Center for Soft Power 12 May, 2020
Issey Miyake’s summer range of fragrance is inspired by the art of kolam drawing and has been named Shades of Kolam as a tribute to this ancient Indian art. It is a perfume that celebrates three cultures – the rich fusion of Japanese fine aesthetics, rich colourful vignettes from Indian landscape and the fine French art of distilling fragrances into sublime creations.
Acknowledging the hold of Indian summer on Europeans, Issey Miyake launched this range in 2020 and rightly so. The onset of Indian summer is announced with much fanfare in Europe the moment temperatures soar over 30 degrees Celsius!
Issey Miyake is a Japanese fashion designer. He is known for his technology-driven clothing designs, exhibitions and fragrances, such as L’eau d’Issey, which has become a very popular product. So, what is a leading international design house known for its innovative creations and cutting edges technological breakthroughs doing with centuries old Kolam?
Issey Miyake Inc is a brand that has consistently broken the barriers between the East and the West. It seemed inevitable that it would seek inspiration from India. It entrusted French perfumer Marie Salamagne to translate kolams into a fragrance.
India is known as a pioneer in the art of making perfumes from naturally occurring fragrant substances. It is a 7000-year-old tradition. The art of natural, non-alcoholic perfume concentrates goes back to the time of the Vedas, material proof can be seen in the terracotta distillation apparatus in the Indus valley and perfume making is mentioned in the Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita and in the astronomical work called Brihat-Samhita written by Varahamihira.
India is also a treasure trove of natural resources, the stunning diversity of innumerable flowers, herbs, spices, and woods provided an exquisite canvas to Marie Salamagne to create the most ethereal fragrances.
The extraordinary journey began Marie Salamagne, along with the designer duo Fanny Le Bras and Clémentine Berry from Twice Studio based in Paris, collaborated as a trio for the first time and visited Chennai.
© Issey Miyake
This journey also became a narrative for documenting in fragrance the creative powers of women. Kolam is an exclusive preserve of Tamil women, the perfumer Marie Salamagne, and the artist duo Clémentine Berry and Fanny Le Bras were women and finally the curator of the trip was a woman, Chantal Jumel.
The doors to the world of Indian fragrances and kolam were opened by Chantal Jumel . She is an expert on Kolams and has documented Kolams, the ephemeral art. She became a guide, mentor and curated the kolam experience for the trio. Explaining about her role as an advisor, she said: “All I know was that they wanted me as an expert to organize the trip and meetings with the artists. It was for the first time in perfume history that a fragrance was linked to kolams and for sure nothing would have been on this scale if I did not have a foot in South-India and connection with the women artists.”
Crédit Photos: Brian du Halgouet/Blackbear
Chantal organised a meeting with the kolam artists. She is a part of the kolam family – Rangavalli. The artists were enthusiastic with this collaboration. She chose seven artists; Lakshmi Rekhotsava, Gandhimathy Senthilkumar, Prathima Udupa, Anuradha Kamalakannan, Bala Chandrasekharan, Mythili Vijayaragavan, and Subathra Sankaran. Each has a unique way of approaching kolams and each was eager to share their knowledge with the French team. They could understand the requirements and created kolam designs as per the wishes of the clients. This language of dots and lines has universal appeal and needed no translating.
The trio had come with a mission as Twice studio says, to “Bring the world of Issey Miyake together with the opulence of the Indian Kolam,” and Marie Salamagne adds: “With this magical background and with the license from Issey Miyake, I have never felt so inspired.”
Marie Salamagne’s comparison between Issey Miyake and Kolam makes sense. She says, Issey Miyake is an alliance of disruption, great readability, and simplicity just like the kolam.
Kolam is a unique art that has been passed down from mother to daughter for centuries. It is a magical technique that combines artistic expression and mathematical thinking. Perhaps the geometry of kolam appealed to the design sensibility of Issey Miyake.
The interlinked diverse forms are an invitation to creativity. Despite the fact that Kolam has a set of guidelines, each work bears the signature of the creator . It can be simple and autere or colourful and joyous just like Issey Miyake’s creations!
Perhaps the transient nature of the art appeals. The ephemeral nature resonates with the sublime fragrance, one moment on the skin and the next gone with the wind!
More importantly Kolam reflects Issey Miyake’s attitude: Design is not for philosophy – it is for life. Kolam for sure is a way of life for millions of women in Tamil Nadu who adorn the threshold of their homes every morning with a Kolam.
At Dakshinachitra, the trio discovered women who magically took them into the world of kolams, in all its forms and colours. Marie Salamagne created her idea book. She says writing for scent is complex. It can refer to a place or a feeling. She was moved by the movement of the fingers drawing kolams “There are beautiful gestures that can be translated into fragrance.” She draws a parallel between colours of kolam and body of a fragrance. Colours which are not picked randomly, colours which are vibrant, intense, and full of contrasts. To explore these colours further she tripped to the flower market where she was bedazzled!
© Issey Miyake
A trip to the spice market heightened the senses further. The kolam artists gave them tips which happily found place in her fragrance book. When she came back, she used her notes and the memory of kolam which became a trigger for the creation of a summer fragrance reminiscent of the colours and scents they had encountered at Chennai. Out of which was born; L’eau D’issey Shade of Kolam and L’eau D’issey Pour Homme Shade of Kolam.
L’eau D’issey Shade of Kolam (perfume for women)
The inspiration for Marie behind was: A Kolam drawing at nightfall. Recalling which Marie says, “One evening we wanted to meet a group of women for a Kolam demonstration. They were waiting for us in their gorgeous saris, with jasmine flowers in their hair, and whirled across the floor to draw incredible arabesques. I wanted to capture that magical moment. ”
© Issey Miyake
She created floral, woody and solar fragrance. The top notes are grapefruit, a floral note of freesia and a hint of cardamom. The main middle note is Indian Sambac jasmine that envelops the five senses. With lightly fragrant rose petals, centifolia rose evokes the movement of petals. The base notes are powdery, milky basmati rice (a rice excellent for perfumes) with the sophisticated, urban touch of cedar.
To breathe life into the bottles of this special edition, the designers of Twice studio created a typography in the Kolam style. The intertwined letters are evidence of this subtle art. The fresh, bright colours are due to the pigments used for the drawings on the floor. But they are also the colours of India, a country where light turns every colour into unique emotions.
The famous Indian pink was chosen for L’Eau d’Issey, a magnetic shade that gently spreads in the bottle and lets the closure shine. Iconic photos of this unique experience adorn the packaging. An invitation to travel.
A detail of Anuradha’s kolam has been chosen for the package of Shades of kolam perfume for women. Her kolam taps into feminine creativity to dwell into inner peace.
L’eau D’issey Pour Homme Shade of Kolam (Perfume for men)
Marie was inspired by the men in the spice market. Marie says: “In the spice market, I was overwhelmed by the elegance of the dealers. They looked like princes, all dressed in white, amidst colourful mountains of spices. The inspiration for the woody, spicy note comes from its beauty and cardamom aromas.”
© Issey Miyake
She created a woody, spicy, green fragrance. The top notes are a burst of cardamom backed by two luminous citrus notes of pomelo and bergamot. The middle notes are green tea which draws out the elegance of the sophisticated coriander seed. The woody base notes are led by cedar and cashmeran. They evoke the incandescent warmth of southern India and the softness of the milky cardamom tea drunk in the markets of Chennai.
To breathe life into the bottles of this special edition, the designers of Twice studio created the typography, inspired by the art of Kolam. It winds up in a spiral and draws the name of the perfume. The prevailing nuance, this bright royal blue, which appears transparent on the bottle and penetrating on the cap, shows us that even blue is a warm colour in India.
Prathima the kolam artist’s sikku kolam or entangled kolam enhances the package of Shades of kolam perfume for men. Hopefully wearing the fragrance may enable them to untangle life’s problems easily!
Lakshmi Rekhotsava’s kolam woven with simple and thick lines has found a new space on the package of Shades of kolam perfume for men.
Issaye Miyake’s Shades of Kolam fragrance has been a proud moment for the uncelebrated artists of Kolam from India whose work will now grace the ledges of the stratified world of high fashion. It owes a lot to Chantal whose main intention was to present the women artists. These artists were thrilled to be part of such a venture and proud to display their talents. They totally mesmerized the French team by this unique form! These go on sale nationwide from May 27.
Through Issey Miyake’s Shades of Kolam line of fragrances, the kolam has become a visual symbol for an Indian inspired fragrance. The dots and lines of the kolam reminding one of a land laden with potent of fragrances of flowers and spices and an invigorating cup of masala chai, nothing subtle or mellow about it but rich and heady!
(Cover Pic: @ Issey Miyake)
This story by Aparna Mishra was originally published in SoftPowerMag