Shije Interviews Multi-Media Artist Alexis Karl
[ I met Alexis Karl at a gallery where she was performing fragrance design and came to find this was but one facet of her talent.] – Shije
Shije: Alexis! I love your Gothic music Ondyne’s Demise. How did you get started in the world of fragrance creation?
AK: Well, it started out with me being a multi media artist…that led to perfume.
S: Multi-media – but I think of specific scents from the gallery, when I met you. Earthy, rich fragrance —
AK: Ah, I remember that. My exhibitions and performances often have elements of fragrance. I believe fragrance as an ambient element can break boundaries of architecture and alter a visitor’s perception, much in the way music can make a room seem large or small…
Scent is so similar. I can make a gallery become a forest with the scent of dirt, oak moss and flowers, or an ancient edifice with notes of stone and fossilized resins. Fragrance has that power. It is really quite an amazing artistic medium.
S: How did it turn into a business for you?
AK: It was not my initial intention to become part of the fragrance world, but rather, to create olfactory art works…sellable, small, fragrant art pieces that harkened back to an age before large fragrance companies. I have always strived for a very personal approach to fragrance creation, in in that vein, bespoke, or custom created fragrance are still my favorite to create!
S: What is a ‘bespoke fragrance’?
AK: Bespoke is a term for a custom created scent..usually for an individual, and it denotes something very special. Bespoke perfumes are pricy as they are created for one person, like a couture gown. It’s a word definitely used in the fragrance world.
S: Here’s a link to your store so that everyone can go to House of Cherry Bomb and order the fragrance you got mentioned at the awards ceremony! I loved your celebrity-on-the-red-carpet photos of that, in sunny California! What are those awards called?
AK: You mean The Art and Olfaction Awards! One of our scents, Tobacco Cognac, was a finalist, which was such an honor!
S: Congratulations on your success! What’s a time you’d point to as a turning point in your career? Right place at the right time, people or situations that serendipitously shaped you? That helped you to gain more success specifically in the fragrance biz?
AK: How I got into Fragrance: as a multi media artist, and was working with the Fragrance house, Firmenich, years ago doing installations and artistic work for their creative team, when I was first introduced to their perfumers. I was immediately fascinated and inspired. The place was flooded with scent! There was this incredible juggling of fragrance notes going on all around me by master perfumes, and here I was creating large- scale paintings and installations to present their works. I thought, I would like to do this!
S: So….the science, the alchemy if you will, of making a fragrance from scratch, it inspired you to get into that.
AK: Yes! But… in another way. A way that incorporates my art, a way where colors synthesize with fragrance notes, where each fragrance I make will be a work of art- from concept, to scent, to packaging to presentation. So I started researching. I delved into the study of historical fragrances, from Ancient Egyptian to 18th Century French perfumes. I looked at how the fragrances were inexorably linked to culture.
S: What do you mean inexorably linked to culture? What does your research entail?
AK: My research entails reading old texts on perfumery, from 15th Century Islamic texts on fragrant gardens to translations made from the walls of ancient Egyptian Tombs to reading biographies on Marie Antoinette’s perfumer. I lecture of the Art of Perfume at the Metropolitan Museum regularly now, so I research quite a bit before each lecture. All of this information on historical perfumes is very inspirational, yet I try to incorporate it into a modern perfumery practice. My scents for Scent By Alexis and the scents I create with Maria at House of Cherry Bomb are always modern. We respect the tradition of perfume, but want our perfumes to be relevant now, in this age, influenced by our urban culture.
S: So, Alexis, with your flair for the historical, mythological and natural —
AK: Yes! Those three! From this research I created my first line of fragrances: oil-based perfumes held in hand-gilded 18th Century inspired flacon. The research landed me lecturing work at the Metropolitan Museum and a launch at Henri Bendel. My work has changed so much over the last ten years. The scents have become more complex, and have a literary tilt.
S: Literary how?
AK: Bottles are no longer hand-gilded, but now hand-etched …the fragrance names are snippets of poetry or lines from favorite writers. My “Utopian Body” series is inspired by Michel Foucault’s The Utopian Body essay. The first two fragrances in the line create a scented poem: “Body made luminous. Secret, Sacred Cyphered.” In fact, I’ll tell you a secret nobody else knows yet: the next fragrance will be entitled “The Harmony of Being” and serve as the next line in the olfactory poem.
S: An ‘olfactory poem!’ I love that! I love secrets! And ciphers! What do you mean 18th Century scents! How old and precious are these materials you and Maria use?
AK: From http://www.scentbyalexisperfumes.com are three descriptions: Body Made Luminous is an all natural scent composed of chocolate absolute, which is this deep rich bitter chocolate, fossilized amber, which comes from 35 million year old resin, and lush Moroccan flowers. The scent is deep and rich with a fiery, glowing heat. It is extremely sensual… daringly edible and is meant to enhance the skin’s own warmth.
Secret, Sacred, Cyphered is a heady fragrance of Moroccan flowers and tuberose blended with hints of leather, ginger and fig, all tied together by natural vanilla. It is elegant while still very sensual, and it’s base is a skin accord I actually developed for a lecture I did at the Guggenheim Museum. It is refined yet complex, and beautifully heavy.
The Harmony of Being, which will be released this spring is quite elegant. It is strives to create balance of dark and light- and so black agar wood, coffee flower and beeswax absolute play with hints of ambergris, woods and a melange of flowers like neroli, lily of the valley and mimosa. The perfume volleys back and forth with green notes and lush flowers and always a trace of delicate smoke and again, skin.
All three fragrances find a common note of skin, for the wearers body is the true base. They were created with skin in mind. They are full of rare and natural oils, and I think they are very sensual and alluring…very special.
S: Are musks always expensive, wild animal products?
AK: Well, musks are no longer animal products, but now are synthetically created! Maria and I have some vintage musks that are about 50 years old from Morocco. The ouds are natural… and we often use vintage ouds as well…so, they are indeed hard to come by. We have found ourselves rooting in the dusty, never-opened cabinets of oil purveyors to search for forgotten Arabian ouds, the longer they sit, the more viscous and heavy the scent!
S: Cool! Vegan musk! That is just so Brooklyn!
AK: Ha! I guess it really is. Also, I have two fragrance lines, Scent by Alexis and House of Cherry Bomb, which I co-founded with perfumer Maria McElroy of Aroma M. House of Cherry Bomb is all about NYC. We pair Classic NYC chic with edgy modern. We use rare, beautiful oils sourced from all over the world. Flowers from Morocco and Spain, more from France, citrus notes wild-crafted in California… vintage, hard to come by musks and ouds. I adore working with Maria who is like my sister, and who, with music blaring out of our speakers at the Aroma A Atelier, we pass oils back and forth, back and forth, talking excitedly about ideas and composing fragrances all the while.
S: Sounds fun! Thanks for joining us.
AK: Thanks for having me.
S: My band says hi to your band.
S: Tell me their names again?
AK: Ondyne’s Demise are: Alexis Karl, Fara Badrieva and Paul Ashton. Now we’re joined by our incandescent fire dancer, Erin the Red! A press release from our archives:
A huge array of amazing performances happened at http://www.theaterforthenewcity.net/les.htm! My solo show MYTHOLOGICAL EVOLUTION challenges theories of creation, suggesting human-animal hybrids as our true evolutionary ancestors while promising the existence of these creatures still. The installation, composed of large scale paintings, crystal and obsidian encrusted sculptures, film, fragrance, dark ambient music and live performance spanned a 2,500 sq. foot Warehouse in Brooklyn, NY.
Sneak peek into our set: https://soundcloud.com/ondynesdemise/neon-jesus
See you soon.
S: Yes, for sure at Fashion Week in New York. Everybody, get these free albums as a gift from Alexis Karl. Lost Cities is the newest one, here:
AK: Yes, and the other one online is also free, and here’s the press about it. “Mythological Evolution is a dark ambient soundtrack created for singer Alexis Karl’s multi-media one person exhibition, MYTHOLOGICAL EVOLUTION: A RE-CREATION CREATION MYTH, which explores the theory of human-hybrid evolution and the reality of mythology. Created as part of a soundtrack for Mythological Evolution for The Hall of Celestial Transformation. Album available as a free download. Free MYTHOLOGICAL EVOLUTION SOUNDTRACK:
Mythological Evolution by Ondyne’s Demise (in collaboration with Anima Animus Animal) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.”
DIP, with Christine Buckley and Natalie Wilkin. Swimming costumes by J. Morgan Puett. Music by Ondynes Demise. © Jorge Colombo, 2013.