Scent Scene: The Perfume Of Art – Officine Universelle Buly Gets Creative With The Louvre

We experience some wonderful scented events in our role as WWP roving perfume reporters, but it’s going to be a long time before anything beats our recent visit to Paris with Officine Universelle Buly, for a preview of the brand’s very special fragrance and art collaboration with the Louvre.

It’s the first time the venerable French art institution has ever worked with a perfume house on a project. It approached  Victoire de Taillac and Ramdane Touhami from Buly (above) with the idea of transforming the art experience through scent, by recruiting eight of France’s most exciting perfumers to create fragrances inspired by their favourite Louvre artworks.

“Considering the size of our little company, we are an extraordinary choice for them,” Victoire told us as we wandered through the Louvre to meet each of the eight perfumers and their fragrances at their chosen artwork. “It’s the first collaboration the Louvre has done with a perfume brand, they could have chosen anyone they liked and no one would have said no.”

Aesthetically, the fit is perfect. Buly is inspired by botanical history, with both Victoire and Ramdane having researched and experimented with traditional, plant based beauty rituals from around the globe to create refined, artisanal fragrances and treatments, packaged in artfully decorated apothecary-style packaging, for the Buly brand. The beautiful wood panelled stores feel a little like tiny museums themselves, crossed with vintage apothecary shops. Buly has recreated a similar pop-up store at the Louvre (until January 2020) where the collaboration products are all for sale.

Buly also has that hard to define quality of ‘cool’. It may not be the most recognised fragrance brand but amongst the design and style decision makers of the world it’s got that essential under-the-radar vibe of ‘interesting to know’. Its selection of beauty products taps the current desire for something luxuriously authentic and carefully made and it’s owners are creatively maverick enough to side step the corporate personality many better known French perfume houses now have.

Victoire continued, “The Louvre wants to show that it’s a source of inspiration for any creative of today. For example, it’s why they worked with Beyoncé (Beyoncé and Jay-Z shot their music video Apeshit in the museum and they were credited with helping visitor figures for 2018 hit record levels, up 25% on the previous year.) They understand the merchandising of the museum has been quite classical and they need to update it and we are part of this.”

Was it hard to satisfy the presumably exacting standards of the Louvre? “Actually,” Victoire continued, “the creative journey has been amazingly easy, it’s been a gift of a project. We had no limits, we were allowed to chose the eight perfumers so we used perfumers we’d worked with before and had a nice relationship with but we wanted to have different styles, so we also worked with perfumers completely new to us. There was no logic really, we didn’t give any price for the formula, we just said go for it.”

The choice of art was entirely left to the perfumers, who were given free access to the Louvre to discover what most inspired them and were asked to create a fragrance that they felt represented what the picture meant to them. From the Venus de Milo, which inspired Jean-Christophe Hérault’s (above) mandarin, jasmine and amber scent, to Georges De La Tour’s Saint Joseph The Carpenter, which Sidonie Lancesseur picked for her cedar wood scent infused with verbena, pink berries and vetiver, via Ingres’s seductive Grande Odalisque for perfumer Domitille Michalon-Bertier’s (below) incense, pink pepper and musk creation, the art picked was varied and the fragrances even more so.

Perfumer Aliénor Massenet (above) selected The Winged Victory of Samothrace, an elegant sculpture full of power and movement, and explained to us that although she loved the project, she found it “Really emotional and intense, it was one of the most challenging creations for me, I had to consider how I was going to turn this extraordinary artwork, which has been viewed for so many years, into an idea  that I could put in a bottle”. The resulting fragrance is one of our favourites, a moving swirl of tuberose, jasmine and magnolia, wrapped in the warmth of myrrh.

Inhaling the fragrances while admiring the art was profoundly moving, it was as if the canvases and stonework were given another experiential dimension with which to enjoy each other. Somehow looking at the art became a richer, more sensual experience when viewed in a gentle embrace of fragrance molecules and the fragrances gained a powerful resonance by being woven into the story of their individual artworks. As Victoire explained to us, having been immersed in the project for these last months, it’s difficult now for her to think about the paintings without the perfumes and vice versa. Her favourite? “it’s probably Conversation In A Park by Thomas Gainsborough”, as imagined by perfumer Dorothée Piot. “It’s just a lovely perfume and a lovely perfumer too, which helps.”

We expect to see more of these collaborative projects between culture and fragrance because it benefits both art forms. For fragrance, it’s a new way to offer a cultural connection for anyone who might mistakenly see scent as being just a beauty product, by offering an olfactive journey that taps the synapses for a more cerebral experience. For art, it’s a way to make the gallery journey richer and more experiential. We’re only just beginning to understand how the brain links scent, emotion and visual stimulation, but its clear from this magical Buly / Louvre collaboration that it’s a scented win win for both.

The perfumers are sadly not in attendance daily at the Louvre to spray you with scent, so if you visit, we suggest you drop into the Buly pop-up store at the Louvre entrance first to arm yourself with scented strips to take with you, to inhale next to each artwork.

The eight fragrances, candles, scented soap sheets and scented postcards can all be purchased from the Buly store within the Louvre or at Buly stores in Paris. The range launches this autumn in London’s Selfridges.

All images via Officine Universelle Buly