In the beginning of this year this blogger has analyzed a bit of our fascination for the color black and how it is expressed in perfumery (click HERE to read the article if you missed it). Today I want to expand and explore this theme a little bit more.
Can we actually smell BLACK? Are we all synesthets? Are Black inspired perfumes really black?
Synesthesia is a disorder in which the signals from the various sensory organs are processed in the wrong cortical areas resulting in the sense information being interpreted as more than one sensation. People with this condition is rare - 1 in 25,000 according to Cytowik, 1989. That means that we are not all syntesthetes!
That also means that only 1 out of 25,000 people can actually see black when smelling a BLACK inspired fragrance (or any other fragrance) and the rest of us, well... we are not exactly smelling the color black!
BLACK by PUREDISTANCE
Photo credit: Puredistance
I received this month a sample of the latest fragrance by niche brand Puredistance and in fact, that is what inspired me to write this article. PUREDISTANCE BLACK is going to be officially launched this coming December at MiN NYC (Mindy and Chad's), but some of the lucky ones like me have already received a preview!
SO, Puredistance BLACK is a concept created by Jan Ewoud Vos (brand owner) and developed by perfumer Antoine Lie (who has developed Wonderwood by Comme des Garçons also reviewed here - a fragrance that do remind me A LOT of Black).
“Deep beauty is best experienced in the dark. Envision. Smell. Feel. Don’t analyze. Today's trends to know everything (and to show everything) mute our magic feelings of intuitive beauty.
Puredistance Black treasures the beauty of the unknown.”
Puredistance Black treasures the beauty of the unknown.”
BLACK comes with an interesting proposal: the brand will not reveal its composition. That said, nobody will get info of the notes of this fragrance by press. Instead, Jan wants us to FEEL the perfume. If Black is about the beauty of the unknown, Jan wants us to discover this beauty by simply applying the fragrance and enjoy it as whole. He wants to send an emotional message to the wearers - feel the sensuality, embrace the mystery. Don't analyze it; be intuitive.
Illustration by Gabriel Conroy for Puredistance BLACK
In Jan's brief for this fragrance he brought David Bowie as Jan sees him as elegant, creative, mysterious) and Jeremy Irons playing Claus von Bülow in Reversal of Fortune. The idea was to blend the delicate and sometimes fragile tone of Bowie's and the dark and noble tones of Jeremy Irons to construct a darker elegance to BLACK.
What do I FEEL/SMELL when I wear BLACK?
I smell a more luxurious and more elegant vibe of Wonderwood by Comme des Garçons.
Reviewing that fragrance I mostly did what Jan proposes to Black - I let my imagination flow:
"Rooty, burnt, fruity-floral, but in essence extremely woody, Wonderwood EDP is the sexy lumberjack fragrance. As natural and synthetics are the opposite, so is fire and lumberjacks to wood forests! And that is exactly what makes this fragrance interesting! In fact, from the development to dry down nothing new came along. Pretty known and found in many other fragrances, the notes of vetiver and cedar tend to overtake the entire base. You will find patchouli, Oud and other delicious scents in the composition, adding a sensual touch to this perfume, but do not expect extreme luxuriousness.
If you ever had fantasies about getting lost in the woods and finding a sexy sweaty muscular lumberjack out of nowhere...well, probably would never happen in real life! (unless you live in Canada...then maybe....). But once you spray Wonderwood on your skin, you will definitely encounter Mr. Wonderwood, the lumberjack".
In BLACK you will find the extreme luxuriousness that Wonderwook lacked. It is an exposed luxury, but a subtle close to the skin fragrance, with understated sexiness. You won't feel the lumberjack sweat all over you. You won't see muscles. (In fact Jeremy Irons attended "Walk in the Woods" to support the campaign agains selling the harvesting rights of public forests in Ireland - yeap - a man with many facets, including the elegance of fighting for Nature). So I can't evoke Jeremy Irons wearing a lumberjack shirt, cutting wood and sweating close to me, can I?
But what does BLACK evoke in me?
A gentle touch of an elegant man who does want to take me to bed and will succeed doing so in the most subtle way. There is mystery surrounding this man. But once he does come close to you he will reveal his hidden soul. Could be Jeremy Irons, not as Claus von Bülow but as Dr. Steven Flemming in Damage - a member of the Parliament, elegant, well mannered, with a hidden secret of a forbidden passion.
Jeremy Irons & Juliette Binoche in DAMAGE
To evoke is not to see. To evoke is to provoke, to call to mind, to create anew specially by means of imagination. It is to feel, to bring out emotions. BLACK by PUREDISTANCE evokes lustful, hot SEX in me. As simple as that.
You won't see the color black in this fragrance, as you won't see in any fragrance inspired by the color black. Which brings us back to the questions asked in the beginning:
Can we actually smell black? The answer is NO.
Are really black inspired fragrances black? The answer is also NO.
So how exactly one relates to the color black in black inspired fragrances?
Perception is a process by which the brain takes all sensation people experience at any given moment and allows them to be interpreted in some meaningful fashion. Perception implies individuality. Although it implies individuality, similarities exits as people perceive the world around them (consistency), and sometimes we are lead to involve ourselves in perceptive illusions (I also wrote about this subject in the beginning of this year - read TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE if you haven't read it till now).
An illusion is a perception that does not correspond to reality.
A classic example of a visual illusion is the one presented by the Hermann Grid matrix of squares. Look directly to the grid and you will see in the intersections of the white lines gray dots that pop up and fade away after a while. Those gray dots are illusions of visual perception.
What factors influence human perception of things? Besides cultural and upbringing, Perceptual Expectancy is one of them. It means that humans have a tendency to perceive things in a certain way because their previous experiences or expectations influence them. Humans use what is called top down processing, which means that we use preexisting knowledge to organize individual features into an unified whole. That is one form of Perceptual Expectancy.
That said, when a black inspired fragrance is presented in the market it comes with a preexisting concept that is presented to consumers.
Words such as Black, Noir, Nuit, Night or Dark are included in the name of the fragrance evoking the color black. Black bottles, black packages and the use of the color black in the fragrance's advertising are also perceptual expectancy tools to evoke the perception of the color black. When a brand calls its perfume Black Afgano (Nasomatto), Coco Noir (Chanel), Back to Black (By Killian), Polo Black (Polo), Armani Black Code (Armani) etc..., presenting a perfume in a black flacon, there is already a preexisting knowledge of the association of the color black. The obvious, presented in a very direct way. But there are more understated ways of influencing perception.
Black is also associated to mystery, power, sophistication, elegancy. Let's call it the Black Code. These associations are deeply rooted in our cultural perception of the color black. When the brand presents its fragrance as mysterious, sophisticated and elegant they are influencing you to think of black in a more subtle refined way.
So you cannot see black or feel black in a fragrance. You can only have the illusional perception of it.
Maybe if you receive a fragrance such as BLACK by PUREDISTANCE in a small transparent vial with no name marked on the juice and you don't know who created or which perfumer have developed it you might not think of the color black. You may say it is a woody slightly floral sensual fragrance. It might remind you of Wonderwood or any other fragrance alike...you might say it is oriental, classic, elegant; it contains musk or oud or any other note you smell in it... but you won't say it is the olfactive interpretation of the color black. Because the black color does not actually have a smell. But if you are a synesthete you might actually see the black color smelling a perfume because the signal that had to be interpreted as smell could be interpreted as more than one sensation and you might also get a visual.
Truth is that you associated situations, feelings, emotions, memories, desires, fantasies related to the black color and the smell of the perfume altogether. Just like I did: "A gentle touch of an elegant man who does want to take me to bed and will succeed doing so in the most subtle way"/lustful hot sex...
Perfumes create illusions and perfumers combine ingredients to create olfactory representations. It is up to the marketing department to create the perceptual expectancy. To understand how human perceive the world around them. To translate an olfactive experience into a Black Code.