There are classic fragrances and there are niche fragrances – Petite Mort (Parfum d'une Femme) falls into the latter. A fragrance inspired by the bodily fluid secreted through desire and brain chemistry, Petite Mort embodies the elusive substance
There are classic fragrances and there are niche fragrances – Petite Mort (Parfum d'une Femme) falls into the latter. A fragrance inspired by the bodily fluid secreted through desire and brain chemistry, Petite Mort embodies the elusive substance that is created by a woman when she is about to climax. The unique fragrance is the brainchild of Marc Atlan, a French-born and now American-based creative director, photographer and designer who has, over the past 20 years, worked with creatives including Comme des Garçons, Helmut Lang, Tom Ford and Yves Saint Laurent. For the one-off project, Atlan partnered with expert nose Bertrand Duchaufour to create the intense, limited edition fragrance. Each bottle holds only 10 ml of dark, viscous, pure perfume with a flash of amethyst. The strongest perfume extracts typically contain between 10% and 40% of aromatic compounds – Petite Mort contains 100%, its dosage a single drop.
How did Le Petite Mort come about?
In September 2010, the fragrance division of FIT New York invited me to produce an artwork, under the theme of 'disaster'. I had always dreamt of creating my own fragrance. A standard fragrance production timeline is 18-24 months – I only had four. But I love a challenge. The word 'disaster' made me think of death, and that triggered thoughts about 'the little death' (la petite mort in French) which is a metaphor for orgasm. I met with a friend, Killian Hennessey who has his own fragrance house. He listened carefully for 20 minutes without saying a word, and then said, "Marc, you're insane, but I really love your ideas." He is the one that facilitated the project.
What was particularly intriguing about the female orgasm?
One of my favourite artists is Andres Serrano, who has a body of work based on bodily fluids. There is one bodily fluid he hasn't used – the one produced by a woman as she is about to climax.
How did the production process begin?
Kilian introduced me to Bertrand Duchaufour, a nose who has created fragrances for Comme des Garçons, Penhaligon’s, Acqua di Parma, Christian Dior and L’Artisan Parfumeur. I wanted to strive for integrity so I actually collected a sample of the ellusive fluid. In bed with a girl and a glass jar – not an easy task. I sent the sample to Bertrand. He works with with olfactory memory, tapping into a database of memories, souvenirs and impressions. He was concerned because the sample wasn't collected in a sterile environment, "It smells like ass. Not like dirty ass, it's actually a beautiful smell." I didn't want it to reference flowers like conventional fragrances, I wanted it to smell of a person. We worked on 13 versions – each of them sent via FedEx – with input from Killian. We eventually removed every floral note. Some were too sexy, too musky or too blunt. I wanted it to be enticing – the smell that arouses me as a heterosexual man.
What are some of the notes Bertrand used?
He said he was using a note called Jatamansi Essence, which smells like feet. When it's blended with other ingredients it smells really beautiful. Also Sulfurol which evokes warm milk – a scent that is interpreted by the human brain as the closest thing to the smell of skin. Pheromones are illegal in the fragrance industry, so we found the closest replacement. Bertran describes the final result as "aphrodisiacly compelling".
When did you first become interested in fragrance?
It started during childhood. Both of my paternal grandparents were blind. They reacted accurately to other senses – smell, sound and movement. I was trained at an early age to articulate emotion and senses. I studied Industrial Design and I majored in Graphic Design. Comme des Garçons approached me aged 24 to work on their debut pebble-shaped fragrance. They wanted someone who wasn't part of the industry, who had no experience. I love designing beauty products but fragrance is my ultimate passion.
How would you describe your personal fragrance habits?
I'm a fragrance whore, I rotate all of the time. There are so many. One of my favourites is Penhaligon’s Endymion, it has a beautiful background story. I still wear the original Helmut Lang and continue to look for old stock on eBay.
Having worked on numerous packaging throughout your career, how did you decide what was right for this?
We approached Verreries Pochet, one of the oldest French luxury glassmakers, founded in 1623. Normally it takes a long time but they were very understanding and keen to be involved. A cube of classic proportions, the bottle's neck is tied with a black band. The stopper is adorned by a polished cast metal plaque, engraved with each bottle’s edition number. I wanted something that was deceptively simple on many levels. The bottle comes in a pouch, with a certificate of authenticity, housed in an engraved case made from alder wood.
Who do you hope will buy/wear the fragrance?
I always envisioned this fragrance more as an art project. I think small can be beautiful. I’m really not anxious to sell every bottle – I just want them to go to the right people. When they are gone, trust me, they are gone. I want to do something different, something unexpected. I might end up doing a washing detergent.
100, 10ml bottles of Petite Mort (Parfum d’une Femme) priced $1000 will be available from Scent Bar, Los Angeles from 5 April.