The French Institute of Cambodia has partnered with Nez or le mouvement culturel olfactive to present a perfume called In the Arboretum by a Cambodian contemporary artist and a French perfumer to celebrate its 30th anniversary and the role it has played in promoting cultural, artistic and academic ties between the two countries.
Pich Sopheap – a visual artist famed for using traditional Cambodian materials to create his sculptures – and French perfumer Violaine Collas have collaborated to create the special fragrance during their residency at the International Centre for Glass and Plastic Arts (CIRVA).
The first artist from Southeast Asia to have been given a residency at CIRVA in Marseille, France, Sopheap says he had never worn perfume or cologne before until he became the co-creator of a fragrance.
When asked to describe the fragrance, the 51-year-old artist – famous for his conceptual rattan sculptures – found himself at a loss for words. The scent in the bottle eluded precise description for Sopheap, but he says smells from nature are his preference and that was the inspiration for the fragrance.
“I’d never thought before of what bamboo really smells like. If I put it into words, I’d say it is both mild and strong. It’s somehow like the smell of a flower, but we almost never notice that about it,” he says.
Often working with bamboo, rattan, resin, plywood, metal, wire and wax when sculpting, Sopheap says that his materials have certain memorable and complex smells to them.
“The wax that I use for sculptures can smell like honey – mild natural odour – or sometimes stronger like animals,” he says.
For the In the Arboretum fragrance for the Institut Francais du Cambodge’s (IFC) 30th anniversary, Sopheap and Collas bring out the scent of the spice Cardamom as a reminder of the mountain range in the southwest of Cambodia.
They also employed spicy Sichuan pepper and the scent of mango leaves from Sopheap’s garden at home and they blended cistus plant and vanilla with the gentle smell of freshly cut bamboo, which is also a material Sopheap opts to use when making his contemporary artworks.
The fragrance was launched on the opening day of “third cultural season” of the IFC on June 2 and 300 flacons [small stoppered bottles] of the perfume were ordered by a high-ranking Cambodian official on the spot.
“Sok Chenda Sophea, secretary-general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia, was present yesterday at the inauguration of “Vent d’Asie”, the new cultural season at the Institut Français du Cambodge. He ordered the first 300 flacons of the perfume In the Arboretum, created by Sopheap Pich and Violaine Collas on the occasion of our 30th anniversary,” according to the IFC’s Facebook post.
The perfume comes in 15 millilitre cylindrical bottles and is on sale for $25 at the reception desk of the IFC.
In addition to this perfume, twenty four other fragrances from eight of the world’s most famous fashion houses along with iconic pictorial stories are being showcased at the Fashion & Fragrances exhibition at the institute until October 22.
The fashion houses featured in the exhibition are Chanel, Rochas, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Thierry Mugler, Kenzo and Jean-Paul Gaultier. It was was officially opened on June 2 featuring a culinary performance by artist Lei Saito and music from artists on the independent hip-hop and alternative music label Klap Ya Handz.
According to Chhon Bunchhoeun, the institute’s communications assistant, the exhibition highlights how modern cultures are keeping up with, creating and responding to global trends.
“The reason that we chose a fragrance to showcase in the third cultural season of the IFC is that perfume, design, fashion and gastronomy have all always been important elements of our daily modern lives,” he says. “The focus is on the links that unite fashion and perfume disciplines and the way they feed each other and grow together through a historical approach.”
Visitors to the institute can browse through bottles of perfume and view the portraits of eight iconic fashion houses while learning about the history of fragrances.
At the beginning of the 20th century fragrances and fashion began their long association with Paul Poiret being an early pioneer. A revolution in the art of Western perfumery was made possible by the advent of chemical synthesis and the laboratory creation of many fragrant molecules.
“This dress suits you perfectly, but a drop of my perfume on the hem and it will suit you down the ground,” Poiret was quoted saying to his clients in the institute’s press release.
Through time, clothes, fragrances and their packaging formed an ensemble and many designers then sought the service of an “in-house” perfumer creator.
Some key players who shaped the history and industry of perfumery are Maurice Shaller at Poiret, Henri Almeras at Patou, Maurice Blanchet at Worth and Andre Fraysse at Lanvin.
Whether the fragrance is feminine or masculine, couture or ready-to-wear, most major fashion designers, jewellers and makers of leather goods have now found their scented expressions.
The Fashion & Perfume exhibition is open and entry is free of charge until October 22, 2022.
However, only 15 people are allowed in the gallery room at a time, so it is advised to make appointments in advance to ensure that you can view and experience the exhibition without any waiting period.
Visitors from age 7 and up can also book a fun fragrance workshop called “Scented Goose Game” where they compete as a team in order to advance as quickly as possible on a lotto edition board of scents.
Bookings can be done via: [email protected]
The IFC is located at #218 St 184 in Phnom Penh.