Secret Scents: Drawing The unknown


If a perfume can transport you to another place, another time – then imagine what that place would look like if it were a drawing.

It was a sunny afternoon last month, when, I met perfumer Francesca Bianchi during a perfume event at the Annindriya perfume Lounge boutique in Amsterdam.In the beautiful garden behind the boutique we talked about art and fragrances. Francesca graduated in History of Art in Florence before becoming a perfumer. I told her how I often like to use perfume as an inspiration when making drawings. I feel that creating a scent has many connections to composing a drawing. The main difference at the moment between the two for me is that I know my drawing tools much better than I know my raw materials for making perfume.


The things drawing and perfume making have in common are composition,skills and imagination. Francesca asked me if I had tried her three perfumes and I had to admit that, although I’d heard about them, I had not tried them. We talked some more and then came up with the idea of me blind testing her three creations and drawing only from what I smelled. I promised to not read reviews on her perfumes nor check Francesca’s website, as to not be pre-informed.

insect copydrawing - untitled scents.jpgA week later we met up in her Amsterdam based laboratory and I was given 3 numbered samples. A few days later in my studio, I unwrapped the samples to smell the perfumes and write down some notes. It was funny that two of the fragrances spoke to me in colors more than they did in shape, whereas one of the three, the  vial numbered 2 spoke to me in image too: It was the perfume that I started to visualize first. For me this perfume had a golden pink beachy vibe, fruity like dripping ripe peaches. Fresh and salty – at the same time it reminded me of cold sweet snow. I tried the perfumes on both paper and on my skin, and this particular one was the one fragrance out of the three that seemed to go  ‘under my skin’ -alsmost as if it was a tiny magical fantasy insect.

drawingno1version2jpg copy.jpg

So a few days later  I re-smelled all three perfumes and made two drawings for vial number 1 of which the one above best visualizes the perfume. In my notes I describe this perfume as bold, strong, a red mix of spice and powder, both sweet and dark, slightly animalic. To me this was a perfume that was dark red, brown and round in form with a sharp edge. I felt that although this is a perfume with a strong sexy presence, it’s also a bit ‘calm and contemplative’ which I wanted to portray in the drawing.

chestergibs-sleeping angel's dust.jpgFairytale. Strange. Earthy. Sparkling opening. Moss. Floral. Woods. Fresh Fantasy Forest. Powder.Softly. Unconsciencesness. Beauty. Plants. Just some of the thoughts that came up when I smelled this. I felt there was ‘floral wet earth’ in this perfume- It stirred up images of giant floating plantlike creatures and a sleeping beauty. Perfume number 3 inspired me to draw a voyage into some place other than this world.When I finished the drawings I re-smelled all three perfumes again to see if I had indeed managed to visualize them into drawing.

drawings in lab.jpg

Francesca and I set up another meeting in her laboratory. I was quite anxious to know what she thought of the works I had made, it’s always a bit of a thing; showing something you have created to someone else. Also I wondered if Francesca would ‘get’ my interpretation of her fragrances. And I was curious which perfumes I had smelled. I read Francesca my notes on each of her creations and showed her the corresponding image. Francesca comments she really liked the ‘under the skin’ idea I got from wearing perfume number 2. The vials’ contents were revealed to me: 1 contained ‘The Dark Side’ while vial number 2 contains “Sex And The Sea’ and number 3 was ‘Angel’s Dust’.
3xbpttles francesca.jpgIt was nice to finally know what the perfumes were and to speak with Francesca about her ideas behind those fragrant creations. After my visit I read reviews about the perfumes online and it’s interesting to see how a perfume like ‘Sex And The Sea’ to many is a sexy seductive perfume, while to me it also evoked images of tiny crawling perfumed creatures living beneath my skin.


A few days later, after we had shared the results of the ‘ secret scents’ experiment, Francesca wrote me some of her thoughts on our correspondence in olfactive and visual art. Francesca: “I am amazed by this sort of mentalist experiment, made between two creative people. You achieved to get in tune with what inspired me in creating my perfumes, and you rendered each of them with your personal artistic language – which I find fascinating, complex and consistent at the same time. I couldn’t receive a better compliment than seeing my inspiration speaking so clear to you, to the point that you were able to give it a new shape in your work. “

drawings - untitled scents copy“In Sex and The Sea’s drawing I loved your language, reminding me of Kandinsky but in an organic way, and your technical research with mixed media rich of tiny details, which gives your drawing almost the quality and charme of a beautiful miniature. The Angel’s Dust’s work is probably the one I love more, artistically speaking and also in the way it recreated the feminine atmosphere of the scent. The Dark Side is maybe the most complex and difficult and for this reason the most interesting, conveying all the different motives I summed up in the scent (mystical but sensual, sweet and strong, East and West, structured but decadent).” Each of Francesca’s Bianchi’s three perfumes have taken me on a different voyage ; It was  a wonderful, exciting challenge to listen to these ‘secret’ perfumes and visualize their souls!

You can find out more about Francesca’s perfumes by clicking here  

Click here for information about the Perfume lounge.

All images are copyrighted. Artwork made by Chester Gibs 2017 Amsterdam.All rights reserved.

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