Monday, September 7, 2009

First Nerve Review: KyotEau: Bottled Memories by Della Chuang

Della Chuang, a cosmopolitan artistic sprite who flits between Helsinki and New York, once worked a straight design job for Ralph Lauren where she designed the bottles for Polo Blue, Pure Turquoise, and Ralph, along with Tom Ford’s White Patchouli. In her recent incarnation as a writer she has produced two books on the theme of New York Style. Now she has published one of the more unique scent-related books I’ve ever read.

KyotEau: Bottled Memories is an elegantly produced little volume that is at once personal and profound. It deals with the intertwined topics of scent, memory, and the process of design. Yet in keeping with the Zen-centric principles of Japanese aesthetics which inform much of her style Chuang treats these topics with a touch as light as the accidental brush of a kimono sleeve.

The book opens with a section called “The Inspirations,” a series of brief meditations on the mental process of design, and on the values of ambiguity, simplicity, and transience. Among her delicately posed reflections, Chuang considers the tension between creativity and the demands of commercial culture, found in individual perfume projects (design on demand) as well as the industry as a whole (design by committee). She graces her text with quotes from Western artists (Kandinsky and Van Gogh, for example) and Japanese masters such as Rikyu Sen and Hiroshige Ando. The result is an Eastern mode of thought, action and design aligned with Western perspectives.

With English text on the left-hand page and translation into her native Chinese on the right, the book gives a visual impression of hovering weightlessly between different views of the world. Interleaved among the texts are gorgeous color photos and illustrations. Each of Chuang’s short pieces flows spontaneously yet they all lead the reader to one intended destination—her personal philosophy of doing design. She achieves the prose equivalent of the free-flowing brush strokes of Japanese calligraphy.

In the second section, “The Memories of Kyoto,” Chuang introduces us to six artists from that magically beautiful city including a designer, an architect, a painter, a graphic designer, a calligrapher, and a “kimono coordinator.” Speaking in his own voice, each artist recalls specific experiences that illuminate the unique flavor of Japanese aesthetic philosophy found in Kyoto. The section is illustrated with examples of the artists’ work and with the scenes of the city that inspired them.

In “Creating a Perfume,” the last section of the book, all the vignettes and reflections of the previous sections coalesce. The inspirations of Kyoto, the principles of Japanese aesthetics, and Chuang’s personal sensibilities come together to shape the development of a specific perfume, along with its bottle and even its name. She selects the perfumer Christophe Laudamiel—who relates his own Kyoto-based scent epiphany—to create the juice. His reflections on the process of olfactory design are well matched to her own.

Finally, at the back of the book, nestled in a thick cardboard cutout, is a sample dram of KyotEau itself—the olfactory realization of all the preceding pages.

This is a marvelous little book—small in size but large in spirit. In tracing the personal connections between memory and scent, inspiration and creativity, Della Chuang has placed the smells of a particular place and time in a wider context: the making and appreciation of art. Like Zen-master Shiro Tsujimura’s handmade pottery teacups, it’s a one of a kind creation that inspires us to embrace the whole and appreciate the detail at the same time.


+ Q Perfume said...

Dear Dr. Avery,
I loved this project and Della is such a dear.
I wish her all the success and I will also do my part to help her to be on the spot light because she is really special.

regards without BO :-)

Unknown said...

Thank you all for being so supportive .^^

whetstone said...

I lived in Kyoto for years, and wondered if it was only I who had such a scent-based recollection of the city. I'd love to know what the perfume smells like -- the incense coming from a temple on a rainy evening, or the plum blossoms in Gosho blooming under a curtain of snow, or a magnolia in full flower next to a woodshop, sweet spring mixed with wood shavings?

This is such a lovely idea for a project!

whetstone said...

Perhaps it should be a *series* of perfumes.