January 23, 2019
Perfume for the post-digital
The world of perfume is changing. After an international upswing during the end of the last decennium, niche fragrances are all the rage. Stockholm’s aspiring middle class now smells of Gypsy Water, Santal 33 and Molecule 01. Globally, promising brands are bought by larger international firms on a regular basis, often resulting in increased prices and decreased creative freedom.
Stora Skuggan, on the other hand, seems determined to remain independent. The brand was founded in 2015 by Olle Hemmendorff and Tomas Hempel. After careers in advertising and creative direction, the two decided to become self-taught noses and launch their own fragrance line. The perfumes were initially composed in a garage, but since 2017 they have a store located at Östgötagatan 17 in Stockholm. Five people now make up Stora Skuggan’s workforce, doing everything from composing and bottling the fragrances, to packaging and distribution.
Stora Skuggan was founded in 2015. Why did you decide to launch your own brand?
We felt Sweden should have a great niche house. Our focus has never been to put ourselves in the spotlight. We wanted the brand to be about the craft, our perfumes and the stories around them, with lots of integrity.
How does that translate into your brand and its fragrances?
If you look at perfumery today, many brands are communicated as niche, but you’d probably agree that’s not true. They’re owned by corporations and produce their fragrances in factories, selling thousands and thousands of bottles all over the world. Our incentive was, and will always be, autonomy, and to follow our guts, regardless of what others are doing.
Describe your relationship to perfume before you decided to develop your own line.
We were never motivated by perfume, but by scent in general. One can smell people, nature or animals, whatever comes your way. It’s our most disregarded sense, yet the only one capable of instantly transporting you someplace different.
The brand’s first fragrance, Fantôme de Maules, was launched in 2015. It is a green-aquatic patchwork of synthetics illustrating a conflict between ambition and technique that tends to be a challenge for young, self-taught perfumers. Two years later Stora Skuggan launched Silphium based on the idea of an antique, now extinct herb. Proving that practice makes perfect, the smoky cedarwood composition managed to reach the finals of this year’s Art & Olfaction Awards, a big deal for a small indie brand.
" Our focus has never been to put ourselves in the spotlight"
Being nominated for the Artisan Category at this year’s Art and Olfaction Awards must have been an honour.
It was an honour, yes, and we’re very proud of it. Mostly because of the hard competition, but more than anything because of the way the judging is done. Experienced noses, artists and scientists blind smelled each perfume thoroughly. It is hard work, something we have a lot of respect for.
Why do you think Silphium reached the finals?
Silphium is a bold and complex perfume that is contemporary but also includes classical elements. We initially made versions that were super strange, however you always have to decide if you want the fragrance to be art or if you really want someone to wear it. The latter is, obviously, a lot harder, but we wanted to create something really special that one can wear from day to day.
The latest fragrance, Moonmilk, is a creamy sandalwood accord infused with tea and a hefty dose of lime. It is the most commercially appealing of the three, yet has the most imaginative source of inspiration: a natural phenomenon including alp caves and moonlit stalactites, described in 1555 by Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner.
Some of your references are both entertaining and clever. Where do you search for inspiration?
We usually discuss topics within the group that we find intriguing and unexpected. For example, Olle searches Wikipedia about 20 hours per week, so that is one important source of reference. But most of the time ideas come from random places or impulses with no specific pattern or process behind them.
Are the perfumes born as a result of shared ideas, or is there a clear author behind each composition?
We always come up with the story or idea for a new perfume first, something to narrow it down from “everything” to “something”. How that happens varies, but it must be something that intrigues us all. When we’ve found something that does, we delve deeper into that topic. The last step before composing the fragrance is to build a kind of universe around the subject, comprised of images, words, sounds and other things. We might visit places or talk to certain people if we find it useful. We like to think of ourselves as five nostrils attached to the same nose but with different qualities . Tomas created Fantôme de Maules and Moonmilk and Olle and Tomas made Silphium together, but the group is a part of the process in several ways. We’re a “group nose”, so to speak.
Stora Skuggan’s visual identity is aligned with a new aesthetic that has emerged in the post-digital era. The use of heterogen typefaces and game marble caps brings to mind a young, urban universe comprised of randomised Tumblr feeds, ironic street wear and psychedelic craft beer. In fact, stepping into the store at Östgötagatan is not unlike stepping into Omnipollo’s trendy beer and munchies bar a few blocks away. Hempel and Hemmendorff even composed a fragrance for Swedish hip hop artist Lorentz at the peak of his popularity in 2016.
Your visual profile is very hip and current. On the other hand, your storytelling is obscure, referencing mysticism and the history of natural science. Who are your clients?
It’s just a typeface or two that we use. But to answer your question, we have not thought about target groups or anything like that. Our perfumes have appeared in lots of interior magazines but that was never our intention. We don’t work with influencers or advertising. We use ourselves as a starting point. If we like something that’s great, and if other people like it that’s even better. To us it doesn’t matter much who is on the receiving end.
You are currently in an expansion phase with increasing industry recognition. What does the future look like for Stora Skuggan?
We have no major plans really but to keep doing our thing. Where that takes us time will tell, but lots of exciting things are cooking.