn : Scent, Spring, Rome

The other day I was reading through old issues of Vanity Fair and found an interview with Luca Dotti, the second son of Audrey Hepburn. He was reminiscing about his mother, her relationship with his father, her acting career, her dismissive attitude to her looks, her thoughts on aging and the things she enjoyed the most. Audrey Hepburn’s image is such a familiar one that it’s difficult to see the real woman behind the large glasses, little black dresses and Givenchy couture. Dotti’s interview, however, is refreshing, and those who find Hepburn fascinating should take a look at it.

Yet, one part above all others caught my attention. Dotti was describing the ways in which his mother remains in his life and the small things that remind him of her. He said that he and Audrey had a ritual of noticing scents–of flowers, food, any other aromas. Audrey had an acute sense of smell, and when Dotti is thinking of scents, he feels that his mother is near.

When asked in what way his mother remains most physically present in his life, Dotti says, “Through scent.” Not perfume, but “the light sensation of a smell,” Dotti says his mother preferred. “We joked a lot together about the fact that both she and I have a very good sense of smell. So there are certain scents, you know, a certain cake, or a flower, things like that. It’s not so physical, but it’s powerful. And every spring, especially here in Rome, you have this smell of orange blossom in the air. Spring is coming and it was her favorite season. It makes me think of her.”

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Estonian Linens and Scents : Snowbird Family Farm

NB: The Snowbird Family Farm is now called Firera Home.

I met Maria of The Snowbird Family Farm via that sometimes praised and sometimes maligned invention called the Instagram hashtag. One day I decided to search for #kama. Kama is one of my favorite things to eat for breakfast or whenever I want a light but filling snack. It’s a cereal powder of malted and toasted grains that in Estonia finds its way into everything, from kefir shakes to chocolate bars. Kama has a delicately smoky, nutty flavor, and I love it mixed into yogurt and topped with honey. It softens, while retaining its pleasing granular texture.

As I discovered in my #kama search, chocolate and ice cream is not the limit, and kama can even be used in soap. A small artisanal outfit Pääsukese talu, which means the ‘Swallow Farm’ in Estonian, made delicious looking blocks of organic soap with kama. Maria, the genie behind the enterprise, assured me that it will exfoliate the skin, and I placed an order for 10 soaps. Since Maria was at that point trying new directions, she soon stopped making soap and instead focused on traditional Estonian linen weaving, a big passion of her mother’s. Eventually they added ceramics from local studios, and that’s how Snowbird Family Farm was born.

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Bardot and Picasso

In 1956 Brigitte Bardot visited Pablo Picasso’s villa in the town of Vallauris on the French Riviera. Although Picasso never painted Bardot, Jerome Brierre of LIFE Magazine took several photographs of the meeting. They show the 21 year old Bardot and the 74 year old Picasso in the artist’s studio filled with his etudes and ceramic sculptures. Although Bardot looks fragile and young, she holds her own, and every image shows her in control, if not in defiance. Exquisite, isn’t she?

Photograph by Jerome Brierre via Getty Images

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