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 Interview — part II
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!
Long live the Era of Algae!
HS: What is the best smell you can imagine?
FL: I used to really enjoy the smell of seaweed when we went to the Baltic Coast as kids. We’d bind it up with yarn to make animal shapes: poodles, elephants, giraffes, or whatever. And of course we never wanted to leave these “pets” behind when the holiday was over, so we took them home with us. And lots of people said: “What a stink!” But I really loved the fact that they smelled of the sea.
HS: Brilliant! You took some beach home in your bag with you. I heard that seaweed — or algae, rather — is still important to you now?
FL: Man seeks his counterpart in nature and compares himself with it. He tends to think that if he finds a parallel in nature then everything is fine, because nature never makes mistakes. At the least since Darwin’s day, the most universally recognized symbol of life is the tree: the Tree of Life, the family tree … The systemic principle behind it is that an individual grows and branches out. But as quite a few people have realized, things are not quite like that at all, because life is actually structured like tubers or rhizomes: cities, our bodies of knowledge, random encounters and “networking” either down the pub or at work, how we run about the place, and so on. And that’s why I once declared, half in jest: “The era of the oak is over. Long live the algae era!
HS: What awaits us in the algae era?
FL: An explosion of structural opportunities, metamorphoses and symbioses. In nature we find role models for our own workings, our own lives, first and foremost the idea that we can shape our lives in incredibly diverse ways. The algae image came up for me at a time when I was feeling powerless. In a way, it’s the trump card in life’s quartet. When you draw the algae card — well, it has something to say on every topic: on droughts, hunger, new textiles, electricity, energy, beauty, colors — on everything under the sun. It’s the smartass card! That’s why I stick with the algae card and why I like to spread word of it. With algae as a role model you can go a long, long way — as far as forgetting.
HS: As far as forgetting?
FL: Everything, all the time these days, is oriented to gaining more knowledge. But at the same time, we have to admit that all the more modern means of storing knowledge are breaking down and falling into ruin at an ever-faster rate. The first murals we ever had, cave-paintings, have been able to convey information for many thousands of years whereas books can do so only for hundreds of years, vinyl recordings for around fifty, and CDs, as we know, usually for no more than five. In addition, we know already that to never forget anything is an actual illness. And that to be able to forget, utterly and completely, is in fact a magnificent skill. Algae can do that. Whenever algae find themselves in a crisis they’re able to totally reorganize their existence from one day to the next. They find a way to reproduce themselves differently, to feed themselves differently, and even forget that they were once something completely different.
HS: Can human beings perhaps learn to act like algae?
FL: I personally rather like the idea that man is a pretty tough character, a tenacious kind of beast, and that the art of forgetting is really very positive. After all, borders dissolve at times of their own accord, whatever we do.
Thanks to the Internet we now have a very concrete sense of what it means to be networked as well as of the explosions I mentioned. Yet it’s equally feasible to remain solitary, in the same place your grandma grew up, to take over her house and farm, and to marry your neighbor’s daughter. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. It too falls within the parameters of the algae concept. Even trees were algae, once upon a time. It took endosymbiosis and several million years’ evolution for them to become what they are today. In the beginning, at the inception of organic life, algae introduced photosynthesis and that’s how we came to have oxygen, which in turn fostered the genesis of other life forms.
HS: So we owe a lot to algae?
FL: Yes. No question about it. And more and more people are taking an interest in plants today, and it’s been proven that plants communicate with each other, feel pain, take care of their offspring, warn each other of danger …
HS: … and use odors to do so, or so I’ve heard.
FL: Exactly. I’ve read that too.
HS: When you came in earlier I smelled Guerlain’s Vetiver, which is a true classic. Is that your signature scent or do you vary perfumes from day to day?
FL: No. I stick with the same one for a very long time, and always have.
HS: Do you go looking for perfumes yourself or receive them as gifts or follow recommendations?
FL: I look for them myself. Of course I’m not averse to flattery. If a lot of people pay me compliments I stick with the same perfume.
HS: Well, naturally: it’s one of the main reasons to wear a perfume. So when do you change to a new one?
FL: Probably I’m ripe for a change every seven or ten years or so.
HS: What triggers the change?
FL: Tedium. You just wake up one day and say: “Enough!” I had that experience recently. I was sick of my glasses, which I felt I’d been wearing forever, and also suddenly tired of my beard.
HS: You’ve spoken of the shift in your alter ego, from Dolphin Man to Elevator Man. What is the distinction between them?
FL: Dolphin Man, as his name suggests, was like a dolphin: always communicative, always friendly. Elevator Man is different altogether. He keeps himself to himself. He operates the elevator in a grand hotel.
HS: Like Felix Krull?
FL: No. He is older than Felix Krull and he has a strict vocational ethos. He would never dream of flirting with the guests who ride his elevator — not like his colleague at the hotel, who is a bit like Felix Krull. The two of them are at loggerheads. His colleague tries to steal guests from under his nose, to coax them into his elevator so as to make more in tips. Elevator Man would never do that. He has his own metaphysical elevator, which is something like the orgone energy accumulator invented by Wilhelm Reich.
HS: The small chamber used to channel cosmic energy? Wow!
FL: Exactly. But bigger and more beautiful — and mobile, of course.
HS: As Elevator Man, you doubtless need to make yourself invisible at times? All sorts of things go on in elevators.
FL: That’s right. And that’s the reason Elevator Man always remains deadpan, and never passes judgment. People tip him, not for flirtation or labors of love but precisely because he never sees or hears a thing.
HS: Then he probably also refrains from wearing perfume, so as to be even more low-key. Does he smell of anything at all?
FL: Well, occasionally slightly of brandy, perhaps, since he keeps a bottle hidden behind the fire extinguisher on the third floor.
HS: Thank you!