Photos: Derrick Leung
1. The Blind Tasting | Acqua di Parma Colonia by Acqua di Parma
We confronted Arman Nafeei with a mystery perfume in a neutral, opaque vaporizer. Only afterwards did we reveal the name of the scent. Follow Arman on his journey into scent …
I’m still in search of the special fragrance we came upon that evening.
This fragrance immediately brings to mind a very special trip: in 2009 my best friends and I went to the Venice Biennale. That was a turning point in my life. I had just finished university and was asking myself: Where on earth will life take me next?
It was early summer and everywhere there was jasmine in bloom, and orange and lemon trees. We felt so bohemian and chic as we strolled around the city in our fancy suits. We were staying at a small and simple guesthouse with a rustic Italian charm.
I particularly remember one of the last evenings, when we took a water taxi from one event to another: the moon was full and there were huge bushes on every corner, giving off a heady scent of jasmine and orange blossom: the full works! It was straight out of a Woody Allen movie: not Midnight in Paris, but Full Moon in Venice!
This special moment forged a strong link between us — we’ll remain a close circle of friends for life. Back then we called it Bellini-time. When we traveled on, to Art Basel, we spent the train ride playing cards and downing the bottles of Bellini we’d brought along.
We were three weeks on the road, in total: first in Venice, then in Basel, after which the others took off for Mallorca. But I was already quite ill after all the partying and had to go home to Cologne.
I’ve been in Venice once more since then, in 2011, for the following Biennale. But it wasn’t the same; it had lost its magic. To this day I adore citrus scents but I’m still in search of the special fragrance we came upon that evening. Citrus scents must be classic, in my opinion! I associate them with Fellini, La Dolce Vita — and with Venice.
2. The Interview
What is Arman Nafeei’s earliest scent memory? What is the significance of fragrance in his life? Which are his personal Top 3 perfumes? Find the answers below!
For me, silence is sometimes the best thing ever.
Helder Suffenplan: What was your first encounter with perfume?
Arman Nafeei: When I was about 11, I visited my cousin in London. Her boyfriend was a very cool guy and he wore HUGO by Hugo Boss. Before I returned home he gave me his bottle of it, already opened. When the bottle was almost empty I tried to make the content last by pouring into it every sample I could lay my hands on. So I quasi mixed my own perfume from lots of mini scent samples. And I loved that fragrance — it was very intense!
HS: Intense; yes, I can imagine it was. And what did your family and friends make of it?
AN: [laughs] Well, I was 11 years old and didn’t have a clue at the time. But I liked it!
HS: Did you grow up with perfume around you?
AN: Yes, my mother wore Paloma Picasso; that was in the 1980s. And a little later L’Eau d’Issey by Issey Miyake, which a teacher of mine wore too.
HS: What was the teacher like?
AN: I was a little in love with her: she was a pretty blond [laughs].
HS: What did she teach?
AN: I’m no longer sure, to be honest — geography, I think.
HS: So you didn’t pay much attention to her subject in class [laughs]?
AN: No, I guess I was focused on other stuff [laughs]. I found her fierce, as simple as that.
HS: What was the first perfume you ever bought for yourself?
AN: Another bottle of HUGO, first of all, then later a Jil Sander perfume.
HS: Do you alternate between different perfumes these days or stick to just one?
AN: I always have three to five on the go at once. When I’ve used up a bottle of scent, I generally take a break and use the others. I have different fragrances for different occasions: for everyday wear, for business, for going out …
HS: And which do you use at the moment for business?
AN: Fantastic Man by Byredo. It is not too intrusive but engaging. For socializing I used Penhaligon’s Opus 1870 for ages; and later Endymion, which is also by Penhaligon’s.
HS: What exactly does your job as music director involve?
AN: I’m responsible for the musical identity of various houses and the work falls into three categories. First, there’s sound design for rooms, such as the lobby, bar, or club, where it’s a matter of creating a certain ambiance, of enhancing their mood.
In the Standard hotels, I deal also with booking performers and DJs and so forth for our musical program, for New Year’s or Halloween events, for example, or our regular live music nights. And then the third category is the digital domain: spotify, online playlists, and so on.
HS: And is anyone responsible for the houses’ olfactory identity?
AN: Nobody in particular, as the creative team overall is in charge of that. But it’s definitely on the agenda and is consciously created for different purposes. At André Balazs, for example, each house has its specific smell.
HS: What would be your ideal perfume?
AN: A perfume that I could wear night and day, that is both sexy and arresting; and long-lasting too, but without getting up my own nose all the time.
HS: And what is the worst smell of all, in your book?
AN: Now, that’s something I know about! One very specific perfume has been haunting me for years! To this day, I don’t know what it’s called. But if a woman wearing this perfume walks into a bar, I can smell it from the other end of the room and it makes me sick. I actually once met a woman who was wearing this perfume whom I found otherwise attractive. I just thought to myself: Girl, if you only knew! Elsewhere I’ve come across it only on badly dressed and horribly made-up women.
HS: Do you see any parallels between listening and smelling?
AN: Those are the two senses that are most important to me. Scents in particular are vital for me. If I meet a girl with whom everything falls into place but whose odor I can’t stand — then that’s the end of it. On the other hand, there are women who smell so incredibly good …
Listening is similar. I cannot stand hanging out in a bar or restaurant where the music has been compiled without sensitivity and charm. I am a great fan of silence: The Sound of Silence. For me, that is sometimes the best thing ever.
HS: Are there any particular odors you associate with New York?
AN: No, and never with a city as such. New York, London, Cologne and Berlin are the places I spend most of my time. But the smells I associate with them have more to do with people and events there than with the cities themselves.
HS: Thank you!