Fragrance is famously difficult to describe in words, and – because of the sheer subjectivity of smell – invoking the uniqueness of a scent in a single image is almost impossible. Almost.
Laboratory Perfumes has launched The Lab to explore and express the concept of fragrance across a variety of different disciplines, media and visual arts – acting as both playground and showcase for creative ideas about scent. Our aim is to encourage new ways of thinking about fragrance, to consider its composition, help us understand its social role and appreciate its power to evoke and inspire. For our first collaboration, we wanted to interpret the intangible character of scent as something solid and three-dimensional. We turned to the staggeringly inventive set designers Lightning + Kinglyface and invited them to create a series of images that represented the four fragrances of the Laboratory Perfumes range: Amber, Gorse, Samphire and Tonka.
Lightning + Kinglyface (otherwise known as Anna Fulmine and Victoria Shahrokh) are a London-based design duo with a gift for creating extraordinary and evocative imagery, often capturing fluid motion, defying gravity and playing with light in their work. As perfumers, we were struck by the images they created for a fragrance spread in Bon Magazine and the beautiful, mesmerising film they made for Channel 4. We handed them our scents, told them to do whatever they liked, and waited to see what they – together with one of their favourite photographers, Kate Jackling – would come up with…
Here, then, are the results of our very first Lab experiment, together with Anna’s comments on the process of creating these astonishing images.
LP: Who are you, for those who don’t already know?
L&K: We are set designers and artists. Working in advertising and attempting to straddle the world
of installation art.
LP: Your name is a curious thing, can you tell us of its origins?
L&K: Yes it is a curious thing! Intended as a bit of a joke until one day it stuck…we continue to receive odd variations in the post. It is simply a direct translation of our surnames. Fulmine in Italian means Lightning and Shahrokh in Persian means Kinglyface…plus it sounded a lot more mysterious than Anna and Victoria.
LP: As a studio, what do you specialise in?
L&K: We specialise in playfully experimenting with materials and light. We love a bit of scientific theory so if there is an explosion we can force out or a special effect we can master whilst working…all the better! We love to make, art direct and explore via the medium of set design.
LP: We were obviously delighted to have the chance to work with you on this, what made you say yes?
L+K: We are massive fans of what you are achieving at Laboratory Perfumes and love the scientific and exploratory nature of your perfumes. We recognise people that are professionally experimenting and pushing a craft or a skill. Perfumes are so important to us both and we have extremely sensitive olfactory senses! In fact a favourite book for of ours is Perfume by Patrick Suskind. So when we received this brief we were eager to see how we could visually represent scent and offer the viewer a tantalising array of ingredients to enhance their experience of the perfume.
LP: You chose Kate Jackling as your photographer for this project, why?
L+K: We absolutely love working with Kate, she has become a good friend and our relationship is more than just photographer and set designer. We really enjoy any opportunity to collaborate closely with her as we trust her eye and know that she will make anything we throw at her look amazing! She is conceptually driven and her way of seeing the world is really attractive for us as we are at the end of the day creating a piece of artwork together. It is also really great working on the bond that we have together, we hope to work with her more in the future and build that relationship as it will most certainly breed strong work.
LP: Who else was in your creative team?
L+K:It is just Victoria and I at present, often we collaborate with the photographer so closely that there isn’t really room for anyone else! We do have an array of fantastic assistants whom we call on when we need particular skills.
LP: Can you describe your process, with this collaboration in mind – is it the two of you throughout, or does one part of your duo do one bit and the other the other?
L+K: It is lead often by a concept, in this instance Victoria found the concept right at the beginning and pushed it through to the sketching and development stage. We often talk throughout this process and consult with one another. Then one person takes the lead on production, in this case I sourced the props and Victoria sourced the glassware. We are both heavily involved in the art direction and making side and run through designs and selects, measurements and materials together.
LP: What did you take as your starting point for this project?
L+K: The glassware that is used for bottling the scents is beautiful, very minimal and without labelling. We took this as a starting point and began to think of the simplicity of glass and its texture, the way in which it enhances the scents. The ingredients were then our second port of call and we used these heavily when thinking of contrasting colours and complimenting materials.
LP: What are the challenges of expressing scent visually?
L+K: There are a few challenges, I think it’s mainly in the material and prop selection. To evoke the senses you have to make sure that what you are representing isn’t misconstrued in anyway. Rosemary and lavender have to resemble rosemary and lavender. Abstracting the ingredients means the viewer can’t make the connection with smell straight away. It’s also important to make sure the ingredients don’t look misplaced or out of their comfort zone, so that you could imagine moss being wet or within a pool of water and that evokes a smell that is recognisably outdoors or natural.
LP: Where did you source your props (unless a trade secret!)?
L+K: Ah that’s a secret unfortunately! A lot of it was sourced locally, we like to use local suppliers and often collaborate with makers in Hackney or East London.
LP: The brief was very open with a non-literal approach to the four scents. Talk us through the images – what inspired those choices for you?
L+K: The images all have that strong sense of nature which we know to be very important to the brand. We also really wanted to push the distillation process and the notion of these ingredients mixing together to create strong yet delicate smells. So with this in mind we started with Samphire. This scent has the most evocative tones of the seaside so we used a tank full of water and we wanted the rosemary and lavender to mix together making the collision of these flavours central to the image. The magnifying lense adds to the sense that these are all made by hand, lovingly under a microscope someone is tending to the herbs. Next was Amber which contains grass and greenery and this sense of the outdoors is encouraged. As kids we all put petals in a bottle, swilled it around and took huge whiffs of it expecting a wonderful aroma to surround us…this is a more childlike look at the distillation process perfume goes through. We wanted that sense of adventure to be communicated in this shot. Tonka, was a bit more fun with the mandarin precariously perched on top of the glass dome. We wanted the viewer to imagine this being squashed and the smell being so overwhelming that it needed to be contained within the dome. Lastly was Gorse, this is such an amazing summer smell, full of coconut, gorse flowers and cardamon. We wanted to submerge the ingredients like you would when concocting a floral dish in the kitchen. In the mixing of these flavours we created a coconut soup that visually becomes aromatic and inspires the senses.
LP: Are there any particular scents that are especially evocative for you, personally?
L+K: Amber for me was particularly evocative of summer, it is such a fresh and vibrant, exciting smell. The coconut in the Gorse was Victoria’s favourite. Again it has those summery, running in a field barefoot connotations!
LP: Which is your favourite Laboratory Perfumes scent?
L+K: For me Amber and for Victoria Gorse.