Dear Diane and Shaded Viewers,
Elusiveness is an essential element of perfume’s magnetism. The sudden whiff of something spectacular in an overcrowded subway train or the immediate affection towards something that you have never smelt before, but in that single second where fragrance molecule hits nostril, you know you must possess.
With his niche fragrance brand A Lab On Fire, Carlos Kusubayashi has managed to capture that mystery in a way that has heavyweight perfumers such as Olivier Polge and Dominique Ropion living out their fragrance fantasies in a bottle, from the streets of Paris to a night in New York City. Packaged in simple, utilitarian-style bottles, A Lab On Fire may not scream exclusive perfume treasures to the innocent eye, but one press of the atomiser button and you’ll know why.
In the following interview Kusubayashi talks about the changing mechanisms of the industry and what really counts when it comes to falling in love with a fragrance.
What is the most profound scent memory of your childhood?
Oil and steel. My father had a small factory making screws and bolts in Fukuoka, Japan. I was brought up surrounded by that smell.
Your introduction to perfumery was through art, how do you see the two mediums relating to one another?
I worked as a part time studio assistant to an artist who had incorporated scents into his sculptures. He was selling his own line of fragrances, and I often packed and shipped the orders. I enjoyed working there but do not share the same view. I don’t think perfume is art in a sense that a painting or sculpture is. It’s a sort of craft. A great fragrance generates emotion similarly to certain types of abstract art, but to call perfume an art, I think there is one level that is missing.
How would you describe the creative and collaborative process in creating a scent?
Imaginative and improvisational. It’s fun. Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it.
What attributes does A Lab On Fire fragrance need to have?
Each scent by ALOF has to be refined and elegant. It also has to have a masterful touch. These qualities are quite opposite to the packaging, and we like the contrast between the outside and the content of our fragrances.
What was the idea behind that?
It might be related to the fact that I love La Belle et la Bête so much, but if we had to justify the odd packaging, I would say it’s our statement. There are too many fragrances with fancy packaging and poor scent. The quality of a scent has nothing to do with its exterior, and we didn’t want any deceptive frills on our packaging. Some might say that it’s deceptive in a contrary way, but that’s a good surprise, no?
Being a limited production perfume house, would you say that fragrance has lost some of its preciousness through mass production?
I think it’s true, but it’s not necessarily a negative thing. The big part of the industry is changing, and the small ones like us are starting to have more opportunities to shout.
The idea of mystery plays an important role in your brand. What is it about the unknown that you find fascinating, and how do you see perfume being a part of this notion?
One reason for our ‘mystery’ is that we want to leave plenty of room for the imagination of our customers. The other is our focus on the quality of each scent. To make people fall in love with a fragrance you don’t need much information.
Which perfumer would you like to collaborate with next and what does the future hold for A Lab On Fire?
There are a few under-recognised but fantastic perfumers that we want to work with. We are planning to tap into these talents gradually. As for ALOF’s future, we are still just going with the flow.
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