Who: Paul Schütze, a sound, photographic, video and olfaction artist. After a very successful career in art, Paul has just launched his first, eponymous fragrance collection. We caught up with him – and his gorgeous dog Gilbert – to find out more.
Today I’m wearing Tears of Eros by Paul Schütze, which is a very heavy incense, hyacinth and clementine fragrance, with lots of resins and a long slow dry down, so it lasts the whole day. It was an attempt to recreate a moment in my Paris studio several years ago, it takes me back to that winter in France every time I put it on.
I think about fragrance all the time. I read a lot of studies in sensory perception and phenomenology for my website Dressing The Air, which is about multi sensory art forms. It’s generally understood that you can’t smell when you are asleep, it’s linked to whether smelling is a conscious thing or if its something that happens under the radar. But I used to be woken up from a deep sleep by the smell of cigarettes from the flat next door so I completely refute that you can’t smell when you are asleep.
I’ve always loved and collected fragrance, but assumed it was completely outside of my reach as a discipline. But for one particular art installation, Silent Surface at Maggs Bros Bookshop, I made a fragrance to spray onto a book, which then diffused into the space. It turned out to be the one thing that everyone came to experience at the show.
The fragrance in Silent Surface was meant to amplify the scent of the old books. It took me a long time to get it right but it did work beautifully. I worked entirely on my own and ordered ingredients off the internet – which is a really bad way to do it because you haven’t smelled them, they’re expensive and 80% are rubbish so it was a costly learning process.
People reacted to the scented art in a more visceral way, which I always thought they would do. I’ve wanted to put fragrance in my installation work for years, I did a big piece at the Hayward Gallery in 1999 and to me it was incomplete because of the lack of fragrance, but I didn’t know where to start, it always felt like a missing element.
For a period I was allowed to use the Creative Perfumers lab in Mayfair. I went to one of their workshops for artists and was completely overwhelmed, I’d never had so much fun! I kept going back and eventually they asked me to become their artist in residence.They were very generous and that was really useful.
Fragrance creation is enhanced by being an artist. The way I create fragrance is structurally and intellectually exactly the same as how I create a piece of music or a photograph. With music I take a sound that I love and let it tell me where it wants to go. It’s the same with perfumery, I take an ingredient I find irresistible and let it guide me. If a perfume’s not working, and I’m pulling my hair out thinking ‘why is this not working?, I realize I’m doing something that I know, from 40 years of making music, will not work and I’m trying to apply that method that never works to the perfume. I need the material to speak for itself and then, bingo! It works.
Now I work with John Steven at Cotswold Perfumery, he does all our compounding. Once I’ve got something right in my workshop, he takes it and tells me if its compliant (with IFRA standards). I was determined that they had to evolve on the skin, rather than just having a fabulous opening, which is the way now. Many major perfumeries spend a year developing the opening, then a couple of seconds on everything else.
I need all the skin time for my own modifications, so I’ve stopped wearing other people’s perfumes. I’ve got a huge collection and I miss it, but if I’m making even a slight modification to something, I’ve got to wear it to see it its right.
If I’m out on a Saturday night, I’ll wear fragrance on my left wrist because I don’t want to get a blast of fragrance when I’m eating. I can’t bear having perfume and food together, unless its an orchestrated mix.
One of my absolute favourite smells is chlorine, I absolutely love it. My least favourite smell is Red Bull, I’ve got off buses in the past because someone has opened a can.