A surfer turned sculptor turned fragrance house founder pushes the bounds of niche scents
Nobi Shioya’s entry into the fragrance world is an unlikely story. “I’ve never really worn fragrances or cologne,” he says.
Long before Shioya formed the Shaping Room, releasing provocative fragrances like Jet-Scent and S-ex, he was a sculptor with an idea: what if he incorporated scent into his work? “I didn’t know anything about fragrances at that time,” he says. “I didn’t even know about the existence of perfumers. That’s how removed I was from the whole fragrance industry.”
Conversations with his gallery led to Shioya’s first introduction to perfumery. “We contacted Firmenich,” Shioya says, “and within a week or so I received the first sketches.” Working with Jean-Pierre Bethouard, the artist quickly developed the scent he was looking for.
“At that time it was very primitive,” says Shioya. “What I did for my first experiment was to just scent the whole space by burning candles with this particular scent. We were burning three or four candles a day.”
Since that time, Shioya has retained his unconventional view of fragrance—a pronounced interest in smells over fragrances, eschewing the use of traditional fragrance language, and a preference for emotional rather than simply pretty scents.
Similarly, Shioya’s interactions with perfumers are rather idiosyncratic, favoring personal interaction over formalism. “I never do meetings at [the big fragrance companies]. Basically, [the perfumers] come over to my apartment or we go out to dinner or something. Most of the discussions and meetings take place either at my apartment or via e-mail or at restaurants. I try to develop a more friendly relationship with them.”
Approaching these noses as fellow artists, rather than as technical staff, is a partnership that could only happen in a niche environment. But that doesn’t mean Shioya operates without more conventional connections. In fact, Shioya has gained much of his access to his impressive list of fragrance collaborators thanks to his life and fragrance partner, Veronique Ferval, now of IFF.
"She’s the one who I first got in touch with at Firmenich when I started to develop my first scent for my exhibition,” Shioya says. “Coincidentally, when my first exhibition opened, she got transferred to New York. We met and somehow fell in love and from there I heard more and more information about the industry. She is the one who introduced me to all the perfumers. It’s thanks to her.”