Of the myriad ways I remember my maternal grandmother, the smell of her handbag is always reassuringly vivid. The aroma of its stiff navy leather mixed with her perfume, Arpège, together with all the things hidden inside: the cool sweetness of the mints she always carried, a hint of dusty rose from her pressed powder in its round gold compact, the waxy fruitiness of her various lipsticks in their velvet cases, and the dry tobacco and smoky linger of her cigarettes. It’s as if, through this unique olfactory cocktail, my grandmother infused the bag with her character, and, simultaneously, gave it its own personality.
Earlier this year, Italian fashion house Fendi embarked upon a journey with celebrated French parfumier Maison Francis Kurkdjian with the aim of creating a similar character for its iconic Baguette bag. The fruits of this collaboration see it given a new sensory dimension; the bag is crafted from leather that has been soaked and infused with a bespoke scent – a technique revived and patented by the parfumier.
A bag with its own personality, you may ask – but arguably, if any bag has one, it’s the Baguette. It’s a trailblazer – often called the first It bag. It’s a chameleon – having been a canvas for much visual metamorphosis over its 22-year history, with more than 1,000 versions (and counting), including by the likes of Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. It’s a rule breaker – the first bag that had its own name, rather than being named after a female style icon like the Birkin, the Kelly or the Alexa. It’s the bag that Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, when asked to hand it over by an armed robber, replied, “It’s not a bag. It’s a Baguette.”
“It is a bag that’s about personality, because when it was conceived it manifested its own individuality,” says its creator, Silvia Venturini Fendi. “The idea of having a scent dedicated to it feels natural.”
“The Baguette broke the rules of ’90s minimalism and became cult; this is an opportunity of discovery for a new audience,” adds Fendi CEO Serge Brunschwig.
To some, it might also seem curious to create a scent for a bag when the smell of leather is so dynamic – almost shorthand for luxury itself. But Venturini Fendi’s idea was for a fragrance that builds upon the bag’s Selleria leather, that evokes the material’s supple feel and enhances its natural aroma, but which is also energised by a brightness that brings to mind the yellow associated with the house.
In response, Francis Kurkdjian created a composition that draws out the muskiness of labdanum, a Mediterranean plant with resinous depth; that emphasises the leathery notes of styrax oil and vanilla bean (rather than its sweetness); and that adds a contrasting flash of May rose from Grasse. The effect, says Kurkdjian, “is like smelling the nape of a loved one’s neck. This is not a scent that feels added, but a scent that is part of your being.” He’s right: once it settles, the scent has a gorgeously rounded warmth, and a natural, authentic sensuality – rather than the sexiness of artifice or performance. And it works for both men and women.
The formula is a short one that focuses on the dry-down notes and avoids top notes, meaning that, rather than peaking and plunging, the perfume lasts for up to three years – though an accompanying 5ml vial of the eau de parfum means the fragrance can be reapplied directly to the leather to revive its potency.
“When you open the bag, you immediately have these surprise notes,” says Venturini Fendi. “You feel the energy – it’s simultaneously nostalgic and new, a surprise, fun, and breaks the rules – and that’s what Fendi is and does. It’s unexpected to have such a sensation. Little by little, as you open the bag, [the scent] becomes lighter. At first it is very strong, but then as you look inside it vanishes in the air.” Her hope is that “as you carry the bag, the Baguette fragrance becomes your fragrance; the smell transforms and evolves with you”.
An unexpected delight of this collaboration is a glorious new talent it introduces to a global audience: photographer Christelle Boulé, with whom Kurkdjian had been collaborating for more than a year on her “Drops” series, and who he introduced to Fendi. The series, an extension of Boulé’s ECAL degree project, sees the Swiss-Canadian artist create photographs of fragrances, akin to a fingerprint, by dropping eau de parfum directly onto coloured film paper and leaving it for several hours or days, before developing it by hand. It’s Boulé’s photographic portrait of the Fendi/Kurkdjian scent that is printed on the scented Baguette.
“Discovering that I could see a perfume was a ‘wow’ moment,” says Boulé excitedly. “Some perfumes look like little clouds and are super-vaporous; some are very contrasted, or look more like molecules or something chemical. But each bottle always has the same outcome. The raw materials create the perfume’s unique image. It is like showing the DNA of a scent.” The abstract poetry of the technique and its effects calls to mind Man Ray’s solarisation, the technique he accidentally discovered after partially exposing photographic prints to light mid-way through development, giving them a silvery halo.
Boulé developed the image of the Fendi perfume in a darkroom lit with an intense purple gel to create its exact opposite colour – the house’s signature vivid yellow. “The final image is very contrasted – the white against the bright. It’s happy and strong, like the sun. It makes me smile – and it looks the way the scent smells,” she laughs.
‘It is a beautiful idea to create art from something that vanishes,” says Venturini Fendi. “It’s like putting thoughts into words, capturing the fourth dimension, or giving an emotion a shape.” Boulé’s photograph has been reproduced on a limited edition of 10 men’s and 10 women’s scented Baguettes, and 140 smaller Nano designs. For the launch on December 4, a selection of bags will be on display and for sale in the Fendi store in Miami, during the Design Miami fair, alongside some of Boulé’s huge 140cm x 170cm art prints. Highlights from her Drops series can also be seen hanging at the Miami Francis Kurkdjian store.
Why Miami for the launch? “You wake up there and you see the sun and you have a new energy,” says Venturini Fendi, “and the perfume relates to a bright day filled with sunshine.” The art and design fair celebrates “the affinity between the creative processes of designing a bag and a chair – both have functionality, which is not normally something that you have in art,” she says. “This bag has a new function so it seemed the right context to introduce it.”
Venturini Fendi has named the bag and bespoke scent, which were conceived and created in under six months, FendiFrenesia – “because it is a frenetic way of thinking and of working on new things. When you work fast you really put your instincts into it,” she adds. “If you think too much, things start to be tortured and I don’t like that. If you have a good idea, just go for it, immediately.”