With La Fabrica, IFF explores new pathways for olfaction

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Editorial partnership

Since 2002, IFF has multiplied the synergies between its perfumers, artists across disciplines and students from various art schools. The objective is twofold: give tomorrow’s designers chance to become well-versed in olfaction and to nourish the creativity of the company’s perfumers.

“La Fabrica? It is neither a place nor a fixed concept. It is a holistic space for reflection, enabling the discovery of new designers whom we can put in resonance with our perfumers,” summarizes Judith Gross, Vice President of Communication & Branding (Scent Division) at IFF and co-curator of La Fabrica alongside Bernardo Fleming, Director of Trends & Foresight at IFF and a partner in the Odeuropa project – which works to enable the reconstitution of Europe’s olfactory heritage through the analysis of digitized texts and images.

Since 2002, La Fabrica has drawn inspiration from The Factory, created by Andy Warhol in New York, where IFF is headquartered, and which in the 1960s fostered interactions between artists, accross diverse means of expression (painting, music, live performances, etc.). In the same spirit, IFF has established links between its creative teams (perfumers and development teams) and artists, thinkers and students from art, fashion and design schools, including the Royal College of Art in London, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence (USA), the École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs (ENSAD) – more commonly known in France as “les Arts Déco” – and the École nationale supérieure des arts appliqués et des métiers d’art (ENSAAMA), both in Paris.

The challenge for young designers is to undertake the conceptualization of odors, which are, in essence, invisible. This can take the form of a perfume presented at the end-of-year fashion show for the Art Deco school students or through work closely linking mentors and their followers. Each draws on the discipline of the other, and connections between countries are encouraged. For the past several years, each graduating master student at the Royal College of Art, of which IFF is the oldest partner (30 years in 2024), has been invited to consider the future of perfume: new uses, new occupations, new media. The most creative and relevant initiatives culminate in a collaboration with students from the IFF-ISIPCA Scent Design & Creation master’s degree program. A presentation of the 2022 students’ projects can be viewed on YouTube, in the form of short reports.

Besides cultivating awareness of the olfactory dimension among tomorrow’s fashion designers, the composition house’s overarching aim is to nurture the inspiration of the IFF teams and to immerse these future fashion designers in the world of perfume.

“La Fabrica partnerships are conceived for the long-term. Its temporality excludes the short term, just as its achievements exclude the anecdotal. It is the antithesis of an opportunistic approach,” adds Judith Gross. As proof is the aesthetic complicity that endures between the perfumer Nicolas Beaulieu and Jeanne Vicerial, 12 years after the visual artist graduated from ENSAD. Armoressence, for example, is a fragrance co-created as part of the 1+1 series by Nez. In the same vein, after an initial fruitful collaboration around the scent of sexual embraces in the forest, Joël Harder, a Franco-Swiss artist who graduated from ENSAD, continues to solicit the input of Anne Flipo. The same cross-disciplinary dynamism extends to the two performers in the Young Girl Reading Group duo, former students of the Royal College of Art, who call on IFF for each new artistic performance.

The story of Dominique Ropion and the designer Yiqing Yin also illustrates the extent to which inspiration can be mutual. Their collaboration began in 2008, when the perfumer conceived a fragrance for a collection of clothing designed by the student. In 2020, for the French pavilion at the World Expo in Dubai, he composed a fragrance… which Yiqing Yin visually “translated” into a crystal flower-dress.

The pairings are formed at the perfumers’ initiative. It is they who choose the person they want to work with artistically. From these meetings, IFF’s creators emerge stimulated, even blown away by the scale of the challenges to be addressed. “Every year, at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, an IFF perfumer attends the student project presentation critique. They are propelled into a bubble, bombarded with ideas. It’s a real gift!” emphasizes Judith Gross. When the designer Alexis Foiny (ENSAD) asked Domitille Michalon to imagine the fragrance of a prehistoric flower, by definition extinct, she began to question her own conception of reality.

Led to be “challenged” and to leave the sheltered atmosphere of their offices, will IFF perfumers become more audacious?

A meeting between the perfumer Julien Rasquinet and the curator of the exhibition L’Argent dans l’art at the Monnaie de Paris[1]On view until September 23, 2023. enabled him to realize an unfulfilled dream: to imagine a fragrance illustrating the scent of money, real and imaginary. His home fragrance, L’Argent dans l’air, on sale in the museum shop, transcribes “all the facets of banknotes, from the scent of the paper to the printing, from the ink to the coating.”

In spring 2021, IFF perfumers were solicited to compose fragrances inspired by eight 17th-century paintings in the exhibition Smell the Art: Fleeting – Scents in Colour at the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague (the Netherlands), including the smell of polluted canals, a bouquet of flowers and a wardrobe filled with freshly laundered linen. On-site, a pedal-operated device positioned in front of the artwork diffused the fragrance. It was even possible to order a boxed set containing four of the eight scents for a similarly multisensorial virtual visit from the comfort of one’s sofa.

Finally, on the initiative of Diane Thalheimer-Krief, an entrepreneur loving both olfaction and contemporary art, several individuals from the composition house were asked to work with leading international artists and co-create limited-edition one-of-a-kind olfactory sculptures, as part of the project Profile by. For the occasion, Paul Guerlain teamed up with Adel Abdessemed, Domitille Michalon with Pablo Reinoso, Anne Flipo with Joana Vasconcelos, Nicolas Beaulieu with Daniel Firman, Juliette Karagueuzoglou with Ori Gersht, Jean-Christophe Hérault with Hubert Le Gall and more recently Nelly Hachem-Ruiz with Valérie Jolly. Presented in Paris in June 2021, the sculptures and their perfumes are now available for purchase online. Herault’s and Le Gall’s is a cracked bronze amphora, a tribute to Dionysus, which exudes the characteristic smells of Greek baths (myrtle and laurel) and the carnal sensuality of the Bacchanalia (musks).

In an era where the olfactory dimension of our daily environment is defended as an integral part of our cultural heritage, we can imagine that such initiatives will gradually multiply. We can only dream of the next artistic collaborations to be sourced from IFF, to be smelled and experienced at concerts, fashion shows, exhibitions… But also, of course, in our bottles!

Main visual: Paul Guerlain and Adel Abdessemed for « Noli me tangere » for the project Profile By (©Charly Hel)


1 On view until September 23, 2023.


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