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Fragrancing FEAR

Posted: May 16, 2007

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“I took extreme neighborhoods of Berlin and put them together,” she says. “This is the air we smell, this is our neighborhood … I focused on [placing] the so-called bad and good [next] to each other, and some are very extreme—you might call it bad if you had no other word, but in the overall context, they get a completely different [impression].”

Perfumers tell stories with their scents—tales of love, of sunlight, happiness, nature, mystery. Fragrances developed under Tolaas’ direction tell stories too, but while most traditional fragrances are wide-screen fantasies, her works are gritty documentaries.

“If you can take just the air filled with invisible molecules you say much more about the neighborhood than a building [can].”

Of course, working with perfumers in the past has led to some friction. After all, noses spend their lives trying to make raw materials sing, to create scents that may be provocative, but are always ultimately beautiful. On the Paris city scent project, Tolaas bumped up against this instinct.

“I had so much hassle because the perfumers in Paris were afraid of the smell of Paris,” she says. “I wanted to find the smells of subway stations and streets and butchers and perfumers would say, ‘Why won’t you make our interpretations?’ I’m not interested in interpretation. I want the reality. ‘Please copy the reality.’ It took me a hell of a lot of time just to get to that point where they understood this is not about the fantasy—this is about reality.