Occasionally, I reflect upon my life, and consider myself very fortunate in many regards. I am happily married, am blessed to have my health; work for myself, and have an insatiable appreciation for perfume, art, music, gastronomy and literature. As a graphic designer by profession, I also regard myself as being profoundly visually literate... taking in colour, form and dimension, and recalling it with photographic clarity. The same can often be said for my nose (and the noses of many with a healthy appreciation of the perfuming arts), where my sense of olfactory recall is exemplary. I will often be transported back to a particular point in my life when reacquainted with smelly molecules that I have been exposed to long before.
This was the case with my recent re-introduction to the über-rare Le Feu D'Issey by Issey Miyake. This scent was launched in 1998 as the followup to the phenomenally successful L'eau D'Issey, but surprisingly, managed to become a colossal commercial flop. Suddenly, after a life span of almost 3 years, it was stripped from shelves the world over. Many were quick to claim "too avante garde", but it was few that actually mourned the death of this perfume. As for me, despite my wife working with Parfums Issey Miyake at the time; I was indifferent.
Fast forward to yesterday, ten years on. I was visiting a local out-of-the-way perfumery, sampling at the rear of the shop, when suddenly I smelled the very discontinued Le Feu D'Issey cart-wheeling on the air. I recognised it instantly - vivid pictures blazed behind my eyes of summers spent with friends, good food on hot balmy evenings, cold champagne, and lazy afternoons spent sprawled on grassy lawns. I was amazed (and a little overwhelmed) at my immediate sense of recall... I spent moments rearranging the pictures in my head, trying to achieve a sense of order. By olfactory association with the scent my wife used to wear, I was suddenly at a sundowner lawn party in 2002, held by the internationally acclaimed West Australian artist, Waldemar Kolbusz. Champagne and canapés were circulating freely, and I recalled the long evening shadows criss-crossing the lawn. It was a hot Perth night, and the parakeets were chattering excitedly in the trees across the road. Warm bodies in crisp-ironed clothes mingled effortlessly - our necks and decollitages moist with perspiration, thanks to a setting desert sun.
As I stood in the perfume store, immersed in my recollections, I thought what a fitting scent Le Feu d'Issey was in having inspired this particular daydream. Le Feu after all, was a fragrance release that celebrated the elemental force of fire.
My belief is that Miyake's creation was well ahead of its time. It was launched on the heels of countless androgynous, unisex releases of the mid 90's, and in terms of its style; embraced qualities that represented the polar opposite of those scents that had found their success at that time. A perfume that honoured fire, (and indeed one fashioned in true Issey Miyake minimalist style) was simply dismissed as unconvincing, unimaginative and characterless. However, if the truth be known, Le Feu d'Issey may be more relevant to perfumery now in the "noughties", than it was in the nineties. Miyake lent heat to this composition with sichuan pepper, amber and benzoin - yet with a delicate hand, he reduced the volume on the combustible warmth with golden Japanese lily, bulgarian rose and milk accords. Exotic guaiacwood and coriander also contributed a radiant piquancy to the mix.
In hindsight, Le Feu was forging new bounds in perfumery that perhaps at that time, the world wasn't fully able to comprehend. I wonder whether if resurrected and re-released tomorrow, yesterday's failure might in fact, become a modern-day triumph.
So, as I purchase the one remaining precious bottle of Le Feu d'Issey in the perfume store, my mind returns once more to the intimate gathering on that steaming Perth afternoon. With many guests retreating to the shadows beneath the trees, I am led inside to take a look at Wal Kolbus'z work with my wife, who is wearing the same resplendent elixir that I now hold in my hands. I Find it fitting that the artist himself embarked on his expressionistic journey whilst travelling through the parched Arizona and Nevada desert. His canvases exude an intensity of emotion, and his use of striking colours are so exciting, they emit a certain volume - and indeed a certain temperature.
Miyake's olfactory palette - much like Kolbusz's artistic one - infuses his work with colour, beauty and abstraction. Le Feu d'Issey is perhaps an abstract ideal made tangible when the world was looking the other way.
* Artwork: Slicker oil on linen, 183x66cm. Waldemar Kolbusz homepage: www.kolbusz.com.au