british artist julian opie  has carved out a name for himself with a bold graphic style that's instantly recognizable. a graduate from london's prestigious goldsmiths institute, opie often presents presents his images as black outlines and simplified areas of colour, and it's clear to see many influences, ranging from minimal and pop art, to billboard signs, classical portraiture and sculpture. the artist currently has a solo exhibition at maho kubota gallery in tokyo, presenting no less than 14 new works, including paintings, but with a certain emphasis on video. the gallery space has been recreated into a labyrinthine space that invites viewers to wander through the narrow maze, and interestingly, any movements will come to echo those in the paintings on the walls. through the video work at the subsequent corner, the viewer will experience a complex perceptual process like a simulation of the outside world. opie aims to evoke a realization of the fact that we often impart life to the world through the act of seeing, but while being a visual experience, art is, in fact, not merely an experience of the eyes alone, but a truly complex and comprehensive perceptual experience that we only first become aware of when all five senses have been mobilized [on through dec 3]. location: 2-4-7 jingumae [harajuku].
affiliated to united arrows, one of japan's largest retail conglomerates, the newly launched blamink label initially targets a savvy female demographic with high-end apparel pieces by japanese designer misako yoshitake. interestingly, the brand steers clear from fashion's seasonal cycles, and also provides a made-to-order service to customers. blamink has made its debut with a full-fledged collection for the current fall/winter season, but to complete the launch, a matching flagship store in aoyama, one of tokyo's most coveted shopping districts, has simultaneously opened its doors.
the store measures approx. 260 sqm. [2,799 sq.ft.] set over two floors, and lauded designer masamichi katayama of design practice wonderwall has collaborated closely with yoshitake to create a matching retail setting. the aesthetic is reminiscent of the bauhaus school building in dessau, and downstairs it's largely defined by a black tiled floor which provides a grid backdrop for a wooden table, display and cabinet with metal framework. clothing items are showcased on mannequins and clothing racks, but also in a backlit recessed wall section, along with bags and accessories. opposite, a black metal staircase is flanked by wooden cabinet filled with books.
upstairs the premises gain a lofty dimension and the aesthetic acquires a homey edge, featuring parquet flooring with fishbone motif, similar whitewashed walls and a number of strategically placed large mirrors which reflect incoming daylight and optically increase the space at the same time. however, the staircase's black metal railing is prominently visible, connecting both floors in more ways than one. the blamink store carries the brand's full range of clothing, but the merchandise is also complemented with footwear by pierre hardy and j.m. weston, marie-hélène de taillac's jewellery pieces, and a carefully selected range of accessories. plans are underway to launch men's items in the near future. location: 6-3-16 minami aoyama [aoyama].
© parfums quartana / photography: daniel lieb
the world of fragrance is an ambiguous place, it reminds us a bit of wine making. complicated terminology, bubbling vats of plant particles, micro-distillation and complexed potions far removed from anyone's basic understanding of a recipe. for some, it takes years to find the perfect scent, something that resonates on multiple levels, an aromatic representation of who we are. for others, fragrance is more perfunctory, used to mask the undesirable traces of our basic humanity. personally, it's always been a tough one for me. a game of numbers and a frequent survey of kitsch bottles lined up at department stores, spritzing away on paper strips – only to discover that one's sense of smell is probably the easiest to overwhelm, and fast.
in the end, it was often back to a trusty deodorant stick and a sobering note to self: try to avoid suffocating on gallons of designer toxins next time. when we heard our friend joseph quartana had launched a new line of fragrances called parfums quartana, we pounced on the opportunity to flip the lid on the realm of redolence. quartana has an intriguing history in the fashion business. we met years ago when he was running seven new york, one of the only boutiques stateside at the time, that carried the more niche designer obscurity – think the likes of raf simons, bernhard willhelm, gareth pugh, and many others. he has also actively developed scents in collaboration with quite a few of our favourite designers over the years.
so, we felt certain we'd found the right person to interrogate, and requested a boat load of quartana potions. packaged in modernist psychedelia and masterful blurbs full of exotic base notes, delirious over tones and poisonous sounding sources, to be honest, there wasn't one concoction we didn't respond to. some we loved on us, others we loved just for their bold personalities. what we found most curious was the seamless fusion of modernity and esoterism behind each elixir – all pleasantly, and at times, alarmingly intoxicating. we caught up with joseph quartana recently for drinks, a brief history of scent, his background in the fashion industry, and how it lead to a career as an olfactory maestro.
tell us a bit about your background, of course we already know you as the guy who ran former avant-garde fashion shrine seven new york. i accepted a scholarship to nyu in the early 1990s, more to live in downtown new york as i wanted to be there to eventually work in the music industry. but when i graduated, napster came along so suddenly, the music business became unattractive as there was no money to be made! at the time, i was dating a fashion designer, who i later married, so i was exposed to that world and fell in love with it, and decided i wanted to apply my study of economics to that field instead, and to handle the business side of things, i.e. buying. with seed money i earned from investing my parents' savings during the first internet boom, i started seven back in 1999, and directed it for thirteen years, focusing on the more cutting-edge side of the fashion world, as no one was really doing that in new york city at the time.
what was it that drew you to fragrances, specifically given your leaning toward the obscure as a brand curator? by about 2007, i was getting bored with fashion as my boutique was 'humming' along, and the opportunity came up to develop a capsule fragrance collection. at the time i really knew nothing about the world of fragrance, other than that i liked it and considered a scent to be the finishing touch of my personal style. i thought it might be interesting to develop a series of fragrances with the edgy designers i had been working with at seven, namely guys like bernhard willhelm, jeremy scott, preen, gareth pugh, i.e. those designers influential enough in the industry that they should have a fragrance but not necessarily big enough that they could have a fragrance. by doing six at a time, we could reach factory minimums, hence six scents parfums was born. it was niche, and pretty obscure from the get go because these designers were still pretty unknown at the time, although now some are quite famous.
can you break down the science of creating a fragrance in layman's terms? the easiest way to look at it is by drawing an analogy to recording a song. you start with a vision. then you work out the notes, and those notes must harmonize like the hook in a good track. you have a progression, which is how it changes and evolves once it's unleashed, which should take the wearer somewhere. and then you have a mix down where you work out the concentrations of the fragrance, specifically each note as they become 'louder' or 'softer', depending on the overall concentration of oil to alcohol, and which can be likened to mixing down an album in the studio where you are adjusting sound levels.
© parfums quartana / photography: david uzzardi
what makes a scent good in your mind? achieving a harmony is a lot more difficult than it might seem! with some of the new fragrances, we went through literally 150 variations and it was two years before they began to 'sing'. but what really makes a scent good, is how it reacts to your particular skin. you see, every fragrance has top notes, what you smell in the first 30 minutes, heart notes, which is what it settles into for most of the duration, and then base notes, which is what it ultimately dries down to. but you, the wearer, are the magical fourth note and depending upon your diet, genetics, health, ph level, and even ethnicity, your skin is going to warp the fragrance a bit. i guarantee you, if you and i put on the same scent, it will smell a bit different on each of us. so, you have to find what works specifically for you.
key us in on the main components of parfums quartana. the fragrances are certainly distinguished by a blend of hypnotic vs subtly narcotic. are you curating a mood with each or is it more cerebral? more of a mood, though there is a general feel that permeates the whole collection which acts as a common thread and then specific moods that apply to each, with each vastly different depending upon the folklore of each of the poison flowers which is where we took the bulk of our inspiration from. it's somewhat cerebral in as far as a fragrance can be; but i'd say they mainly appeal to the emotions, though how you interpret the scent and the emotions it conjures is what makes it cerebral.
with les potions fatales we did wish to conjure specific imagery in one's mind for each, and the short films that i'm making for each help to illustrate each direction, specifically the imaginary femme-fatale that symbolizes each, as we wished them to be deceptively beautiful but ultimately dark and sinister like a poison flower. and each [with the exception of digitalis which is fresh and sparkly and ozonic as that flower was used to conjure faeries] is quite dirty or boozy or narcotic; i kept telling the perfumers to think about gasoline, how it is sweet and alluring, but you know it is toxic.
there is an obvious relationship between fragrance and fashion, how do you go about pairing the two? through the packaging. remember that fragrance is essentially invisible! and it's extremely challenging to communicate what it smells like through a computer monitor, even if you list out all the accords. so, the packaging is quite vital, much like the album cover art of a record; it gives you the first hint of where it's going.
can you elaborate on the artistry and visuals you used for the project? for les potions fatales, my art director aerosyn-lex mestrovic and I decided the scope was already dark so we didn't want to do a black colour scheme, and instead did something quite the opposite: bright colours. and to get them to pop and to make the point they are more 'evening-y' fragrances, we set those bright colours against a midnight blue backdrop. we opted for silver chrome to suggest the magic mirror from snow white which figured into the belladonna lore, and anyway i think gold as a metal is tacky and overused in perfumery. the swirly patterns started from the concept of aposematism which is when organisms signal they are toxic through bright colours and bold patterns on their skin.
think frogs, snakes, fish, insects, even skunks are an example of this, and aerosyn-lex abstracted them out through his paintings to suggest the hallucinations one gets from getting poisoned. the colours of each are not arbitrary by the way, i had people smell the fragrances without telling them anything about it, and asked what were the first three colours that come to mind, and where there was overlap those become the essential colours of each poison flower perfume, so they look like they smell. finally, there's a blue-amethyst inspired bottle safely contained in a 'metal' box, as the ancient greeks stored their poisons in that medium.
from a market perspective, the fashion calendar is crammed with seasons, how does this apply to scent? it's one of the reasons i left the business, it's really too much these days! of course fragrances follow trend cycles too, but they are much longer, i'd say five to ten year cycles, whereas fashion is much, much faster, with yearly turnover. that said, chanel no. 5 is almost a 100 years old, and people still wear it. and viktor & rolf's flowerbomb, which is one of my favourite mainstream fragrances, is over ten years old and still going strong. also, some fragrances are more appropriate to the season, there are winter, spring, summer, and fall fragrances, so some people rotate through them. and then others, once they find their signature scent, never change it.
do you plan on expanding into other areas with fragrance in the future? i'd like to introduce candles next, and then plan to reissue the best-sellers of six scents in 2017 at some point, but in updated packaging. eventually six scents series 5, as it's totally overdue. as for parfums quartana, i'm not sure yet which direction i'll take it in next.
lastly, what's your favourite of the current parfums quartana collection? that's like asking someone which of their children is a favorite! honestly, i love them all and put an equal amount of time into rendering and perfecting each. i wouldn't have dared put my name on any one of them if I didn't think they couldn't be further improved. each one points in a vastly different direction, but is related to the others, so there's something for everyone: green, gourmand, super florals, white florals, fruity florals, dirty animalics, narcotic orientals, etc. personally, i have been wearing the lily of the valley in the warmer weather, and wolfsbane in the cooler months, but i really adore the smell of venetian belladonna and midnight datura on women; they make me a little crazy in fact.
the transformation of de bijenkorf's flagship store isn't something that its current proprietors aimed to accomplish overnight. instead, it has been a gradual adaptation to global luxury standards, and one that has also helped to slowly usher its large dutch following into an advanced domain of upscale consumerism unprecedented in the company's history. the department store has occupied a landmark building in amsterdam's historic canal district since 1915, and it's here where this new luxury trajectory is most visible among its network of branches nationwide. the very latest revamp on the premises concerned the men's department on the second floor, supervised by london-based practice alex cochrane architects.
measuring a sizeable 500 sqm. [5,382 sq.ft.] and located below a multi-storey atrium, a flood of natural light cascades down on a sleek aesthetic, captured by light oak paneling and displays, some adorned by dark green marble tops, and flooring in contrasting lighter stone. de bijenkorf's renewed men's department has aptly expanded its offerings, and now also includes the on-trend apparel collections by balenciaga, givenchy and dsquared2. along with the renovation, the men's shoe department has been remodeled accordingly, making it almost a destination in its own right. high-end sneakers, arguably the most booming trophy item in the dutch capital, are prominently featured, and entirely new to the premises is a shop-in-shop by tod's. location: dam 1, second floor [centrum].
few countries boast a culture that's so meticulously intertwined with aesthetics than japan, and the country's ancient capital of kyoto is widely acknowledged as its very epicentre. situated in the bustling heart of town is hotel kanra kyoto, a boutique property that adds to the city's cultural reputation from a hospitality angle with a recently unveiled design concept that's themed heritage and innovation. but next to being renovated, the hotel has also seen a considerable expansion to 68 rooms by acquiring an adjacent building. although owner uds, an urban development company based in tokyo, has maintained the so-called machiya aesthetic, the renewed premises feature even more uniquely japanese design elements.
both the guest rooms and public areas areas feature local design, such as kiyomizu-ware ceramic tile and sinks, nishijin brocade bed foot throws, and distinctive traditional paper-covered sliding partitions. the newly added rooms come in four categories, ranging from compact double rooms to superior twins suited to families and groups, deluxe twin rooms, and for those who like to splurge, the spacious kanra suite, is readily available. and obviously, japanese artwork can be found throughout the premises, including works by resident artist sai, whose hammered copper metalwork takes the theme of raked japanese garden sand.
some of the added rooms also have unique views of kyoto tower and higashi hongan, a 17th century temple. the design objective has been executed consistently and also encompasses all of hotel kanra kyoto's pubic spaces and facilities. the kanra lounge on the ground floor, featuring a café and a boutique, oozes local culture as well. the café is an ideal spot to wind down over freshly made coffee and exquisite sweet bites made by famed traditional confectionary shioyoshiken. views of the landscaped garden right outside by architect kanji nomura heightens the sense of tranquility of the place.
the adjacent shop is packed with carefully sourced artisanal craftwork from all over the archipelago, and some are even exclusively sold here. one corner of the shop is occupied by a workshop where visitors can observe the work of masters of kintsugi, the traditional art of repairing pottery with lacquer, gold powder and other materials. feeling peckish? the kitchen kanra, is an informal eatery with a vibrant décor, captured by varied furniture colours, designs and patterns, and serving season-inspired fine Italian cuisine, prepared in an open kitchen with a wood-fired oven. but hotel kanra tokyo's culinary trump card has to be the newly opened second dining venue called hanaroku.
it's a teppanyaki grill with a menu of dishes centered around kyoto beef and other locally produced meats, all expertly cooked on a traditional teppan iron plate grill, in addition to various sakes varieties from small-batch brewers, and a superb range of vegetarian options. mind you, dishes are served on kyoyaki, the most refined of the cityʼs traditional ceramic styles. coming december will see the opening the kanra spa on the first floor of the existing hotel building. recreated as a detached villa, the facility boasts four luxurious japanese-style private rooms, and aptly uses local ingredients and plants to offer a healing treatments. location: 190 kitamachi karasuma-dori rokujo sagaru [central kyoto].
as if to honour its german roots, high-end fashion brand jil sander introduced its new retail design at the flagship store on the swanky kurfürstendamm thoroughfare in berlin. occupying a ground floor unit of a landmark structure built in 1900 with an ornate art nouveau façade, the new aesthetic, created by milan-based practice andrea tognan architecture, is almost defiantly modern and understated, and clearly extrapolates jil sander's clean designs. geometrical forms of the square and the rectangle largely define the premises, along with more fluent shapes that convey a zen-like sense of spatial harmony, and yet provide functionality at the same time.
the palette of the fixtures and furnishings comprises of a compatible range of materials, such as a range of meticulously made resins, marble varieties, and eulithe foam, that not only fuse tradition and innovation, but also aim to communicate a new and different kind of contemporary luxury. both the furnishings and fistures have a sculptural quality and add visual drama to the understated premises, most notably the brass bronze tables and cabinets, steel clothing racks, and an elaborate lighting installation that covers almost the entire ceiling. the new jil sander store stocks the brand's full range of men's and women's apparel, accessories, bags, shoes, eyewear and fragrances. location: kurfürstendamm 185 [charlottenburg].
the timeless silhouettes of alexandre mattiussi has hit a sensitive nerve among a demographic of fashion-conscious males, and although his ami label can already be found on the shelves of many a respectable store across the planet, the paris-based designer continues to expand his network of branded boutiques. following last year's opening of a boutique in tokyo – an event we talked about in a previous post – the designer has now struck a collab with luxury retailer i.t to set up shop in hong kong. the new ami outpost adds up to a cluster of stores that the company already operates at the location, but as a branded retail space it obviously distinguishes itself through ami's distinct design codes. in fact, the retail space follows the vintage-inspired design codes of the tokyo store, and which were once laid down by paris-based architecture practice studio ko, featuring a mosaic mirror wall backdrop, mirrored pillars, ornamented parquet flooring, brass fixtures throughout the premises, and all off-set by ceiling in dipped a dark blue shade. the new ami boutique carries the brand's full range of men's apparel, shoes and accessories. location: 53 paterson street [causeway bay].
andenken gallery owner hyland mather is a busy jack of all trades who also easily aligns his artistic vision and preferences with interesting artists around the planet, and making vital connections along the way. as a result, he automatically befriends the creatives that he professionally represents – well, it actually works both ways – enabling him to stage many an interesting show. mather's upcoming event, two tandem solo exhibitions by american artists evan hecox and drew leshko, opens fri – oct 28 [6pm-10pm], but instead of his own gallery space, he has opted to host the event at amsterdam's newly opened venue of makeversity. entitled northern, hecox's show presents 15 new paintings, all in his distinctive style, and based on photographs from his visits last october to amsterdam, utrecht, and iceland. leshko's presentation is called heaven is whenever, and puts on display his highly representational intimate sculptures of gritty urban landscapes and worn travel vehicles, all in a 1:12 classic dollhouse scale. location: makerversity, kattenburgerstraat 5, building 27e [centrum].
it's safe to say that the democratization of travel in the modern age got a kick-start in the late 1970s with the airline deregulation act stateside. the transition of control over air travel shifting from the political to the market sphere has since then been adopted across the planet, and spurred on by new technology – think bigger or more fuel-efficient airplanes, and let's not forget the miracle that's called internet – it has hugely expanded both our travel range and options. but the travel bug also affects infrastructures equally far and wide, and has now even reached the sunny shores of ecuador.
contemporary budget hotels may have been all the rage for quite some time in europe, asia and across north america, but only recently did the first such property open in the equator-straddling country. situated in guayaquil, its biggest city, the so-called yu! hotels chain cleverly launched its first venue in las peñas, a scenic quarter with many historic buildings that draws in visitors by droves. local architect alfredo de león méndez designed a new structure from sustainable materials that takes full advantage of the modest plot of land, and it was constructed in such a way that all of the 20 rooms, spread over five floors, have a good view to the city, thorough ventilation, and plenty of natural light.
the rooms at yu! hotel measure just 15 sqm. [162 sq.ft.], but what it may lack in size, it surely makes up with the package of comfort and amenities that modern travellers expect these days, including a kingsize wall-to-wall bed, a bathroom with rainshower, a 32-inch led television, free wifi, and as said, air-conditioning. additional facilities at the hotel include a self-service snack bar, a meeting room and an upper balcony for the best views in the house. needless to say, this place arguably is the best option for budget travelers heading to this part of the world to explore its many treasures. location: avenida vicente rocafuerte 250 [las peñas].
the name giorgio armani is synonymous to milan's reputation as a global fashion capital, and as the top creative honcho of his empire, he's undoubtedly put his stamp on the city. profusely acclaimed for his skills in fashion design, armani hasn't stopped there, and branched out with a growing number of hospitality venues across the globe. not surprisingly, he has bestowed his homebase milan with a number of sleekly designed downtown venues. one of those hospitality concepts combines the co-owned nobu restaurant, opened in 2000 and still a fave among well-heeled milanesi, with an adjacent club called armani/privé.
the latter venue has recently been given a thorough make-over by the designer and his team of architects, featuring a new interior design and configuration that makes it appear more spacious than its actual 640 sqm. [6,889 sq.ft.]. a new logo in the shape of a lit lantern discreetly beckons its patrons at the entrance, while a new and exclusive entrance around the corner on via manzoni has been created for v.i.p. guests. indoor access via nobu restaurant remains available. the club now boasts a lounge with a central bar and dance floor, in addition to a second, more intimate bar area. the chosen palette is monochromatic and sensual, comprising of tones of gold and bronze, captured by luxurious materials and sleek design.
two imposing bar counters dominate the space with backlit tops, covered with sleek bronze-finish brass, and the dance area has its own dj booth. sophisticated lighting contributes a great deal to the atmosphere, created largely by backlit wall panels that have been embellished by gold metallic mesh. the space is dotted with a compatible range of furniture pieces, including tables, again with backlit tops, contoured armchairs covered in gold leather and scatter cushions. the armani/privé club is open from september through june, and presenst a rotating schedule of both italian and international deejays that keep you entertained until the wee small hours. location: via gastone pisone 1 [duomo].