To serious fragrance-lovers, Swedish perfume house AGONIST is known for two things: fantastic smells, yes – but also for extraordinary, hand-blown Swedish glass flacons, each a work of art in their own right.
AGONIST was launched in 2008 by a seriously creative couple, Christine and Niclas Lydeen. With French roots, Christine’s background is in fashion: she studied at Studio Bercot in Paris, working in the city’s fashion world before moving back to Sweden – where she met Niclas. ‘I was working a lot with graphic design, packaging and art direction for various campaigns. We started to collaborate on this idea of how to create a brand – via imagery, storytelling, graphic design and conceptual ideas – based on giving life to an invisible product like fragrance.’
They shared a love for fragrance, intrigued and fascinated by its power. And, Niclas continues, ‘We started to think about themes and ideas. We wanted to show another side to this perception of clean Swedish design. We were more inspired by a poetic, darker and melancholic side of the Swedish culture and heritage.’
Each of the unisex fragrances – which are created using mostly natural ingredients in collaboration with renowned Grasse perfumers – is offered in two formats. The Sculpture Line is AGONIST‘s ‘haute couture’ presentation, produced via a collaboration with the multi-award-winning glass artist Åsa Jungnelius and the international renowned glasswork Kosta Boda, whose atelier is situated in Sweden’s deep forest area of Småland.
‘Since each olfactive experience is very individual we want this also to be expressed in the sculptures. Each sculpture is therefore unique and one-of-a-kind as your own olfactive experience.’ The design-minded duo explains, ‘Our initial idea was to create a perfume bottle that you would never throw away.’ So, they continue, ‘We wanted to start… with refillable flacons which you have in your home that your kids will inherit. Hopefully when you find a fragrance you love, you really want to cherish and keep it.’
‘But since the fragrance is the hero in our work and everything derives from that, we wanted it to be more accessible. The fragrance comes in this “Haute Couture” version and a ready-to-wear. For us it is very important that there is a strong connection between the sculpture and the spray version. We have a patented solution where every spray bottle has a colour-coded base which connects it to the sculpture. And we have placed all the fragrance notes on the front of the bottle, letting the customer come very close to the experience.’ (See below, for some of the line-up.)
So you can read on the bottle of fresh, vibrant Isis that it blends cistus, green tangerine, ylang ylang, black pepper, ginger, anise, peach, caramel, heliotrope, nutmeg, amber, musk, benzoin, vanilla absolute, labdanum and a synthetic called Lorenox™.
For Onyx Pearl – a favourite often worn by the couple themselves – the line-up of ingredients is simpler: Oriental flowers, Arabian oud, white leather, heliotrope, Indian amber, Indonesian patchouli, Australian sandalwood, Virginian cedarwood and white musk – a list that shares the ‘provenance’ of ingredients captured in that oud-based fragrance, which was originally inspired by the visual imagery of Guy Bourdin.
In fact, Niclas and Christine explain, their many and varied inspirations come ‘from all aspects of life in general. From the mundane to the extraordinary. Everything that in some way moves our senses – scents, sounds, taste and tactility, art, music, literature, movies…’
At the UNSCENT fragrance exhibitions in Milan and Florence where AGONIST showcase their creations each season, visitors flock to seek out their artistic installations. In Milan, an exhibit featured a display of glass bottles – reminiscent of buds bursting and blossoming in spring – accompanied by recording of glass sculptures as they were cooling, breaking and cracking, creating a much-admired ‘soundscape’. As the couple recalls, ‘It was really intense if you had the fragrance in your nose, the sound in your ears and this visual installation. We wanted to create something that encapsulated the fragrance with all the senses.’
At The Perfume Society, we believe absolutely that fragrance is an art form. But there are surely few perfume houses in the world expressing that in such an intriguing, avant grade style. We are eager to smell – but also to see, and maybe even hear – their future creations…
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