She was an Anomaly, the latest release from Etat Libre d’Orange, finally confirmed what I knew about myself, but was not really challenged to rethink: I am enchanted and seduced by the beautiful stories about inspirations behind the perfumes and deeply impressed by the artisanal minds with the knowledge to transform ideas into fragrances.
“When people ask me how I come up with a formula for a new perfume, I’m not sure I know myself. It’s like a wild bird that sings only when nobody’s watching. In a way, perfumery is like other creative processes, such as writing or painting, where you might have a theme or know what colours you’re going to use, but where there’s still that element of magic and it just comes out of you. Sure, creating a fragrance involves equations and formulas…but at its heart it’s an emotional process, evoking all sorts of things.”, said at the UK Times Online Daniela (Roche) Andrier, the perfumer of Givaudan behind this perfume project.
I live under the allure of this magic every time I inhale a perfume, or even think about the perfumery.
The smell of air surrounding mangoes that initially pushed J.C. Ellena to create Le Jardin Sur Le Nil, the light smoke rising from the African fertility ritual Duchaufour translated into Timbuktu, Catherine Daneuve in the white coat that pushed Jean-Paul Guerlain towards creating Nahema… even the concrete in CDG Concrete would do, because behind any of these inspirations are the fragments of the authentic human experience.
Trough the perfumes, those mangoes grown by the Nil, the holly African smoke, even Deneuve in the white coat sublimed into the most enigmatic rose of perfumery, became the parts of my own human reality, my own experience and my memory, sometimes even my inspiration, and from my own skin I passed them on to become the same for someone else… The line below all inspirations is drawn, the common denominator extracted: behind the perfume – there is life. The real human olfactive experience translated and transformed into the perfume formula only to become the real human olfactive experience once again.
The circle is closed.
Because we are heading towards the anomaly.
She was an Anomaly is a result of ELDO’s collaboration with Givaudan’s Daniela Roche Andrier, formulated in Givaudan’s newest high tech perfumer’s tool Carto, highly intuitive and interactive set of enormous amounts of data, and algorithms to manage them.
Givaudan even used the term AI / artificial intelligence to describe Carto, introduced earlier this year, in April.
Daniela (Roche) Andrier chose the notes and supervised the process of creating the formula.
She was an Anomaly, the first perfume made by young, thus still not completely unsupervised, AI was successfully conceived and delivered.
So: no mangoes. No white coat.
And no story from the human olfactive memory, no “element of magic” that “just comes out” of the perfumer.
It came out of the computer.
The romantic, sometimes nostalgic, and – really hate to admit – sometimes even traditional parts of me were emotionally confronted and struggled for a while with the story behind She was an Anomaly.
The concept inaugurated with Carto is strikingly fascinating and Etienne de Sward used the innovation to present yet another witty concept. This time the perfume concept and the story around it are not about what might seem as moral, cultural, social “anomaly” or controversy.
ELDO made a turn into meta- or auto referential territory and focused on the perfume industry.
The auto referential story “how the perfume is made” was opened last year, with I am Trash – Les Fleurs de Déchet, also made in collaboration with Daniela (Roche) Andrier of Givaudan. The most wanted scent made from unwanted” also presented meta-story how the perfumes can be made by introducing the perfume made of recycled materials coming partly from other industries.
However, I am Trash – Les Fleurs de Déchet does not bare the controversial aspect presented in the second part, She was an Anomaly.
While testing She was the Anomaly I caught myself thinking that in some not so distant future I might not be able to tell the difference between the man-made perfume formula and the one which is made by AI.
For the first time, and not in an abstract way but by smelling the possible future right from my wrist, I reconsidered many of my romantic and even traditional approaches to the perfumery as a form of human olfactive poetry.
It all came down to how I feel about it.
About the future.
Is a final separation between the industry and the human art happening right now, on my wrist?
But, as soon as I started testing the perfume the question of how I feel about it changed into question (how much) is the difference important…
Judging on the way the perfume smells, She was an anomaly is not the anomaly at all: this is a nice and very wearable iris woody musk.
ELDO described it as “soft cyber iris”.
She was an Anomaly shares the non-contoversial, almost mainstream, profile with I am Trash – Les Fleurs de Déchet: although it does not smell as known, and as much as a compromise with the general consumer’s taste and preferences, the purely olfactive outcome does not deliver anything tempting or new.
In the video material following the launch, the soft cyber iris is presented with matching soft, pastel, tender and casual photo of a young woman, as if taken in private, personal moments. The picture is appearing partly blurred and pixelated and disappearing as if being disintegrated by a bad transmission.
The woman seems out of a reach, but here, nevertheless.
The perfume opens with very creamy iris, truly pastel and soft, and very soon the discrete fruity layer appears. Maybe only a drop of fresh fruity meatiness briefly changes the overall feeling of distanced tenderness into almost palpable liveness.
Contrasts are mild and smooth, but still there:
As the tender fruity “living thing” inside creamy, pastel iris disintegrates, its appearance seems almost like an illusion or a projection of something vivid.
The iris then shows its cold, almost metallic facet, not strong, but persistent.
The change features as an olfactive disturbance coming from the background.
The iris note which keeps the olfactive picture coherent finally appears as the cyber iris, impersonal and slightly metallic.
By this moment in the perfume development a movie analogy with Her, the movie directed by Spike Jonze (2013.) was already shaped in my mind, maybe as my personal way of coping with many questions that She was an Anomaly rose:
I fell back into a melancholic and touchingly honest modern love story about the introverted and lonely man falling in love with AI identity, Samantha, Her.
Objects of love and longing, inspiration and meaning melted together, as both – She and Her – were constructed by (or born out of?) an AI.
The movie follows the love story from the first infatuation until disintegration and loss, which left the main character (Joaquin Phoenix) forever longing about the one he will never understand, as it was said in ELDO’s promotional materials.
The end of the movie corresponds to disintegration presented in ELDO’s video, with the slight difference: in Jonze’s movie distancing and vanishing is not presented as pixelated disturbance caused by bad transmission. The departure is compared with the reading, which for AI became too slow to grasp the meaning: “It’s like I’m reading a book and it’s a book I deeply love. But I’m reading it slowly now. So the words are really far apart and the spaces between the words are almost infinite. I can still feel you, and the words of our story…but it’s in this endless space between the words that I’m finding myself now”, explained AI /Samantha in the movie.
As the perfume was settling into the round and soft musky-woody base, I interpreted the predictably known base as an inevitable end of a love story between a human and AI.
In the end, I had to come up with only one answer to many questions that ELDO rose:
No matter how we define the anomaly, smelling perfume, feeling and thinking about it is real and belong to real human experience, and no matter the way perfumes might be made, we will always love those which impacted us.
For anyone searching for a real olfactive challenge, She was an Anomaly would not deliver expected.
In the interview published in 2013., after La Fin Du Monde was released, Etienne de Swardt announced the previous chapter closed and suggested something different – ELDO 2.0.
It seems that the olfactive features from the earliest, the best and the most daring and polemic releases (Putain des Palaces/Secretions Magnifiques, Encens Bubblegum /Jasmin et Cigarettes, Rien…) have also faded into something new.
Looking over my shoulder back to 2006. and in 2007. – the most fruitful years regarding both: the production and the creativity – I can’t help but feel some longing, love and loss for ELDO 1.0.
Still, I do have a hope that this ELDO 2.0 with its still actual and relevant stories about the perfumery and the perfume industry will not stop on Part 2.
The review is based on the sample from my own acquisition. Opinions are my own.