Aesop Fragrance Designer Barnabé Fillion Blends Olfactory Fantasy with Esoteric Artistry
Barnabé FillionAesop Fragrance Designer
“[Think] about perfume as an interstitial space itself—it has this ability to transport you to another realm, from the physical to the conceptual. One could say that reality is a departure point to reverie—that’s how perfume is an Othertopia: the skin acts as a window between nature and the abstract.” — Barnabé Fillion
On the moods, themes, and concepts behind Aesop’s Othertopias trio:
This collection is about the study of interstitial space—a piece of research on the boundaries between the real and the imagined. The idea of multiple experiences being juxtaposed to form a single one was key—reality versus reverie, man versus nature, space versus time. There are three particular spaces between themes we wanted to explore…
The first is Miraceti, which represents a boat. This rich image of crossing the ocean to learn more about the world is, in itself, an “Othertopia.” There’s something to be said of the many vessels of space that surround you on a boat, creating layers of transportation: you’re in a space that in and of itself has a lot of movement from the people around you, in a space which is also moving on the sea.
Then there’s Karst, which represents the shore. I was inspired by the liminal space between land and sea. It’s interesting to think of the way perfume creates an experience of the void—the fragrance highlights the quality and richness of the emptiness in the air in this space.
And finally, Erémia, which was inspired by the resistance of nature against urban landscapes. In Greek philosophy, there’s an idea called “Chora”—a garden just outside of a city—an interstitial space from which you can look back on the metropolis. We reimagined it as less of a garden and more a wasteland—a botanical microcosm where the phenomenal force of nature is reclaiming itself against the concrete. You can hear the insects and the pollen as they’re moving and understand that they live in a different rhythm than we do in the city.
On the evolution of Othertopias from conceptual vision to production launch:
Four years ago, a philosopher friend of mine and I discussed the idea of interstitial space based on the concepts of different philosophers and writers, such as Gaston Bachelard, Frédéric Nietzsche, and Herman Melville. We shared those ideas with Dennis Paphitis, the founder of Aesop. From there, we began to work on the perfume collection.
We thought about perfume as an interstitial space itself—it has this ability to transport you to another realm, from the physical to the conceptual. One could say that reality is a departure point to reverie—that’s how perfume is an Othertopia: the skin acts as a window between nature and the abstract.
Having worked with Aesop for so many years and being so familiar with their unique and nuanced approach, I was given the creative freedom to explore form and expression. Of all the fragrances I’ve created, these are some of the most complex. Once we agreed on the themes, which already took about a year, the fragrances took almost three years to formulate.
On ingredient choices for the trio:
All three Othertopias fragrances employ a very high technicality of ingredients…
Miraceti is a very generous formula, because we have included direct elements from the sea. Driftwood is a very important ingredient—fresh wood notes with some cedar. We even smell the canvas of the sail, the musty cellar, and liquor. It’s a great fragrance for those who love the smell of whiskey—I used brandy extraction, which is an unusual ingredient. The Green Maté is also a very unique ingredient that gives everything a wonderful herbal touch. All Aesop formulations are vegan, so we replicated Ambergris using plant-based ingredients such as Labdanum, Styrax, Tobacco, Ambrette, Black Pepper, Patchouli, and a Red Seaweed CO2 extraction, which Aesop has never used before.
Karst opens with the green, gentle spice of Juniper—an understated reference to aromatic spirits—and the balanced crispness of Pink Pepper against the piquant warmth of Black Pepper. We counterbalanced these spices with Bergamot to bring bright, sparkling notes and astringency. The heart notes draw on the flora of rugged cliff faces, with fragrant Rosemary and metallic Sage and Cumin to bring an aromatic, herbaceous earthiness. The base evokes petrichor: both airy and aqueous, green and woody. Vetiver imparts smoky opulence, and the familiarity of Sandalwood and Cedar lends dry notes. The overall effect of these ingredients delivers the wearer to the shoreline: the fragile cliffs and undercliffs, sand or shingle underfoot, flotsam on the shore, and the swell of tide and sea foam around it.
Erémia is crisp, fresh, and vibrant from the outset, opening with Yuzu, Grapefruit, and Bergamot, brightly astringent citrus notes that awaken the senses. I would describe it as green, addictive, and zesty. The middle notes are more herbal and floral, with Mimosa, Green Tea, and Maté, while the base notes evoke a sense of place—the concrete cityscape; the rambling, weed-ridden, urban wasteland. We created this with Galbanum, Patchouli, and Iris, which give it a musty, earthy undertone that evokes abandoned places left to dust and environments where vegetation is free to consume the concrete world.
On evoking emotion through scent:
I hope these fragrances transport the wearer to a much more engaging land, where people question their reality, have a feeling of freedom, and can explore another field of perception. What we hope is that people will be nourished by the spaces they unlock when experiencing these fragrances. The idea of curiosity is really important to the collection—the scents are for the curious and to make people curious.
On the essential elements to creating a great fragrance:
There are two: the quest for the best ingredients and the art of blending. It’s really about incorporating both those things. Signature Aesop scents tread new territory every time they come out, so great ingredients are important. Having an inspiration and doing multiple trials to find the best chords and the best balance between the ingredients, so that each one is at the right level, is the key to blending.
On the ideal Aesop customer:
Aesop fragrances know no gender boundaries—they are intended for all who take pleasure in evocative aromas. The broad appeal of Othertopias is achieved through a unique balance of dry, woody, clean, and fresh notes throughout each fragrance. Our continued preference is to create more complex characters within our fragrances, and we invite the wearer to explore and interpret these in their own way.
On the evolution of “perfume vs. cologne”:
Gendered fragrances are indeed out of touch. We are living in a time where genders are constantly questioned, excited, and stimulated in many different ways—philosophically, physically, socially. Being modern is about incorporating these possibilities and having an open mind.
On fragrance ingredient trends:
We absolutely disregard trends. We don’t even look at them. Trends don’t change the quality or staying power of the way we do things.