Making Perfume with Paul Schütze
At home with the multi-disciplinary artist capturing moments in scentShop Paul Schütze
An anti-conventionalist in the tradition-soaked fragrance world, Paul Schütze is the independent force crafting fine scents that vibrate with memories. The self-taught artist, composer and perfumer has constructed a creative triptych, centred on just one process: one more readily linked to making art than perfume. Catch a glimpse inside the mind of the multi-sensory scent maker as he guides us through his unorthodox approach to designing a fragrance from his buzzing in-house studio.
How did you first make the move into scent? I’d been doing installation work and always felt there was something missing; there’d be film, sound, photographic elements, but I really wanted scent in them. I did a show in an antiquarian bookshop and started ordering fragrance materials online. After a year, I’d made something I thought worked. There was a big, antique book completely painted black – every page was black. I impregnated the pages with the perfume and it sat in the middle of the room of photographs. It was meant to evoke the spirit of these really old books, like ancient leather, very smokey, with a slight edge of rotting dampness – the smell of the basement of the shop, their archive, full of really old books in various states of decomposition. It was surprising how many people wanted to wear it, because it was designed for a room rather than the skin. After that, Chris and I decided, if I could produce more, maybe we should launch a perfume house. And, we did.
Do you recognise parallels in the process used to create your scents, music and art? I discovered early on that the things I’d learned from making images and music applied exactly to fragrance. The idea of taking an element that you love and glorifying that element, enhancing it and waiting for it to tell you what it wants to be with – exactly how I make sound work – works perfectly for fragrance. The second I start taking another approach, it falls in a heap!
Are you drawn to similar inspirations across all your art forms? Absolutely! You know the famous observation that painters and novelists are basically just making the same painting and writing the same book over and over again; you’ve got an overriding impulse to create something and all the work you do is just constant attempts to refine that. I think that is the same with perfumes, capturing a moment that you can’t express in any other medium. That’s what’s interesting about perfumery: you can do things you can’t say with a photograph. Combining all three gives me a wonderful sense of being able to communicate.
I’m interested in spaces, moments in time, trying to reanimate those moments to hold and keep them.
Do you try to stir certain emotions when creating a perfume? I’m not sure it’s emotions so much. I’m interested in spaces, moments in time, trying to reanimate those moments to hold and keep them. They are often spatial or to do with a particular location: the two new perfumes, Cuadra and Villa M, evoke famous pieces of architecture which I love.
Tell us more about one of the moments you tried to capture. There’s Behind the Rain. My partner and I were on holiday in Greece and decided to get off the ferry on an island we’d never been to before. As we’re wandering up this rather forlorn beach, a massive storm hits, so we run under a stand of conifer trees for shelter. We’re thinking, “How much worse can this get?”, then the storm stops and the sun comes out. These waves of smell start washing down; the foliage and bark of the trees had been bruised by the storm, then the sun warmed them up, so this incredible, resinous, green, coniferous smell washed down. Suddenly the island looked wonderful, like a different place. That perfume is an attempt to bring that moment back.
Where do you start when translating an experience into a fragrance? I have to find one raw material which rings a bell, where I think, “That is absolutely integral to that moment or place”. I let it tell me what other materials are going to play nicely with it to develop into something really good – and I’m off!
Do you have to rely on research into a location or is everything done by smell? Weirdly, it wouldn’t matter how much research I do, the smells that are actually native to a location often don’t work. I’ve assiduously researched some native flora that should denote a particular place, managed to get hold of a good material, and it just isn’t quite right. Usually, it’s a matter of going through as many materials as I can find; often the one that works is from a completely different part of the world and doesn’t immediately relate at all to the place I’m trying to capture.
Do you find there’s a greater overlap now as you move between different disciplines? There’s an incredible overlap and it’s very strong between the sound and the fragrance. I’ll be working on a piece of music and thinking, “No, no, it needs more bergamot”. It’ll take me minutes to realise the sound I’m trying to find is not a sound, it’s a smell. The same with fragrance, I’ll think, “No, no, I need cellos!”, or hi-hats. What I really need is a smell analogous to that sound, something very bright and zippy and shimmering. The parallels are so strong that thinking about one completely morphs into thinking about the other.
Do you ever struggle to perfectly capture a moment while maintaining a scent’s wearability? The only time I think about wearability is after I’ve got it right, then sometimes I have to tweak it a bit. If it works on me, that’s all I think about – probably not, commercially, the best approach! If they work, they work. There’s so much conversation about whether perfumery is art and, in my head, it’s art because I’m an artist making it in exactly the same way as any other art. It needs to stand on its own, be answerable to itself, and have integrity. If it can also be worn, that’s terrific.
I make perfumes for the people that are wearing them; I want them to feel clothed by them, to feel enclosed by them, like a sort of portable chapel, or a portable piece of architecture that you can wear.
Your art often carries a clear sense of dimension. Is this something you try to replicate in your scents? I don’t have to try too hard, the method is so similar that you end up with similar results. With fragrance, I want to be able to smell the horizon, I want my nose to be pointed beyond the top notes, so you’re sensing the bigger space, a kind of distance. The same with my sound, my photographs; even if it’s very dense, I want the sense that there’s something behind that.
How would you describe your personal connection to scent? I started collecting perfume in my early twenties and had this incredible sense that I was wearing another item of clothing – a kind of material and a space, an extension of my personality. There’s no question that it hugely informs the way I think about perfume I’m making, but I’m primarily interested in the wearer’s experience. I make perfumes for the people that are wearing them; I want them to feel clothed by them, to feel enclosed by them, like a sort of portable chapel, or a portable piece of architecture that you can wear. I love the idea that you can change that, every morning you can select a different cocoon for yourself which I think is beautiful.