Can you think of a scent that, when smelled, it immediately triggers a memory from long ago? Perhaps it’s an aftershave that reminds you of when you were a young child watching your father shave his face, a perfume or cologne that recalls the memory of a former love, or a fragrance that takes you back to a beloved place you traveled to. For me, it’s the smell of pipe tobacco, and as soon as I smell it, I think of my grandfather, sitting in his favourite chair, smoking his pipe and reading a book. Smell is our most evocative sense, and even the slightest hint of a familiar scent can trigger powerful memories from long ago. Perfumer Alexandra Bachand understands this well, and has contributed her artistry to WAR Flowers: A Touring Art Exhibition by formulating ten scents for the multi-sensory exhibition. I had the opportunity to speak with Alexandra about her craft and it’s a pleasure to introduce you to her.
Alexandra studied fine arts and had a flourishing first career as a painter. Though she had a lifelong passion for the beauty of scent, growing up in Quebec didn’t expose her to opportunities that would allow her to explore perfumery as a career (Canada unfortunately doesn’t have educational programs in this field). It wasn’t until she was in her 30s and took a trip to France that she was introduced to the wider world of perfumery and discovered it was possible that it could become a vocation, and the more she read about it, the more she leaned into it, eventually enrolling in and graduating from The Perfumery Art School in England, and she has been honing her craft over the last seven years. Though she enjoyed being a painter, Alexandra felt that perfumery spoke to her more and allowed her to go further into her creative process, and takes pride in the connection she makes with people by evoking their emotions through scent. I loved hearing the reverence and passion in Alexandra’s voice as she shared the art of perfumery and what it means to her. It seems she was always meant to become a perfumer - her grandparents were landscape architects and she grew up around flowers, spending a great deal of time as a child in her grandmother’s greenhouse. Today, she maintains the same curiosity about new smells that she had as a child, and uses this to drive her artistry forward, always taking opportunities to learn whenever and wherever she can. Her branded line of unisex colognes contain a high percentage of natural raw materials and contain no additives - she uses only the best ingredients, and she makes them from her very own lab at her barn, The Perfumer's Barn (La grange du parfumeur) in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, where she welcomes customers and enjoys giving tours and describing the art of perfumery to visitors.
WAR Flowers, curated by Viveka Melki, was inspired by the preserved pressed flowers picked by First World War soldier George Stephen Cantlie, and uses floriography (a means of communication through the use of flowers) to examine human nature in wartime. Ten stations, each representing a different emotion attributed to the landscape of war, lead visitors through an immersive experience that touches all of the senses. The scents that Alexandra created for the exhibition are experienced at the touch of a button, and she has written a poem that accompanies each one to offer an idea of the emotion that the scent will represent. While her commercial perfumes contain around 30-40 notes, the scents she created for WAR Flowers are pared down, containing only 10-12 notes, as the experience is not about the complexity or wearability, but is about the raw emotion (portrayed through such attributes as “innocence,” “devotion,” “grace,” “memory,” “eternal sleep” and more). Alexandra created scents that are soft and delicate and respectful, and I’m curious to experience them for myself, especially after Alexandra shared an anecdote about a woman who, after attending the exhibition in Grand-Métis, drove over six hours to visit Alexandra at her barn, just to speak with her about how touched she was by the scents and what they represented. Though the emotions that make up the ten stations at the exhibition were inspired by soldiers who fought in the First World War, they are enduring attributes of the human spirit, and I hope the experience will connect me in a new and meaningful way with my grandfather who fought in the Second World War (and yes, that would be the same grandfather who I’m reminded of every time I smell pipe tobacco). If you would like to experience the exhibition too, WAR Flowers: A Touring Exhibition is on display at the Campbell House Museum in Toronto from January 24th - March 25th, 2018. Experience the scents, the sounds, the preserved flowers, soldier letters, and crystal sculptures before the exhibition leaves Toronto and heads to its next location in Vimy, France.
Want more? Here’s what #WeWantToKnow about Alexandra:
I can't start my morning without…enjoying the panoramic view from our house over Lake Memphremagog. Every sunrise brings its own mixture of striking colors and inspiring atmospheric effects.
I have a weakness for… making wild flowers arrangements for my desk at The Perfumer’s Barn. I'm fascinated by their colour and texture and inspired by their smell. I have a small garden that I delight in breeding and harvesting each summer.
Most people don't know that I…spent my childhood in a 19th century estate restored into a resort-hotel in the countryside of the Eastern Townships. The place was vast and I spent my days discovering new secret places that were full of unusual and wonderful vintage objects to cultivate a child's imagination.
Currently reading…a book on the cotton industry in the 20th century. I am in the process of researching a future perfume that I will create, intended for an exhibition, which will evoke this particular note.
I want… to give happiness and empowerment through my perfumes. I find that scents are a powerful medium and bring so much joy and energy in a daily ritual. I love when someone opens his wings by finding the right fragrance for them.
Thank you Alexandra, for participating in #WeWantToKnow!