Bogue Maai, memento mori and the traps of artisanal perfumery.
Bogue is a small perfume company featuring the work of perfumer Antonio Gardoni. The approach is artisanal in nature in that fine, rare, exotic materials are the basic components, extraction and refinement methods are done in-house and limited volumes are produced. Implied in the artisanal approach is a reproach to large scale production in favor of a return to neglected, traditional ways of training and production.
Artisanal work is nothing new, but has become prominent in perfumery in the past 5-7 years. This approach ranges from the simple and exploratory to the dogmatic, but there is an implicit appeal to the old-school, ‘the way things used to be.’
At one end of the artisanal movements is the pragmatic approach. It holds that the to make a product of the quality and specs desired a focus on materials and their specific properties is necessary. The best way to do so is to control as many points of the production process as possible and to be as intimately involved in the creation as possible. While there may be some ideology involved, the system itself states that the proof is in the pudding of the product and the experience that surrounds it.
At the other end is the The Religion of the Artisanal. It is belief-based and works from the premise an artisanal system works because it is right, that it is better than the oppressiveness of the corporate present-day. Faith and hope are the variables in this approach, not necessarily the quality of the basic materials and production methods.
Then there is the problem of the marketing. Marketing jabber describes both of the above approaches similarly. It tends to be a series of catch phrases that we’ve seen previously applied to coffee, bread, wine and beer. These cyphers are used deliberately to to trigger a non-specific limbic resonance. Whether the target is a person interested in a decent beer, the latest trend or grist for cocktail conversation, these words create a cloud of association between newness, exclusivity, finery that nestles into our self-esteem and goes to work. We are entitled. We deserve it. It’s good for me. You’ve seen the chain of associations before.
To wit: Custom made. First edition. Limited production. Handcrafted. Exclusive. Rare. 90 % locally sourced/10% from the exotic reaches of the globe (this one plays both sides) Small batch. The finest ingredients. Locally grown. Micro-brewed. Community-based. Organic, authentic, compassionate… The pragmatic view tells you that organic is better for you than crap-grown. The dogmatic view tells you tells you that you are a better person for being smart enough to buy organic.
The artisanal approach is conservative. It is by definition regressive. Is it a strategy in an oversaturated niche market? Nostalgia? A reaction to experimentalism? An attempt to appear more authentic than other lines?
So, Antonio Gardoni and Bogue. My concern is that the experience that the company sells you is a three-fold distraction from the product.
1) Bogue’s PR is spring-loaded with the triggers of the dark side of artisanal marketing. 'Small batch.' 'Hand crafted.' ‘The finest ingredients.’ The site includes imagistic phrases that suggest privilege and leisure. "...a cocktail bar...a country house with a damp and cool wine cellar... Bedroom made for love and drawing. ... British blankets... on the way back from an ex-colony." (Bogue website text for Eaud’E) It’s the nostalgia of privilege and an arcadian belief in a golden past that can save us from the commonness of the present. Even the recent Luca Turin review at arabia.style.com fell in line with the marketing, describing the bottle in hand, the color of the juice, reinforcing the artisanal view that quality is to be found in the past or its recreation. It relies on the fear of ubiquity.
2) The myth of creative eccentricity & the artist trip. Bogue don’t create this myth. It is a meme that’s been around for centuries and needs just a tip of the hat in its direction to come to life. “I work at night when the light doesn’t adulterate the chemicals and when the smells of the day disappear to leave space to new experiments of shadows.” Voilà.
3) The snobbery of scarcity. Again, nothing new. Fashion has worked this angle for centuries. l’Eau d’E, the first of three perfumes listed on the site is a "First Edition: Sold Out.” The precious-gold fragrance mask is a limited edition of 6, served in a padded box with a certificate of authenticity.
Do we love the perfume or the fiction? Would we love it less if it didn't have a backstory? Maai has been well-reviewed by the perfume writers and well-received by customers. Why does Maai deserve such praise? For the libretto or for the perfume?
My approach: forget the words, focus on the work. Until this moment, I’ve discussed the marketing, the hype. As for the the perfume, it is exceptionally beautiful. It is a woody-floral chypre, a genre that includes the icons of contemporary and classic perfumery such as Clinique Aromatics Elixir, Dior’s Miss Dior, VeroProfumo Onda and Estée Lauder Azurée. It stands toe-to-toe unapologetically. It is a form that we write off annually as dead due to IFRA meanness. Given these iconic points of comparison and compositional obstacles, Bogue is custom-built for failure, yet is a resounding success. The dense floral tone rides side by side with the mossy woods and the distinctions that make a chypre so compelling are held intact with a ferocious poise. The precision layering give the contrasting sensations of comfort and unpredictability that make Bogue feel like it’s alive and intelligent. The animalic tone and the weight of the perfume belie a buoyancy that gives the wearer a sultry ease. It’s fucking gorgeous. This sort of perfume isn't made indiscriminately. Gardoni knows what he wants to create.
The marketing and the perfume are better unrelated. This perfume is meant to last. It is stylish but not trendy. The marketing is of the moment, but the perfume is in for the long haul. Though retro in tone, the Bogue PR is part of a trend that like waxed mustaches, has been growing old for a bit. What happens after the cupcake, the kale, the cold-pressed juices? I want Bogue to survive trend