What does perfume say to you? If it’s a means to an end, a well packaged accessory or merely a mask to cover your true identity, then look away now. There is scent, and there is sense. A smell can be evocative but does it stop you in your tracks? Can it relay some intangible signal that will move you in the same way music makes you dance, or a painting inspires awe? Niche perfumery Folie À Plusieurs steadfastly believe so, adhering to a unique brief of using fragrance for the purpose of emotional, artistic and cultural expansion. It’s something of an obsession. But it isn't Obsession.
Founder, Kaya Sorhaindo, is a renaissance man who likes to think big. Circling the orbit of fashion, his career trajectory has taken in artist management, publishing and brand consultancy, but his true calling arrived the day he embarked on a perfumery course. “I’m not a perfumer as such,” he says, at home in Manhattan, “I work more intuitively, like a creative director. I put people and ideas together.” In effect, Sorhaindo’s talent is to recognise talent in others, and to that end he has amassed a crack squad of olfactory giants to help with the cause. Folie produce a range of astonishingly original fragrances, but it has not always been thus. There was a time when he used to create product for fashion designers, “but the briefs were disingenuous, and they weren’t offering anything new to the consumer. It seemed more obvious to do my own thing.”
His own thing is somewhat special. “I want to create fragrances that are honest, sometimes brutal, other times heart breaking, or beautifully poetic". The niche perfume industry has blown up. Every day there are so many fragrances being released on the market. Some, like Serge Lutens, who I love, are more ingredient focused. Then there are others based around travel stories—trips to Versailles etc. But there are not many brands that are necessarily committed to really investigating artistic disciplines.”
In a consumer culture where attention is drawn to a million different things, Folie’s intention is to move perfume outside of the space of just being a commodity, to something that holds deeper meaning—like a work of art, or a physical experience. Their latest, perhaps most compelling project to date are the signature fragrances the company have created to enhance ‘Neue Experience’—a series of superlative experiences for those seeking the best life can offer. Commissioned by founder and editor-in-chief Brett Phillips as an extension of his consummate broadsheet Neue Luxury, Folie have been given the complex job of interpreting these offerings into evocative scents. Neue Experience clients might spend time with a world class artist; take an insider’s guide to the Marrakech of Yves Saint Laurent; or enjoy the untamed Lappish wilderness in a McLaren 570s. Where does one even start?
“I love this type of work,” enthuses Sorhaindo. “The idea of creating an experience, and then a fragrance. It becomes an archive, a memory, a way to revisit, recall and relive things on your own terms, and in such an intimate and personal way. I was inspired by Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation, where she said, ‘We need to recover our senses, we need to see more, to hear more, to feel more’. I am not sure how people will tap into this, but we provide them with the opportunity to find new meanings in an artistic piece. Whether that be a film, music, art, performance, literature … an experience, there is a new sensory channel being offered to them.”
With any project, the customer is central to the concept. In this case it will undoubtedly focus on the nuanced life of the hardy millennial. Does he understand the mindset of Generation Me? “I do not study the data, but I feel that the millennials are all about connectivity, even if the digital space is pulling them away from real life experiences and areas of engagement. However, I do believe they connect more to what they love in much deeper ways than previous generations. And thus, if a fragrance is offered to them that allows them to delve into an artist or something they love, it becomes irresistible.”
“I have to develop ideas that are super strong,” agrees Lucas Sieuzac, the perfumer assigned to matching experience with scent. “The way Neue Luxury wrote their descriptions was very strong and evoked a lot of things. They are so out there—real dream stuff—so the possibilities are endless. I love to work like this, to listen to what I feel inside. It’s intuitive.”
Sieuzac has the experience and sensibility to realise this ambitious project. He is cerebral but playful in that inimitable French way; pragmatic, but forever misty-eyed. What he brings to the table is rare, and that is restraint. “You know, with fragrance, it’s super difficult to share something, because you and I smell different,” says a man once described as ‘inquisitive, devoted and epicurean’. “So when you smell fragrances it’s super subjective. You can share a painting, or a meal, or a movie, or a piece of art, but fragrance it’s very difficult. At the end it’s just sharing emotions. The thing is, if I can touch one’s emotion I think I succeed. I’ve failed with the perfume if no one can feel it.”
He calls the Neue Experience fragrances ‘sensory signatures’ but by using just a few raw materials they are less complex than that might sound. “Because the message you want to give is clear. It’s like when you are playing with Play-Doh, you know? If you mix blue, red and yellow together, you can see them. But if you add some green you just end up with something brown and you don’t see anything. You don’t see the colour. So I am being really clean, really minimalistic. In that sense I hope the luxury idea, the unique experience, will be understood very clearly, and enhanced too.”
In his casual but exacting way, Sieuzac has managed to find the essence from within. Presented with such a rarefied set of experiences, he wanted to be neither too abstract or too literal. “For the Northern Lights outcome, when I read the description I don’t understand how the idea came to me. So, you’re going to be in a car, and outside it’s freezing cold, that feels very reassuring, comforting, warm. I wanted something that was opposite to the cold outside. I’ve put some wood in there to give the feeling of vibration, and the colour here is super green. Like the green of an emerald.”
In full flight now, he recalls the sensory idea behind Villa Oasis, Neue Experience’s immersive tour through Jardin Marjorelle and the Marrakech of Yves Saint Laurent. “I went there maybe 18 years ago and tried to evoke the feeling,” he says. “I tested something really special here: carrots, cumin and orange blossom, but I didn’t use the carrot because I don’t much like using food in fragrances. So I try and put in some spice and something really oriental in there, like a combination of spice and leather.”
If Sieuzac makes it sound simple, the reality is far more esoteric. Everyone perceives smell in different ways, although memory appears to play a dominant role. And although he eschews nostalgia in favour of the future, there’s no denying it plays an important part in the creative process. “I try not to be nostalgic because otherwise you don’t really go forward, you know? Of course I dig in my past but I don’t stay there. It’s a good combination between the present and the past. I remember when I was a kid we used to go to this house in Brittany, and I still remember the smell. But I went there twelve years ago and the owner had changed the house and it didn’t smell like it used to. It’s ok because I still have the smell in my brain and I was able rebuild it into a fragrance. I put some cedarwood in there, some honey, all these mysterious smells, because if you smell too much reality in a fragrance you’re in trouble. It should always remain a little mysterious.”
With that in mind, how does he translate the unreal? Creating a fragrance based upon space travel, for instance. That must have presented problems? “In thinking about the future of private space travel, I would do something really weird and fresh, something supersonic and musky, like nothing of this earth. The idea of when you feel something, how it can go really fast. These moments in your life, as soon as you feel them they’ve already gone. I would preserve that impression.”
In the world of Folie À Plusieurs, impressions are everything. Perfumery is more craft than art form in the traditional sense, and yet the company are addressing this culture in phenomenally inventive ways. By taking fragrance out of its normal arena they imbue it with credibility and add important new dimensions. “I love the idea of art leaving the walls of museums and onto the skin of an individual”, says Sorhaindo. “The human becomes a body canvas.”