We're always excited to learn more about the inner workings of the mind of our exceptional friend, perfumer Bruno Fazzolari of FZOTIC. So we went ahead and barraged him with questions about his fragrant inspirations, synesthesia and the intentions behind his beautiful collection. Read on...
Q. You began your career as a visual artist and then integrated fragrance into your work. How did that happen?
A. I had been showing in galleries and museums for many years. Then in the early 2000’s, my work shifted into an exploration of abstract painting, which was new for me. I became interested in experiences that abstract paintings could depict and so naturally I was inspired by my personal experience of seeing scents as colors.
I first created a fragrance for an installation of paintings in 2010. Then I continued to do so for each of my shows after that. I had no plans to start a business. The scents somehow developed a cult following, so in 2013 I began selling bottles through my artist website, and as sales continued to grow, I quit my job as an art professor.
My scent Lampblack, first shown at Gallery Paule Anglim, attracted the attention of hard-core fragrance fans in the “perfume underground.” Then Artforum named it a "top ten" for 2013. And then in 2014 Luca Turin gave Lampblack a four-star review. I’ve just been doing my best to keep up with the momentum ever since.
Q. You have synesthesia, a neurological condition that causes information meant to stimulate one of your senses to stimulate other senses. For some people this means they hear a sound and “see” an associated image. How does it manifest for you, and how does it impact your visual and olfactory work?
A. It’s not so fantastical as it seems. I think many of us can relate to music as having texture, even though it’s a sound. The sound of a trombone versus the sound of a violin—those are very different textures and that’s a natural feeling we have about that sound.
I don't exactly "see scents." It's not like I see a kaleidoscope pulsing in the air when I smell a rose. It's simply that scent "has color." It's a very natural and subtle part of the experience. It’s also very dynamic—the perception is constantly changing just as the perception of a scent is constantly shifting.
Q. What are your greatest influences and/or inspirations in fragrance design and how do you come up with scent concepts?
A. I rarely start with a concept. I think that’s one of the key ways that what I offer is so different. A lot of mainstream perfume is concept driven: you set out to make a scent that will smell a certain way and usually appeal to a specific demographic and thus sell a lot of product. Great perfumes get made that way—don't get me wrong. But my approach is a bit more open ended. The best result is when I end up somewhere quite different from where I expected to go.
As a painter, I always start with a hunch or something that I intuitively want to explore, like a raw material or an atmosphere from a movie. The final result of that exploration is always unexpected—if I knew what the result would be in advance, there wouldn’t be much point in making the journey.
For Lampblack, I was working on a series of colored ink paintings and had no idea where they’d lead me. I wanted to make a fragrance that would complement them. I was using a lot of black ink in addition to the colored inks and I wanted the fragrance to have color and darkness and have the same richness as the paintings. I had no idea how to make that happen, I just kept trying different things.
For Room 237, I wanted to explore the complex world of fragrances that I imagined men in the 1930’s would have worn in that haunted hotel from the movie The Shining. I was also struck by the uncanny atmosphere of the green bathroom that is the source of all evil in the movie. I wanted it to be both vintage and contemporary; familiar and strange; really clean, but really odd. It took me a long time to find that spot!
Q. You’re seen by fragrance collectors and reviewers as a truly original talent in independent perfumery. We agree! How do you define your approach to perfumery?
A. That’s nice to hear! I really value my fans and feel a great responsibility to serve them well. My scents need to be original and find a new perspective on the familiar (like what Corpse Reviver does for the gourmand genre). But they also really need to be wearable and rewarding.
Q. How is the fragrance community different from the visual art world, and do you find one to be more challenging than the other?
A. The fragrance community was such a discovery for me. The sincerity and dedication of fragrance fans is so committed and deeply rooted. People know their fragrance history and understand references. They are personally invested in a way that completely surpassed any of my experience in the art world.
Q. You grew up in Arizona and spent your childhood summers in France. Have both places influenced your work in fragrance?
A. I may have an Italian name, but my mother is French and I was raised bilingually and bi-culturally, speaking both French and English while growing up in both Arizona and France. Two places that were very different, but which I loved equally.
Each of those places has powerful spiritual and fragrant energies. The dry resinous smells of Arizona plants, or of rain after the summer monsoon. France was such a contrast: indoors were old world smells of waxed wood and dank, ancient cellars; and outdoors were green gardens with fruit trees, berries and fragrant linden trees.
Q. We think of you as an incredibly meticulous perfumer and perhaps a bit of a perfectionist. How do you know when a scent is ready to launch?
A. It all comes back to my audience. I deeply value the audience I serve. If you’re asking someone to pay $145 for a bottle of fragrance that they are going to trust you enough to put on their actual body, you need to give them something that delivers on all levels: innovation, quality, safety, development and performance. I take it very seriously. I’m honored each and every time someone buys my work. I know it’s ready to launch when I feel in my heart that I’m bringing real, meaningful value to someone’s life. I know that sounds a little over the top, but that’s what guides me.
Q. You’ve started to expand your brand, FZOTIC, to include body care, home goods and other products. Is this a path you’ll continue down and, if so, any sneak peeks for us?
A. When I first started out, I simply put my name on the bottle because I had no idea it would become a real business. It was just a side-hustle that I enjoyed. I thought it would be like being an artist, and it is, but my name had become somewhat limiting. There are things my brand can do that I could never do as an artist, like offer skincare or soaps! I will continue to offer an integrated vision of art in daily life that allows people to make their ordinary moments special and sacred.
Q. What would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned on this fragrant journey thus far?
A. The importance of human connection and the great reward of leading boldly and serving people generously.
synesthesia [sin-uhs-thee-zhuh] noun: A sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color.