More often than not, perfume collaborations start the other way around, and not like M/M and Byredo’s new creation, M/Mink. Traditionally, the imagery is produced once the scent exists, allowing for a creative agency to form a stylistic language around the product. But when Byredo, a Swedish perfume brand, was approached by Michaël Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak (M/M Paris), the brief was to mix a scent inspired by whatever information the company was presented with.
In M/Mink’s case, Byredo’s Ben Gorham was handed “a block of solid ink purchased in Asia, a photograph showing a Japanese master practising his daily calligraphy, and a large utopian formula that Mathias drew on Korean traditional paper. The result was never going to be an average Boots-sold perfume, at least not considering Byredo’s perfume credentials (except for its own extensive range, Gorham recently co-produced the Fantastic Man scent) and the imaginative multi-layered minds of M/M…
Dazed Digital: What inspired you to want to create a scent in the first place?
M/M: We're both quite obsessive with perfumes and coming from very different ways. Mathias can travel a whole city to find an old perfume in a small shop whereas I'm more constantly curious and like to try many at the same time. I think somehow for the both of us a smell is a great way to share intimacy, and manufacturing smell is like sharing a collective intimacy. I think this can be said about most of our production. It is and has always been about subjectivity, and until now the natural way to do so was to share images or signs and release them to the audience via commissions or by ourselves, so this does not feel very different, except that for the first time it is truly something immaterial we're releasing.
DD: How involved were the two of you in the creation of the scent? And how did it feel to “look” with your noses?
M/M: We didn't want to play the rules of giving reference of smells or perfumes and do tests on ourselves or on our friends of several try outs. Meeting Ben was totally unexpected, there was no plan, and looking at what he had achived, we were trusting his way of doing this and dealing with the whole perfume-design process.
As we often said, we believe an image always lays between a previous one and another to come. So we gave Ben one of our own "3-steps" image: A block of solid ink we bought in Korea and that we regularly use, a picture of a Japanese friend of ours who's a calligraphy master and who traces with his stroke a sign per day, and an oversized absurd formula that Mathias drew with ink on a piece of handmade korean paper. We spoke about ink with Ben, who's properly 'inked' since he's covered with tattoos, which added a layer of resonance to what we were trying to tell him, and we were all in agreement that this had to be an interpretation in the largest sense, as well as a real perfume — and not a conceptual one. We wanted to be surprised, and that's what Ben did when seven months later he came back to Paris with something he wanted us to smell - and that was it. In a restaurant before ordering lunch he sprayed us with what is now called M/MINK, and we had not one comment, it was perfect, surprising, beyond everything we dreamt about it.
DD: How would you describe the smell of the fragrance? Is it ultimately something you would wear — or like to see women you know wearing, rather?
M/M: Describing a smell with words is always restrictive. As soon as you enter the world of metaphors somehow you restrict what it truly exhales. To me it feels like a rollercoaster ride because of its changing nature, it takes you away and brings you back — but I guess a rollercoaster doesn't evoke a fragrance.
We were recently describing the project to a friend who was curious to smell it, I invited him to dive his nose in my neck. He declared it with wide open eyes that it was 'very manly', but the following day a girl friend of mine did the same gesture and screamed that it reminded her of her grandmother - I then wondered if she had a manly grandmother? We just read a highly specialised blogger giving it a review where he said it evoked a 'mythical furry beast flying in the metallic Antarctic breeze". So maybe it takes someone who has a great sense of metaphors and an exercised nose to describe it, since we find this description poetically accurate. And yes both of us have been wearing it every day since we got the first sample, getting an amazing feedback of people around us of both genres.
DD: Have you worked on fragrance projects for any of your design clients before and how did those experiences compare with doing your own fragrance?
M/M: Yes we've done works for fragrance such as Narciso Rodriguez or Balenciaga — but the process we experienced doing this was like diving in utopia to emerge in reality, so there's nothing really that can compare to this experience. We're both really proud.