Photos: Franziska Taffelt
The Blind Tasting | Amour de Palazzo by Jul et Mad
We confronted Friedrich Liechtenstein with a mystery perfume in a neutral, opaque vaporizer. Only afterwards did we reveal the name of the scent. Follow Friedrich on his journey into scent …
The sexiest scent I’ve ever known.
I imagine this woman has a great tumbling mass of curls, with a glint of red. She has a cute, upturned nose, too, and a slight olive tint to her skin, and when the weather’s cold she gets goosebumps. Now, she’s wearing a bottle-green woolen sweater that feels a bit prickly. It’s late fall and she and her friend are just back from a long walk across a rolling Irish landscape: pasture land, mostly. They step inside a simple log house with a mossy roof. From the window, there’s a view beyond the hill of a sliver of sea but it’s further away than it looks, on foot — far easier to reach the beach by bike or on horseback.
Her sweater smells of sheep’s wool and the mist makes her hair curl more than ever. For sure, there’s some whisky in the house, as well as heavy linen bed-sheets. The wood, the moss, the wind, the whisky, the smell of her damp, curling hair — well, wouldn’t anyone be bound to think: “Now, isn’t this fine and cozy?” But I would detect another smell too, a fragrance, and I’d ask: “Is that a perfume for men?” And she’d reply: “Yes, but it’s all the same to me.” I’d think that a pretty cool answer.
The house doesn’t belong to the two of them but they can use it as often as they like. They’ve been there a week already and will stay for one more. They’re not lovers — although it remains a possibility. They’re over thirty now and not yet forty, on the lookout for the second, third, or fourth love of their lives and have come out here to check out the odds. Naturally, they’ve told each other that they’ve no plan and absolutely no expectations beyond this shared trip to Ireland; and also that it’s cheaper to travel as a pair, of course, plus that way, there’s someone to talk to. They’ve emphasized all the practical reasons, so as not to be disappointed. At heart they’re both creative types, anyhow, with lots to say and a love of taking things to the limit: existential stuff. Certainly they’ll never grow bored.
Whatever happens, the time in that house will last forever. So he’ll be irritated, later, to smell her men’s perfume elsewhere one day, to be stopped in his tracks and find himself thinking: “That reminds me of her. How come this guy is wearing her perfume? It’s the sexiest scent I’ve ever known …”
The Interview — part I
What is Friedrich Liechtenstein’s earliest scent memory? What is the significance of fragrance in his life? Which are his personal Top 3 perfumes? Find the answers below!
HS: What role does the sense of smell play in your life? Would you say you have a good nose?
FL: I once claimed I could smell luck — but I couldn’t for the life of me say how it smells.
HS: A paradox!
FL: There are certain situations when I notice: “Wow, that here is really damn good!” And then I somehow exude that smell. I can’t describe how it smells but I know that it goes through the nose. And then I like to breathe it in very deeply, and I say to myself: “This here smells very much like luck!”
HS: Perhaps it’s not a good idea to try to describe this smell.
FL: I think you’re right.
HS: What is your earliest memory of perfume?
FL: The idea of perfume didn’t appeal to me at all as a child, nor as a teenager, and I didn’t really give perfume a second thought until I was in my early thirties. By then, I had noticed that a lot of people who wore perfume had a quite self-assured air and that certain rooms smelled of it: hotel lobbies, for instance. And the more high-class the location, the more closely I took note of the odors there and, by and by, I finally got around to buying myself a perfume.
HS: Do you have any olfactory memories of your childhood?
FL: I have a very strong olfactory memory from Frankfurt Oder, where I lived for several years. Anytime you got on a tram there, it totally reeked of cheap Russian perfume.
HS: That sounds intense!
FL: Well, it was. There’d be a pervasive smell of lily of the valley, plus a note of garlic. It was that probably, which made me think perfume was a load of rubbish. In any case, there weren’t many labels to choose from in East Germany. And most of them smelled pretty much the same.
HS: You grew up in Eisenhüttenstadt, which at the time was officially called Stalin City. How did that smell?
FL: I realize, in retrospect, that the smell of disinfectant was everywhere, in schools, apartment building hallways, and all kinds of public space. Everything stank of it. And my father worked in a hospital, too, so he used to bring that clinical smell — a very toxic smell — home with him each evening.
HS: Can you recall any positive scented memories?
FL: Oh, yes. Occasional moments. I used to go to those dances when I was fifteen or sixteen, and the girls’ hair would smell of shampoo. I certainly noticed that.
HS: Did the women in your family circle use perfume?
FL: Pretty regularly. We once gave my great-grandmother a bar of scented soap for her birthday, simply because we couldn’t think of anything else. Unfortunately, she imagined we thought she smelled bad — and she was really offended.
HS: A classic case!
FL: And then of course there were “Westpakete” too: gift packages sent to East Germany by relatives and friends on the other side of the Wall. When we opened those, the whole room smelled of the West. Even the wrapping paper smelled of the West.
HS: And how did the West smell?
FL: Of body care products, chewing gum, coffee, and chocolate … Of chemical compounds, most of all, I guess. Altogether more of everything, more scent!
HS: You’ve spent a good deal of your life in theaters: in a puppet theater, firstly, then later, as a director, among actors and actresses. The theater and intensive odors surely go hand in hand.
FL: Certainly in the puppet theater in the East back then, there was always a strong odor of plastic materials and glue, because we used to make stuff. Then, too, we puppeteers used to work together in very small, enclosed spaces and were not too fussy about how we looked and smelled. We stayed behind the scenes, dressed always in black, did eighteen-hour shifts, and sweated a lot. When among actors, however, we were a little more dapper, since we worked with them on airy stages and in public view. But personally, I’ve nothing against people smelling of themselves now and then. I’m a fan of armpit hair too, if it’s not too long — I just love those lovely whorls in which a person’s smell can hang loose and free. I find that a lot more appealing than having everything squeaky clean.
HS: It tells you more about a person?
FL: I once had a photo shoot in a bordello. There were some prostitutes there and it was interesting to see how they used cosmetics to obliterate themselves. They were vacuum packed, quasi, so you could hardly tell who they were. Their skin was all solarium and creams. They had hair extensions. Everything was fake. They were totally abstract.
HS: Do you think they put on a mask to protect themselves?
FL: Yes, I do. They want to give away as little of themselves as possible, so they plaster on the make-up with a trowel and shave off every last hair. Body hair would reveal too much, would be far too intimate. So there wasn’t a trace of it left.
HS: How did the bordello smell?
FL: Totally synthetic — it smelled of make-up and perfume, and some disinfectant or other. I was in a bed with these three women and we did a photo shoot, but I couldn’t tell you a thing about them. If I ran into them on the street, I’d never know it. And I couldn’t smell even a whiff of them.
HS: Thank you!