Contemporary artist Sarah Baker’s photography, sculpture and films are inspired by‘fashion, luxury and celebrity’, but little did she know that when she created a fictional fragrance house as part of her artwork, her passion for the project (and the public’s reaction to it) would result in a real-life fragrance house. Still artistically inspired, luckily for us they’re now ready to (actually) wear…
When we speak to founders of fragrance houses, we’re used to hearing them rhapsodise about their childhood memories of exploring their mother’s scents on the dressing table and how they discovered the world (and themselves) through smell, but Sarah Baker chuckles as she recalls growing up avoiding perfume, because for years, ‘I convinced myself I was actually allergic to it, because my sister wore so much of it and I’d be stuck in the car with her on long journeys!’ This early olfactory over-exposure luckily didn’t put her off perfume for life, and teenage Sarah became ‘obsessed’ with The Body Shop’s White musk. ‘My friend Alice and I had a ritual of going to the Body Shop,’ she says, ‘and dousing ourselves with it. I swear it bonded us. I smell it now and think of all the fun times, like sleepovers, laughing together…’
Gaining a place at Goldsmith’s College, in 2000 Sarah moved from America to live and study in London. The overt opulence and heady glamour of 1980’s movies, soap operas, music and swaggering fashion styles inspired Sarah’s artwork and still very much inspire her today. This maximalist (and Fun with a capital F) ethos inspires her love of fragrance too. The first joining of the artistic and fragrant dots, as it were, occurring when Sarah created a film inspired by the life of Patrizia Reggiani (who was convicted of hiring a hitman to kill her husband, the fashion world figure Maurizio Gucci).
‘I’m really interested in exploring soap operas in my work and here was a real life one.’ For the project, Sarah invented a fashion company that she named ‘Imperio Rosso’, and, with help from the Arts Council, in 2014 made a deliberately hyperbolic film for the Institute of Art and Olfaction about her fictional fashion moguls’ passionate, fashion and perfume-obsessed lives. It was during the making of the movie that Sarah finally realised she wanted ‘…to enter into the world of commerce and create an actual, real-life scent brand.’ Having become ‘really interested in celebrity perfumes – what are you buying into when you purchase them’, a line of scents ‘based on my love of luxury fabrics’ was the perfect fit.
Collaborating with other creatives at the top of their game really seems to light Sarah Baker’s fire, so the first collection in 2016 found her working with perfumer Ashley Eden Kessler (who’d originally made the fragrances for the exhibition), and 4160 Tuesday’s perfumer Sarah McCartney. In 2018, Sarah collaborated with fragrance writer Miguel Matos for a limited edition scent called Jungle Jezebel – a limited edition design concept that saw the bottle adorned with drag queen-esque eyelashes. But Sarah’s artistic/fashion dreams really took flight when working with the legendary Donatella Versace on a Jackie Collins-inspired coffee table book entitled Baroness, with Donatella guest-editing the issue and styling the interiors and clothes featured within.