Barnabé Fillion is a nez. If we are going to translate literally, this means that he is a nose, but in reality the term covers the vast and complex craftsmanship behind the art of perfumery, and defines someone who researches, creates and “composes” perfumes. In the case of Fillion, then, the term is rather fitting. After studying botany and phytotherapy, Fillion started out with a career in visual art. Spanning the gap between his visual work and his interest in olfactive artistry, Fillion explores the tentative gap between innovative processes of the contemporary perfume industry and tradition, always privileging the materia prima. Barnabé Fillion has been working with Mane over the past two years, and is currently collaborating with Christine Nagel to develop his projects. With creations for Von Sono, Paul Smith, Li Edelkoort, Le Labo, and, more recently Aēsop, Barnabé Fillion is well on his way to forging himself a prominent place in the industry.
Combining his photographic and visual work with the particularities of the sense of smell, Fillion tells us that his goal “is to create a particular moment, containing it by capturing its motion, and to develop a fragrance to explain this feeling.” His craft-orientated creations, he explains, are influenced predominantly by emotions, memories, movements and an open-ness to the wealth of cultures that he discovers by travelling. “For me a perfume is an extension of one’s personality, and it should provide a very special accompaniment and signature on a daily basis.”
In an industry where creating perfumes according to the gendered diktat of the market is the status quo, Fillion stands out as a bit of a rebel. The gendered binarisms of the perfume industry are, for him, reductive. “How could you imagine limiting a colour to specific gender, classifying colour as one for men or for women?” His vision reflects more an interactive relation between perfume and wearer. “I prefer the idea of the expansion of oneself.”
A recent collaboration saw Barnabé Fillion work with Paul Smith on the house’s perfumes, Portrait. The process, he recalls, started with an ongoing discussion he had been having with the man himself, and involved going through various memories and moments that Mr. Smith wanted to translate into a perfume. “He gave me the incredible opportunity of going through all his archives and photographs, as well as his comments, focusing mainly on what he perceives as the key olfactive notes of those moments.” The process was particularly striking, and left Fillion in awe of Paul Smith’s constant optimism, and his “beautiful vision of life.”
When we speak to Fillion, he has just launched his latest perfume, namely Marrakech Intense, which he created for Aēsop. “It started with a fantastic meeting with Dennis and his team, who are people that I admire for their real and unconventional position in the cosmetic world,” Fillion explains, before adding, “they have such a personal vision.” After discussions, they decided to restore and update the first perfume of the house, Marrakech. Working on an already existing perfume, and reinterpreting an established composition has its challenges. “First, you have to understand the reason why the initial formula existed and why it has to be reinterpreted. Then you have to treat it as a new formula,” Fillion tells us, explaining how he had to familiarise himself with the original formula, to then forget all about it. This enabled him to “create a real innovative olfactory approach to the subject.”
For Marrakech Intense, a lot of “couleurs locales” were used, notably with a number of components typical of Northern Africa. “Most of the ingredients from this formula come from Morocco, and they are of the highest quality.” Fillion explains that travelling, sourcing samples and active olfactive research all constitute a large part of his creative process. “Finding the right raw material is a real passion and a daily component of my work.” Correlatively, Marrakech Intense is a dense composition, bursting with top notes of bergamot and cardamom, with subtle touches of cloves and jasmine. A hint of cedar brings dryness to it, he explains.
After Aēsop, what comes next? Fillion tells us how he hopes to expand on his collaborations, pushing innovative technologies further in the process, so as to develop his independent work as a craftsman in perfumery. “I’d like to embrace my work as a perfumer, and to be able to provide more sensitivity and artistic visions.” We’re enticed to see where that takes us.