The downtown Goodwill has been good to me. Over the past year alone, it has yielded a bottle of vintage Guerlain Mitsouko Parfum de Toilette, a pair of midcentury Carlo of Hollywood watercolors, and a taxidermied pheasant (now in my office and nicknamed "Fester" by the finance department). Two weeks ago, I really hit the jackpot: copy number 172 of Visionaire No. 42, Scent.1
Of course, I had no idea what it was when I found it. Sitting on Goodwill's perfume shelf next to bottles of Prince Matchabelli Wind Song, Liz Claiborne Realities, and a few other fragrances I found easy to pass by was a rectangular, white padded-vinyl box with nearly inscrutable lettering stamped into the vinyl. I did, though, recognize "IFF" stamped at the top.
"Do you know what it is?" the cashier asked as she came around the counter. "I couldn't tell, but it looks collectible. I priced it at $19.99." Ouch, I thought. Nineteen ninety-nine for this dingy plastic thing? We opened the box. On the left side was a booklet of photographs. I leafed through it and recognized many of the artist's names: Mario Testino, Gus Van Sant, Vanessa Beecroft. On the right side were twenty-one 5 ml atomizers of fragrance, each corresponding to a different photograph. I looked back at the booklet. Photograph 13 was "wasteland" by Andreas Gursky. Sophia Grojsman made its matching fragrance. Photograph 8 was "success" by David Bowie with a fragrance by Christophe Laudamiel. Now $19.99 was looking like a bargain.
Back at the office with Fester supervising, I looked up Visionaire online. Visionaire is a company that issues what it calls a "multi-format album of fashion and art produced in exclusive numbered limited editions" three times a year. Each zine is interactive and invites the reader to explore a different sense or concept. Past issues include taste, sun, erotica, sport, and white, among others. Visionaire will sell you a Goyard trunk to house your issues for $54,000 — or you can buy the trunk full of the first 50 issues of Visionaire for $150,000.
To get an idea of what 42 Scent is like, the Visionaire website has a 42 Scent "experience" with a handful of the images from the booklet online. Have a look at the images, and I'll describe some of the accompanying scents for you. Number 1, "cold" smells like a slightly sweet Issey Miyake Eau d'Issey (photo by Mario Sorrenti, fragrance by Vera Degen). Ozonic with a hint of melon. "Hunger", number 4, smells like straight-up bread (photo by Karl Lagerfeld, scent by Sandrine Malin). "Sadness", number 7, smells like cleaning products with a hint of violet and patchouli — kind of like a hospital might smell (photo by Sam Taylor-Wood, scent by Laurent le Guernec).
"Hunger", a photo of a naked guy holding a rustic, round loaf of bread over his privates, is an example of some of the boringly obvious photo/scent combinations. Yes, we know a person can hunger for more than food and that man cannot live on bread alone. (Don't even get me started on "wet" and "instinct".)
"Drunk" takes a slightly different approach. The scent, another by Laurent le Guernec, is of the dead end of a glass of whiskey: warm, caramel-like, and alcoholic. The photo, by Gus Van Sant, doesn't show any alcohol at all. It's a giddy, light-filled image of a boyishly handsome man laughing in a cafe and gesticulating with a cigarette.
Some of the presentation is simply perplexing. Sure, I see how "gigabyte" could be portrayed as bands of color. But why does it smell like a sweet roll? Plus, Visionaire's font is cryptic. A friend and I spent five minutes puzzling over why "brat" was a photo of a Fellini-esque beach featuring print sundresses and lounging cats, and why it smelled like an upended steam iron. Then we figured out it was really "heat" (photo by Philip-Lorca diCorcia, scent by Christophe Laudamiel).
All in all, though, I'm really enjoying 42 Scent. Linking fragrance to image — or music or touch — is a natural. It's hard to describe a scent fully without creating a larger story to envelope it. 42 Scent brings us those stories in photographs.
I saw a few copies of Visionare No. 42 Scent online for about $250. Or, you can scour thrift stores. (If you stumble upon the Goyard trunk at the Salvation Army, let me know.)
1. Visionaire No. 42 was originally published in December 2003.