Sands Murray-Wassink interviewed by Andy Tauer (perfumer, Zuerich/Switzerland) July 2006
1) Andy Tauer: I have met you only virtually so far and do not know much more
than the fact that you are a perfume lover.
Could you please tell me and my readers who you are?
Sands Murray-Wassink: Yes we've only met virtually, but through your blog and our limited correspondence through the mail I feel like I have a very good, warm idea of who you are. And asking me to answer these questions with you fits right in with my idea of you as a real communicator. Sure, yes I am a perfume lover and for the rest (and this fits in with the next question) I am a "fine artist" most influenced by Feminist Art forms and theory, structuralist principles, Happenings, Fluxus and Race and Postcolonial Studies. I am essentially self taught (although I have a bio which is obligatory and it includes some schooling). My work comes out of painting and installation I suppose, and is now performance based and based in / on text and image combinations. I write alot too and really love that. Personally speaking, I am 32 years old (born March 17, 1974) and was born in Topeka, Kansas, USA but have lived in Europe since 1994, mostly in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I am married to my husband Robin (who is Dutch, 34 now, and a computer programmer--he is my "test bunny" for perfumes and new scents, etc. and my biggest art supporter and immediate dialogue partner).
2) Andy Tauer: Thank you very much; now... we all wonder... how did you become a perfume
lover and what do perfumes mean to you? I sometimes have the impression that
perfumes can become an addiction...are you a perfume addict? And how do perfumes
Sands Murray-Wassink: I can't believe I'm writing this, but referring to Luca Turin and his enthusiastic words about it: for a guy born in 1974 and becoming adult in the early 90's it started for me with Angel by Thierry Mugler. But for a specific reason. I had always been interested in scent somehow but did not take it seriously, especially not the makers of perfumes--I couldn't conceptualize, growing up in Kansas in a lower middle class household, that there was someone who "made" a perfume, I didn't think further than the name, like the name of a designer, etc. I wish I had, because then I may have tried to go this direction. But there are so many things I would have liked to have done, like gotten a degree in Women's Studies for instance, what I am doing now independently...Anyway, my interest in Mugler's Angel came because I was interested in Mugler himself, his designs, and a model that modeled for him (and Jean Paul Gaultier among others), Dianne Brill. I met Mugler in Paris when I was 16 and followed his clothes and attitude and image through early Details magazines, and the CNN Saturday morning show Style hosted by Elsa Klensch (I used to creep down out of bed and lie curled up in my comforter watching this Saturday mornings: what an image that is for me still...). So when Mugler came out with a perfume in 1992 when I was 18 I finally realized I could have something like a signature scent. Boyfriends from that time still remember me by that scent, I hear, and I love that. I also had my first serious discussions in France (Paris) when I first moved here to Europe in 1994 (and first really started wearing Angel intensively) about Rochas Globe and Byzance--discussing this with a French boyfriend was no light matter, and I began slowly to realize that perfume was a serious and influential business. I had always been interested in pursuing a career in fashion design, and got a full scholarship to study fashion at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, but quickly switched to fine art for the simple reasons that I did not want to design clothes for women, it felt wrong to me, and the men's market seemed limited. Also I realized that my real inspiration came from fine art, all forms, and quickly moved into the sensual, erotic side of feminism and feminist art through teachers like Carolee Schneemann. This has all had an influence on my love of scent. Before the age of 20 I was confused about perfumes for women and perfumes for men, wore Drakkar Noir for awhile etc. and concrete musks and oils (Kansas had remnants of hippiness I guess for me...and I felt embarrassed getting into the complexities of things I thought were reserved only for women). Becoming openly gay helped with all this, and Angel opened a whole world for me, similar to Luca Turin's discovery of Nombre Noir to hear the tale told. That enthralled me for about four years, during which time I was busy getting into the refined life I never had the chance to live in Kansas. Through skincare I discovered La Prairie, then owned by Georgette Mosbacher (the connection between perfume and luxury and the repellant attraction of this was not lost on me), and I discovered their perfume based around Osmanthus and rose and (to go against Luca's own taste) fell hard for it. I want to say here that I find it strange and a bit unsettling that certain men have been so influential setting up the principles for taste concerning perfumes, like Luca Turin and Edmond Roudnitska, and that women, excepting the brilliant Germaine Cellier, have only just recently moved in the forefront (this is also happening thank goodness in fine art). So La Prairie was my signature scent and was enough for me until it was discontinued a few years ago. It reminds me of the first years of my marriage here, living in 19 square meters for two years with my husband Robin, etc...it holds fond memories and I really felt chique using it, contrasting it to my dark looks and pale skin...When La Prairie was discontinued I was really at a loss for some time, and then started to realize how important perfumes had been and were to me. All my other beauty regimes hadn't lasted (the creams potions makeup food supplements etc.) except for sunscreen factor 15, water, and exercise...perfume was different somehow and I started to realize, and Edmond Roudnitska gets the credit I suppose for theorizing, that perfume was an art parallel to other fine arts and a true sensual and metaphysical pleasure akin to physical sex and intimacy. I was a bit devastated without my La Prairie, and bought up the last bottles I could find in Holland, then cast about for awhile until someone suggested Sophia Grosjman's Spellbound from Estee Lauder, I bought this and Le Male from Gaultier and then searched constantly for a replacement for La Prairie. Looking between scents meant for "women" and "men"....I came upon Aqua Allegoria Apaisant from Guerlain, that is the closest I got, somehow the linden blossom came close to the white fruitiness of La Prairie--but it was not really a perfect match. I had even tried White Shoulders to try to match it, but the gardenia was too overpowering. A good friend in Berlin had heard for months that I was busy with perfume and after suggesting Addict from Dior, and Christian Lacroix Bazar and the original Christian Lacroix all of a sudden she came with Eau de Charlotte from Annick Goutal. Strangely I had smelled Eau de Lavande from Goutal when I was 20 in Paris, and it all came flooding back--standing transfixed staring at Cabotine in Venice on the Piazza San Marco, realizing even then in Paris that Annick Goutal was A PERSON...it all made sense. I re-discovered niche brands (started with Rose d'Ete from Rosine), began to take this interest very seriously and started to search for shops and information, books, have begun to search out contact with perfumers as artist colleagues etc. When I start a project seriously in life I always incorporate it into my life and art work, so this was no exception. I now have nearly 80 bottles (I would say, I haven't counted in a while) and countless testers and samples and decants, and all the books by Edmond Roudnitska (even though my French is not what it once was, at all...),, etc. etc. etc. Perfume has in the past two years, since turning 30, become my life besides my husband and family/friends and work. It becomes memory, it's sexy, it's the best beauty asset, you can surprise people with sloppy clothes etc. and then a fabulous perfume, I feel like I'm wearing an artistic aesthetic metaphysical force field when I've got a favorite perfume on (and I'll answer below what my favorite perfume is, etc.). Perfumes now represent art and as my friend Semira Dallali says they are a sort of moral freezone (loose translation from Dutch), at least this is how I understand what she says...we are very involved in feminist theory and politics, Semira as a way of life and me as a practical student of sorts still, and Semira also sees perfume as a refuge in a rocky world--with historical connections and connotations and cross cultural implications. There is also the business side which is difficult to swallow sometimes...Yes I am an addict, and I do not have much money now so it is a risky habit, which I hear is true for others as well. I see it as an investment in my work and as I am a communication artist I see this as a very good sign that you asked to interview me. I am not ashamed to be an addict (you didn't ask this but I feel I must address it). There is something in perfumes which is guiding us, to kind of speak in 60's terms. I believe in it. Perfumes open my mind and bring me peace quite simply, and as they are worn on the body others experience this weird sensation as well, a complement to skin, which is maybe my favorite organ...I like Montale's description, if you take it in a profound way "perfumes are like happiness ointments or love potions"...a love apple was a peeled apple placed under the armpit of a person for a day and then given to the loved one of that person, one could say perfume represents life and death better than a photograph.
3)Andy Tauer: And now the obligatory question a perfumer has to ask..... what perfumes
do you love? Do you have favourite fragrances? Or favourite notes? And what
do you think makes you go for them?
Sands Murray-Wassink: Ah my favorite scents. I could go on and on about this one. But right now my all time favorite perfume is a vintage metal container for a mist applicator of Lanvin's Arpege (pre 92/93). It is simply OPULENT and Animalistic and Gorgeous. It is my ultimate perfume love. Arpege in the reformulated version is my favorite perfume (edp and parfum), and I am "dying for it, gagging for it, every day"....if I could only choose one perfume...this would be it. There are too many others to name without exploding my head, anything with white flowers, JASMINE especially, and anything with AOUD! This is a question I would like to answer in private, it is almost too personal somehow and calls up so many associations. I think most any perfume has its merits and I am fascinated by everything I come across lately. Some favorites lately have been Mandy Aftel's Cacao, your Le Maroc Pour Elle, all of the scents created by Mona di Orio (perhaps my favorite living perfumer, besides you :) and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz), and the whole Montale range is fascinating me lately. I am crazy crazy about Aoud especially, it is my favorite note in perfume. I have also been captivated by peach and plum in the topnotes of perfumes, especially the way Edmond Roudnitska has done them, like the plum in Femme, it's so Weird and Wonderful...I was also really into Victoire Gobin Daude and would still like to meet her, as well as Mona di Orio. What makes me go for perfumes is the strange qualities that they have, I love weird, rancid, dirty animalistic perfumes, the more sensual, and weird the better. Luca Turin mentioned La Nuit from Paco Rabanne also, that's one of my favorites too--the pudeur and indolic qualities in perfumes send me to heaven. I like the whole package: image, maker, all these deep weird qualities, but anything that calls up memories is exciting, like I've been wearing Cristalle today and it reminds me of being 20 and living in Giverny where Claude Monet's gardens are...all this, I like to be swept away as it were...the perfumes of Mona di Orio have really done it for me lately, including the packaging, etc. they are truly WEIRD and classical at the same time, just like my favorite fine art.
4) Andy Tauer: Now comes a difficult one, dear Sands: What do you expect of a good perfume?
Do you think there are esthetic rules that allow to distinguish between good
and bad in perfumery?
Sands Murray-Wassink: This one is actually quite easy for me, except I may not have the words to answer it as some people might...a good perfume should, simply, be OPULENT, I expect the perfume in all of it's phases to be aggressive somehow and deep and intellectual and smart and anticipatory of my own actions, as I move my arms and body I enjoy that wearing a good perfume is like a sort of intimate dance, I imagine being swathed in non-hindering silks and satins etc....I expect a good perfume to transport me. I expect a good perfume to love me (in the broadest, unconditional sense of the word). Edmond Roudnitska has written extensively about good and bad in perfumery aesthetic wise, and I wish I could read more of it. But no, I don't think this. I've just ordered a coffret from Robertet via the Osmotheque in Versailles to start being better at distinguishing notes, and then my opinions may change. I can just say from my gut that I feel let down when I feel a perfume is being marketed to me and not made with love, this is the same feeling one could get from bad food or shoddy craftspersonship of any kind. I still think real timeless opulence is the mark of a good perfume, something made with so much love and attention and surrender that one experiences it as a gift. The exciting thing is that with as many kinds of people in the world as there are, there are that many versions of what is going to work. For instance my husband loves Minuit from Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and says it is like "stardust for the nose and brain" (I also truly love this perfume). I suppose balance has something to do with it, this is a guess, but I just know as a maker of art that something usually "works" when the person enters a kind of death state of surrender and lets things flow, I think artists and makers who read this will know what I am talking about. Love and surrender and not being on guard all the time and defensive....a true pushing of the envelope. Then everything is beautiful. How's this for an esoteric answer?
5) Andy Tauer: Kind of related to the previous question: What do you thing makes a good
perfume? Please, give us examples and describe what you think makes this
scent special and well done as a fragrance.
Sands Murray-Wassink: Now I am going to sound like even more of a lunatic or idiot or what have you. Again I think I answered this more or less in the previous question. I think what I love about Arpege is the exploding rounded quality that it has--the peach in the topnotes seems to coat the inside of my head and trickle down into my body, the sandalwood follows and washes it all down and secures it at the same time. You see I am like a baby when it comes to describing these things, just like my favorite art (Carolee Schneemann, Adrian Piper, Hannah Wilke, Howardena Pindell, Harmony Hammond to name a few) it is so hard to describe why something is well done or why I feel it is so. Although I write alot for my own work I am not a writer, I am at heart a "visual artist" and this can take many forms. I like things which shock and surprise me and comfort me all at once. The perfumer balances the notes and then you get Ombre Rose (Francoise Caron)--it is like trying to describe why nature is so perfect, perfection is imperfect, there must be something cloying or strange in a perfume, like with Arpege or with Ombre Rose, to name a few, it's like the pleasant sensation of scratching an itch...I could also say I may not know from beforehand what exactly makes a good perfume etc. but I know it when I smell it. Perfume is one of the few things that are so hard to describe by words and as my friend Semira says eventually by comparison. What makes a person attractive to you? This is the same question.
6) Andy Tauer: And here is again a tricky one: Is there something you would like to tell
a perfumer how to make his or her next perfume? What rules, visions, guidelines
do you wish them to follow?
Sands Murray-Wassink: This is going to sound so obsessive, but I have to say it: think of sex and the seasons. What I really love about Mona di Orio's perfumes for instance is that her Lux is like the energy and light of the morning, Carnation is like the sweet breeze and hanging sun of the afternoon, and Nuit Noire is as the deep mystery and unexpectedness of the night, sleep, romance etc. I think there are recurring themes to consider in planning any art work, like sex, death, gender, life, love, culture, all the big questions that concern artists, even something like nationalism could be applied to perfume. I want to see it taken as an art on the same form and with the same profound connotations as other fine arts. It is representing something in society and I think it should be taken very seriously. No rules, visions, guidelines, just "think of what you love most and try to give that to me"....
7) Andy Tauer: Looking at all the perfumes on the market and more and more appearing
monthly: How do you select your perfumes to buy or test? How do you find
your way through this jungle of new scents?
Sands Murray-Wassink: This is a tricky question. The perfume world is susceptible to hype like anything in fashion, and my husband says that for him perfume is "between fashion and art" what a special place! I go with my gut feeling and am sometimes surprised pleasantly. I knew to go for you, for Mona di Orio, for Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, and somehow also for Mandy Aftel. I keep learning and developing, and I do think the image and attitude of a perfume and its maker play a part here--bottles get my attention sometimes too, I really like Serge Mansau for instance, but also the classicism of Mona di Orio's bottles. I select a lot, like in art, based on personal affinities--Paschat/Ashne on Makeupalley is a foil for me (she brought me to Josephine from Rance 1795 for instance, etc.) and my friend Riannon also on Makeupalley. Semira has alot of influence on what I might be interested in or follow, and my friend Frederikke in Berlin. But it is really at the end my own decision and heart that plays a role. I navigate the market by looking for the weirdest most earnest and individualistic (although this is a problematic word) creations--this is what brought me to Gobin Daude as well, I must say, like in art, the persons involved make a big big difference in my attraction. The persons and their way of communicating via the media. I have found that my favorites have been mostly "one of a kinds" and I am very sophisticated when it comes to art with this, but my experience with perfume as an art form is only from the past two years so I look forward to a long life journey of pleasure in discovery and a sort of rough refinement. I must also say that if I hear someone I admire say they wear a certain perfume, then I search it out...
8) Andy Tauer: Do you follow the developments in the natural perfumery field? Is natural
perfumery as a concept attractive to you?
Sands Murray-Wassink: Yes I follow the developments some in the natural perfumery field. In this respect you and Mandy Aftel are keeping me fascinated. Strange Invisible Perfumes from Alexandra Balahoutis interests me too but the samples are far too expensive for my nonexistent budget...I do what I can (just like following what to test and buy). I don't know a lot about it but I think natural perfumery as a concept is Very attractive to me, but that is not to say I am not also for the use of new synthetics--I am just beginning to learn about molecules, and another artist, Evan Izer who seems very advanced in his understanding of perfume, has recommended some books which are more chemistry oriented. I would like to know more about natural perfumery and what this means, I feel like such an amateur answering all these questions. But I can assure you of one thing, that I am extremely passionate and determined. As I learn more I hope you and I can continue our dialogue. Maybe you would like to discuss fine art as well (I noticed you mentioned Steve Reich on your blog, my best friend here in Amsterdam is a German new music composer and I think there are many connections and parallels to be explored, on many levels).
9) Andy Tauer: If you had a wish free: What perfume would you wish to be created?
Sands Murray-Wassink: This is easy, and I hope no one steals the idea :) I would like to create Khaluq, an historical Arabian perfume detailed in Nigel Groom's The New Perfume Handbook, created for women and forbidden to men (but the perfume would be unisex/sexual). I would like it to be in a bottle shaped like a fish somehow, as early perfume bottles were, and to begin with I would like a heavy gorgeous indolic jasmine and the richest oldest aoud we can get our hands on, synthetic civet and/or castoreum would also be nice (the Africa Stone Tincture on Mandy Aftel's website looks interesting for instance) and then move on from here...Andy do you wanna help out on this? :) Or Mona di Orio if you are listening/reading? I can make this an open invitation now to a perfumer who might like to work together to create a scent...we could follow from the base that the vintage Arpege is my favorite perfume and see where it would lead with these beginning components (fruit, peach, plum?).
I would like to end with something that has been very helpful for me, Edmond Roudnitska's listing of perfume families, poetic in itself (and I hope I haven't sounded like too much of a half baked nuthead, I really do believe in this and am so busy with my art work now internationally that it is all I can do to keep up with perfume!):
Hesperidees, rose, Oranger, Jasmin, Violette-Iris, Anisee, Aromatique, Verdure, Epices, Bois, Tabac, Fruitee, Balsamique, Animale, Cuir.................................................