Mayfair’s Jovoy boutique is clearly the place to be if you want to catch a fun fragrance event - not least The Perfume Society’s recent get-together with world-famous ‘nose’ Geza Schoen, together with his muse, ‘memory grandmaster’ Christiane Stenger. Geza (pronounced ‘gey-zer’, not ‘geezer’ as I found out the hard way), is best known for creating the modern classic Molecule 01, Liberty and Cult Beauty’s best-selling perfume. It’s based around a single synthetic molecule called Iso E Super, which mingles with the wearer’s natural scent to create more of an ‘effect’ than a smell, to the alleged bewitchment and delight of passers-by. Hence Molecule 01 and the wider Escentric Molecules collection has since amassed a cult following, but his lesser-known series (currently a duo) The Beautiful Mind is also worth sniffing out – which is precisely what Geza was there to talk to us about.
The debut ‘Beautiful Mind’ scent - Volume 1 Intelligence & Fantasy, was one of the first perfumes I ever reviewed back when it launched in 2010. With its balmy apricot hues of osmanthus, combined with a good glug of rich tiara absolute, it was nothing like the mass market scents I’d been used to - and probably helped fuel my obsession with niche perfume ever since, or any scent with a interesting story behind it. And that was precisely the reason Geza created The Beautiful Mind in the first place, to pay tribute to extraordinary women with brilliant minds, after feeling frustrated that the fragrance world was being dominated by celebrity scents, spearheaded by the likes of Paris Hilton.
It has to be said, I find the idea of a man telling us what type of women we should be admiring and whom we should discard a little discomforting (one could argue there’s a place for everyone, and that Hilton is arguably a savvy businesswoman to some extent). But I do admire the sentiment – obviously it would be great if there were more women like Christiane that little girls could look up to and aspire to be, especially if they’re working closely with a perfumer and have a real input into the fragrance they’re putting their name to.
As Geza explained when being interviewed by The Perfume Society’s co-founder Jo Fairley, “[Christiane] is the perfect countertype to the idiocy of Paris Hilton. Anyone can be a rich kid, but just being a normal person, you have to learn skills and work at stuff. Anyone can do that, you don’t have to be talented or rich but you can learn it, that’s fascinating.”
And what Christiane is skilled at certainly seemed fascinating when she described what was involved in the Youth World Memory Training Championships she went on to win at the tender age of 11.
The competition’s various heats involved “memorising things like 240 numbers in five minutes,” she explained to us. “The funny thing is, everybody has the skill to memorise so much more than we can imagine. When you have the ability to imagine pictures in your mind, then you also have the ability to memorise them.
“So say you’re given 99 numbers, each one of the figures translates into a picture: e.g. 1 looks like a tree, 2 resembles a swan, 3 is a tricycle, 4 is a sheep as it has four legs and then it builds up a funny story.”
One might see how the two might have a common bond, given Geza’s profession also requires a powerful memory, “As a perfumer, we obviously have to memorise thousands of ingredients, but I’m nowhere near Christiane’s level - she can memorise 500 digit binary code in a few minutes!”
Christiane admitted that when Geze first reached out to her, she wasn’t immediately enthused to respond. “Geza had read an article about me in a magazine and sent me an email, suggesting we collaborate. I’d just read Patrick Suskind’s book [about a murderer] ‘Perfume’, which creeped me out I have to admit, so I didn’t answer for one or two months! I was working in Berlin and eventually we met for lunch a year later.”
Geza continued, “We met up and I explained the situation, that I was pissed off with the conceptual approach in my industry. And that I’d love to do something against that and feature cool women and not d**kheads! Look at the celebrity fragrances, they all sign up for a big cheque and give their names, yet they have nothing to do with the perfume. It’s really soulless.”
Hence the two set about concocting what was to become Volume 1: Intelligence & Fantasy, which involved the two spending lots of time researching different ingredients. “For three weeks we only smelled chemicals and naturals, hundreds of them!” Christiane noted. “It was a totally new world. Seeing the pictures that popped up in my mind smelling the new ingredients, naturals the chemicals. Geza told me everything about each one as we went along.”
The resulting Intelligence & Fantasy fragrance is a beguiling, subtle yet completely wearable alternative to the overly sugary, fruity concoctions that have dominated the celebrity scent market. The minimalist glass red bottle - featuring, abstract, geometric illustrations - is also a more interesting addition to a dressing table. Both scents in the series have their own unique character, but I’m slightly more drawn towards Volume 2 Precision and Grace, which pays homage to the technical skill and artistic execution of ballet – with ballerina Polina Seminova as its muse. With bergamot, pink pepper and mandarin, it’s a zestier and cooler concoction – as the ink blue bottle suggests, with rich undertones of jasmine and sandalwood conjuring swathes of tulle and pink ribbon. It’s not too heavy or cloying - and probably doesn’t possess the aphrodisiac alchemy of Molecule 01 - but left to warm up on the skin, it works its own particular kind of magic.
“Obviously you need to make sure every movement is exact when you’re performing on stage, but you have to be full of grace to make it look beautiful,” Geza explains of this second scent. “As Polina grew up in Russia, everything is different – there’s a different olfactory socialisation if you like, so it was interesting to get her perspective when creating this scent.”
The Beautiful Mind project is definitely an admirable undertaking. And although I doubt the multitude of celebrity scents - with their million dollar marketing campaigns - are going anywhere anytime soon, these two quirky concoctions are sure to appeal to anyone after something a little different. Lets hope it inspires more perfumes based on interesting and talented women (perhaps even created by interesting and talented women perfumers!).
To find out about more events hosted by The Perfume Society, click here.