Who says perfume can’t be political? In some cases it may just be a pretty glass bottle with a generically pleasant-smelling liquid inside, but amongst the ever-expanding sea of new releases, something that is more than just a pretty proverbial face feels downright refreshing. One longtime crusader for this cause is Geza Schön.
The German perfumer has been described as one of the fragrance industry’s most forward-thinking rebels, and his catalogue of work certainly bears testament to that — from the minimalist, aroma-chemical success that is Escentric Molecules (started in 2006 with the cult classic Molecule 01) to The Beautiful Mind Series, which launched in 2009 during the early stages of fourth-wave feminism. Amidst the current climate of female empowerment, it feels more pertinent than ever before.
Schön devised The Beautiful Mind Series as an antidote to Paris Hilton’s first fragrance launch. “I want to feature a woman who is capable of doing something special without having big tits or being some starlet, just a regular woman who is doing something cool,” the Kassel-native comments. “For me it’s about making the world better. It shows other people what is possible without having a flash name or being a rich kid and still making an impact with what you do.”
He collaborated with world memory champion Christiane Stenger and internationally renowned ballerina Polina Semionova on the scents Volume 1: Intelligence & Fantasy and Volume 2: Precision & Grace respectively. Aside from choosing women whose worth wasn’t based on celebrity status or looks, he went beyond a simple muse & fragrance master premise, instead fully immersing both in the extensive process of scent creation over the course of many months at his Berlin studio. “A collaboration can only be successful if you are properly working together—not just using their name on the bottle, that is complete nonsense,” Schön states. “That is why I wanted them to smell the ingredients, dive into the world of what I do. They had to capture with me the capacity of perfume and ingredients.”
Volume 1: Intelligence & Fantasy is a zesty and uplifting scent of bergamot, mandarin and pink pepper married with a creamy tiare flower heart note and cedar and cashmeran bottom notes. Much like the work of Stenger, it displays an immediate burst of energy that is underlined by a calming base. Volume 2: Precision & Grace starts off with a fresh and fruity Williams pear note, but far from becoming a fruit cocktail explosion, is balanced through white florals such as osmanthus, freesia and jasmine, resting atop a sandalwood and musk base. Akin to a dancer’s movements, it is smooth yet impactful.
Since Schön’s original pursuit of the anti-celebrity fragrance, a whole new generation of reality television and Insta-famous celebrities has emerged amidst an increasingly frantic digital pace. “What Andy Warhol said, that everyone is going to be famous for 5 minutes in the future, unfortunately came true and certainly did not add to us having more substance. It’s the opposite. That’s why I thought it was extremely important to attach perfume to something extraordinary,” he explains.
An increasingly hyper-sexualised and appearance-focused mindset has grown in tandem with this social media explosion. “Today, with the rise of dating apps, Instagram, and easy availability of pornography, women have been increasingly sexualised and are trained to behave in a certain way otherwise they are out. That is a catastrophe, we are in the process of turning from a civilisation built on knowledge and substance into one based on the body and superficialities,” Schön states. Fortunately, online media has also given the possibility to showcase an alternative, such as the Beautiful Minds editorial platform, which highlights some of the most innovative female talents from the worlds of journalism, art, fashion, film, social activism and more.
By drawing attention to outside issues such as the overt sexualization of women and vapid celebrity culture, The Beautiful Mind Series proves the expansive impact of scent and its ability to not only mirror societal discussions and the world at large, but make a statement which transcends the product realm — a trait which is becoming increasingly rare, even in indie perfumery, according to Schön. “There are a few really cool niche brands that have a strong conceptual approach. Most don’t. It’s very important to make proper research of what there is and find out whether there is a space for what you want to do or whether someone has done it already. It’s a subtle walk on the edge as to whether a niche brand actually is able to justify their existence or not,” he says.
As one of the most established independent perfumers in the industry, Schön identifies making an innovative yet wearable creation as a considerable obstacle. “We have certainly reached more variety over the last years and it’s becoming increasingly challenging to do really original things. I can give you things you have never smelled before but you wouldn’t wear them on your skin. New also needs to be good and fragrance is always based on things we have done in the past,” he explains. “We feel much more comfortable experimenting visually, through fashion for example, than with scent. Fragrance is still a very traditional thing where adding more value and more substance is very difficult.”
Perhaps this is why the more gimmick-driven perfumes can’t hold a candle to modern, best-selling classics, for as great as a scent idea may be, ultimately it needs to smell great on the skin. Shock value can only get one so far, but that doesn’t mean we should delegate fragrance to the frivolous, fluffy world of simple consumer products. As evidenced in the history of perfumery and by talents such as Schön, it has the potential to be much, much more.
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