After her SS20 collaboration with Balenciega with scents released from the walls and ceilings during a fashion show, Sissel Tolaas revives the smell of Balenciaga’s historic couture house at 10 avenue George V in Paris, along with archive pieces and objects that belonged to Cristóbal Balenciaga himself.
The artist and researcher, Tolaas used a special device which allowed her to collect and concentrate all the molecules in a bougie, called ‘’Balenciaga Couture Candle.’’ The result revisitis Balenciaga’s olfactory heritage with a history dating back to 1937 when the house first opened its doors, to its closure in 1968, and reopening in 2021 under Demna Gvasalia’s creative direction.
The futuristic design planned with Panter & Tourron comes with a visual experience, but once you open the mirror-polished case, the candle releases hints of burnt incense, tobacco smoke, warm skin, old paper, tanned leather, aged wool, delicate silk, exotic fur, oak and the sewing machines oiled metal. A symphony of smells meant to evoke a place and time of historical importance, as Balenciaga is known for setting trends since 1920s. The house was also one of the 60 business allowed to operate in France during Nazi occupation, surviving the severe impact of the second world on the fashion industry.
The smell formulas created by Tolaas start from real molecule recordings of Cristobal Balenciaga’s archive and personal items, and it has taken two years to be developed and released on the market. For the artist, this process is almost a routine exercise as she has been collecting, archiving and analysing odour samples for more than thirty years in her Berlin lab. Tolaas has been exhibited in galleries and museums all over the world, but she also provides services to cosmetics companies, brands or hotel chains, for whom she develops corporate fragrances. Her aim is to raise consciousness on the importance of the sense of smell, which has been neglected for too long in the arts and culture.
Text by Maria Nitulescu