How do you capture the smell of tar in a perfume that you'll actually want to wear? Or the sickly sweetness of soda? The aura of a garage? The freshness of greenery? How do you craft a fragrance that does the avant-garde ethos of Comme des Garçons justice? These are just some of the obstacles faced by Christian Astuguevieille, the creative director of Comme des Garçons's perfume range.
Since 1994, under Christian's direction, Comme des Garçons Parfums has released over 75 different fragrances, each thrillingly unique and tonally different, each reaching towards something you might not have thought possible in a fragrance. Each is a thing of cult wonder on its own. Together they represent a body of sensory delight unlike any other.
Now the brand is reissuing 10 of the most groundbreaking scents it has created in the last two decades as part of its Olfactory Library. From the dynamic citrus and amber of Eau De Cologne, to the fresh garden world offered up by its leaves series, to the groundbreaking synthetic series, described as "socially incorrect anti-perfumes" that have to be smelled to be believed.
And while Christian may enlist a variety of different noses to create the perfumes, the desire to craft perfumes to challenge and stimulate comes from him. As does the will to create scents that translate the majestic fashion creations of Rei into equally monumental fragrances.
As the Olfactory Library gets released, we caught up with Christian to find out more.
How did you meet Rei and get involved in Comme des Garçons?
I met Rei Kawakubo in Tokyo in 1992. At that time, I was there for an exhibition called The Forest, about imaginary trees. After working on its setting, Rei started mentioning the creation of fragrances and asked me if I would be interested in launching a line of scents. I knew the brand — I was purchasing its clothes. Did I expect it to be such a long relationship? Yes and no.
What has surprised you most working with Rei for over two decades?
I was quite surprised to see how Rei Kawakubo knows so much about fragrances. She has very clear ideas about what she wants, which make the collaboration very pleasant. We start with a conversation from which the fields of research are drawn. Then we work on the chosen topics, submit ideas, and make decisions. A brief is done. A theme is decided. The scent is elaborated.
What made you want to work in fragrance?
I work in the fragrance industry as a creative director and not a perfumer. It is more an idea of meeting and discovering rather than an idea of willing. In 1972, I used to work for an old French perfumery house and then with Rochas and Nina Ricci. These experiences made me want to carry on creating scents. But perfumery has nothing to do with the other projects I work in art and design. These are different fields, there are no specific connections between themselves.
Why do you think this is the right time for this reissue of these fragrances?
This is not a question of right time, but rather a wish to reedit fragrances under a new, contemporary angle. Five or four years ago, it was complicated to reedit a scent. A reedition is now possible across the Bibliothèque Olfactive, allowing us to bring back some novelty through these fragrances.
How did you choose which of the many scents you have worked on to reissue?
The selection has been made according to the demand. For instance, Garage and Sequoia are very appreciated. We have just listened to the wish of our loyal customers. It's not about looking back — I consider this a great opportunity to reedit the favorite scents for customers.
When you revisited these scents, what struck you most? What was the most unexpected thing about them? Or something that struck you that you'd forgotten?
The making process of these fragrances — created with several noses — illustrates this idea to reach the vision, to materialize the idea. This makes the entire difference.
How do you represent such a visionary brand as CDG in the form of a fragrance?
There is a freedom, the freedom to create scents such as Garage and Odeur 53.
How do you market a scent like Tar or Garage?
The scents are purchased because they make some people want to wear them. Everybody can wear Comme des Garçons fragrances — it's all about boldness.
How do keep them from being a gimmick?
These creations took part in fields of research, leading to a willing to offer different and unexpected fragrances.
What for you makes an exciting scent?
It's having the freedom to create it, as it is for Comme des Garçons, that makes it exciting.
Do you have a favorite scent from the collection?
I love Garage. Why? It's unexpected and very beautiful.
Which do you wear most often?
And one you are proudest of?
Text Felix Petty