Eau de Ermine
“Responding to art works has always been a compulsion of mine; I want to put something between me and it to ‘reply’ to it… To put something in the space between us that tries to explain how I feel about it.” John Foley is a scent-maker, costumier and artist. Here he starts a conversation with Leonardo Da Vinci’s portrait of Cecelia Gallerani. Eau de Ermine.
Words JOHN FOLEY
Since I began making perfumes by far the most rewarding work that I do is collaborations with artists in creating scents that are part of the overall experience of the artworks. This involves a great deal of conversations and mutual understandings of what each party are bringing to the project. For me it’s about how I respond to the pieces and how I can express those responses with scent. Responding to art works has always been a compulsion of mine; I want to put something between me and it to ‘reply’ to it… To put something in the space between us that tries to explain how I feel about it.
As well as working with contemporary artists I also make scents for older artworks. So far I’ve made scents for paintings by El Greco, Georgia O Keeffe and others. Lady With An Ermine by Leonardo Da Vinci has long intrigued me because of its subject matter and it’s curious mood of unease. Both subjects, Cecelia Gallerani and the ermine look intensely to the left from a neutral black space, with both looking at perhaps the same unseen object or perhaps not. After looking at it several times over a long period I focused in on the narrow gold band that runs just above the Lady’s eyebrows and the Ermine as the startling points for me to proceed from to make a perfume. I decided a musk perfume with echoes of gold and earthy notes would best express for me the alertness and caution created in the painting .
"Perfume changes over time on skin and paper and this perfume finally dried down to a soft warmth that lasted overnight on my hands somewhat like the way the fur of the ermine changes from dark to creamy white in winter."