Perfume Miniatures

We explore the world of fragrance branding through the lens of photographic duo Scheltens & Abbenes

Maurice Scheltens and Liesbeth Abbenes have been collaborating for 15 years on their still life images, creating an archive that spans work for brands like Chanel and Maison Martin Margiela alongside editorials for Another Man and Dazed. "When we met, we were both working separately on our own works," they explained. "Liesbeth was working on embroidered felt wall tapestries and Maurice was working on photographic stills – but we found out we had a common ground in our sensibilities: a very precise working method in which each detail adds up to the total of the final idea."

One of their greatest projects has been their documentation of perfume miniatures, which they compiled into an exhibition for the Jan Cunen Museum and a photo book entitled Unfolded. A series that documents the minutae of vintage fragrance samples, it offers a brilliant perspective on secondary branding presented through surprisingly captivating poster-sized images – so, we spoke to the duo to find out the motivations and methods behind the pictures...

On still life photography...
"It might not surprise you but the process of shooting still life is about control and concentration. That need for order is in both of us; it's like a way to keep the chaos in our heads in a workable place. Our living environment is very ordered... but we are working on it so that we don’t become slaves of our own precision!"

On the miniatures themselves...
"The collection of testers were from a friend; we saw them at her house and were immediately attracted to them. We liked the fact that they are a giveaway with no specific design; they are made purely for the content of the actual perfume. Then, once you separate them and look at them close up, they reveal a different beauty. The graphics on the glass become rough, which causes a contradiction with the clean aesthetics of perfumes. The oversized miniatures become like models on a catwalk!"

On the selection...
"This series was really about the idea of perfume miniatures rather than a love for scents – but Maurice has a fetish for perfumes ads. As a kid, he collected them in his school agenda – and later, we used his agenda as the subject for a series! Perfumes are fascinating because the scents can cause an avalanche of memories and associations. From a much bigger collection of testers, we choose the ones that were the least designed. Not the ones with a fancy bottle, but the most functional ones instead, similar to the aesthetic of a beaker. Then, the graphics are more eye catching."

On the brands featured...
"We have actually worked for Chanel and YSL, and it crossed our mind whether the brands included might be difficult about us making this series – but now, we send our clients these posters as presents and they have actually hung them in their office. Wonderful! Critical or not, we think of these images as a tribute to their brand."

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