How do you turn a drawing into a fragrance? That’s the oddly conceived question Icelandic artist Andrea Maack began asking herself months ago when she first began to contemplate entering the world of scent design. The answer has never quite presented itself — Maack has yet to meet the small-scale French perfumer who turns her pencil strokes into notes of orange blossom, sandalwood, and violet leaf — but for her, the link between the two mediums is relatively obvious. “I believe that perfumes have colors,” the Reykjavik-based artist told me over the phone from London last week. “It’s very clear to me which perfumes are black, or which are white. But I also see scent as a linear thing — it travels on your skin and travels in the air, which in some way relates to lines traveling on a page.”
Maack was in London to set up shop for this week’s London Design Festival, where she will present Smart, Craft, and Sharp, the three fragrances she’s developed over the past 12 months. But while the scents have exhibited both critical and commercial appeal, they are only the beginning of the story when it comes to her eponymous product line. “The plan was never for this to be a perfume company,” Maack explains. “The next step is to do something more with the drawings, perhaps turn them into textiles. The point is to take my artwork and mass distribute it. It doesn’t really matter what the product is.” She likens the process to Damien Hirst working with Levi’s, or perhaps more fittingly: “Maybe the original drawings are like haute couture and the things I make from them are the ready-to-wear,” she muses. Maack took a few minutes out of her busy installation prep last week to explain to us the origins of her retail experiment.
“I used to live in London in my early 20s, and I was really into fashion and styling. But eventually I decided to move back to Iceland to study art. After I graduated, I was working at a museum, organizing art festivals and such, and I was doing these drawings in my spare time. I was offered my first big show in Iceland in 2008 at Gallery August, and it was the first time I had the idea of making a scent. I didn’t instantly connect the drawings to the scent, nor did I at first plan to exhibit a scent for that particular show, but I began getting in touch with perfumers like Le Labo to investigate the idea. I had thought I’d be able to make the scents myself, and I’d made all these formulas and started training my nose. But I wanted it to be professional, so I finally realized I would need to work with a perfumery.
“I got in touch with the people at Apf, a small perfumery in France that often collaborates with Colette in Paris. I started to wonder, though, what’s the point of me making just another perfume? I told the perfumer maybe I’d send my drawings and we could see what came of that. He got really into the idea. I sent him the drawing, and a brief about the Gallery August exhibition, and I asked him to present me with just one scent. I didn’t want to choose one out of hundreds; I wanted to give him a bit of creative freedom in that way. I never told him the perfume had to be something people would want to wear, either. Somehow we just had some sort of chemistry. All of the scents he’s created work, even though we’ve never met. They usually arrive just one day before the show, so I don’t have a lot of time to analyze them.
“The first scent we made was Smart, which stands for ‘Smell Art.’ For the exhibition, I blew up the original drawing and cut it into 252 perfume testers, each one signed and numbered. The idea was that people who came to the opening could take the testers with them, causing the drawing to vanish over the course of the exhibition.
“My next exhibition was for Craft, which stands for ‘Couture Art.’ I wanted to take the drawings further, so I turned them into a fabric with a bit of help from a tailor. For my latest exhibition and scent Sharp, which stands for ‘Shape Art,’ I made a second dress out of foam — sort of a wearable sculpture.
“Creating a scent or a sculpture from a drawing is quite abstract, but the drawings themselves are very abstract as well. In the beginning, they were meant to look like muscle tissue, but now they’re just process drawings. I’m usually drawing for three or four months, and I never know how one is going to end. I haven’t officially exhibited the original drawings yet, and I’m not sure I will. For me, it’s more about finding a way to translate my art into another form.”