Photos: Per Zennström
1. The Blind Tasting | Santa Subita by Technique Indiscrete
We confronted Alexander Geist with a mystery perfume in a neutral, opaque vaporizer. Only afterwards did we reveal the name of the scent. Follow Alexander on his journey into scent …
The strange and wonderful mixture of things.
It reminds me of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Going there feels like such an adventure because it’s so huge and so old, and there is so much chaos and so many different smells from the incense and candles. Here you have someone wanting to show you some carpet in a basement, “Do you like that carpet?” And then over there someone else is shouting, “I have better carpet here!” You can easily spend a whole day in the Bazaar.
I can’t really describe the way it smelled there — this fragrance reminds me not of the particular smell of the Grand Bazaar but rather the mixture of things and impressions. Everything about Istanbul was about this unexpected kind of mixture, a very strange and wonderful mixture of things! You might hear the noise of really cheesy dance music and at the same time the muezzin is calling for prayer and people are arguing in the street.
The whole city vibrates with this special energy you can only find in very ancient places. Four empires have been based there. You can just walk through the city and suddenly stumble upon parts of Roman walls that were destroyed during the Crusades. And now there are people who use parts of these walls to hang their laundry.
I’ve been to Istanbul several times. Most of the time I read and walked around. I really didn’t do much of the tourist stuff. And it’s easy to make friends there, despite the language barrier. I speak zero Turkish, though it would actually be quite helpful in Berlin.
At first I found this perfume kind of overpowering. So I imagined that the person wearing it must be very good at the art of seduction; someone who knows that you have to appeal to each sense; one of these people who can fill a room entirely because of how they look and smell.
But as it meandered out I wondered if it isn’t some sort of celebrated architect wearing it; someone making a name for himself by having things “just so;” the type of person who is always wearing one kind of watch or always this particular fragrance. Most architects I have known have had this sort of highbrow modesty.
There is something very clever about this fragrance. It is a perfume that is a bit unusual, so you can imagine people asking questions about it, or remembering it long after. Maybe it’s a scent that you can only buy at very special places, so you have to buy a couple of bottles at a time.
But I wonder if the perfume might go stale after some time if sitting unused; or perhaps explode or combust. Just imagine: “Killed by an exploding perfume bottle!” That would get you to the front pages, I suppose.
2. The Interview
What is Alexander Geist’s earliest scent memory? What is the significance of fragrance in his life? Which are his personal Top 3 perfumes? Find the answers below!
I am a very big fan of rituals, I grew up very Catholic.
Helder Suffenplan: What is your earliest scent-related memory?
Alexander Geist: My mother had a silver fox fur coat and when she would go out for the evening she would send me upstairs to get it. Also, I sometimes sat at the bottom of the armoire, pressed against that coat because it smelled so wonderful and it was so soft.
HS: How did it smell?
AG: I guess it was slightly musty, maybe even smelled a bit like mothballs. It didn’t smell terribly glamorous, just very comforting. It’s strange that such a glamorous thing would smell comforting …
HS: Did your mother use perfume on a regular basis?
AG: I always hated the fragrances she had because I found them so 80s, very strong. As a child everything would give me a headache. I had asthma and hay fever and headaches. And these fragrances were way too much for me. Thank God she wasn’t a day-to-day fragrance user.
HS: You grew up in Liverpool. What did the city smell like?
AG: The most prominent smell was probably cigarette smoke. It seemed like everybody I knew smoked. It was before the smoking ban and in the cafes you would see old grannies enjoying their English-style breakfast and chain smoking at the same time. Terrible! [Laughs].
HS: What was the first perfume you used?
AG: I think it was Pi by Givenchy. I was really into that. Another one was Cuiron by Helmut Lang. The bottle caught my eye: dark amber, almost like a medicine bottle. It was leathery and woody, and these fragrances still appeal to me now.
HS: What are your favorite scents today?
AG: I like Wonderwood and Amazing Green by Comme des Garçons. Another one is Santal by Floris. And then there is one from Penhaligon’s I like called Blenheim Bouquet.
HS: That’s a real classic. Reportedly Winston Churchill wore it. How do you choose your fragrances?
AG: I am just about the least patient person, so shopping is hellish for me. I am glad if someone says, “You’d really like this!” I never buy it straight away but instead get a little tester and wear it for a few days. And when I like it, I stick with it.
HS: On top of that, unfortunately many salespeople at perfume stores don’t have much patience either.
AG: Exactly! Once I was looking at Untitled by Maison Martin Margiela in a department store and the lady told me that “Martin & Margiela” were a Dutch design duo. She obviously meant Viktor & Rolf [laughs].
HS: Do you wear fragrance while you’re performing?
AG: Yes, pure rose oil. A dear friend brought it to me from India. I am a very big fan of rituals and ceremonies and so it became a tradition — almost like an incantation, a way of feeling prepared. I love the flower, I love the smell, I love the taste — so always rose!
HS: Are you superstitious? Many performers are.
AG: Yes, but not in the negative way. But I like to be aware that I can channel energies as I would want them to be channeled. This friend who gave me the rose oil is probably the only person that is more superstitious or spiritually bizarre than I am. I grew up very Catholic; we discuss these things a lot.
HS: Did you attend church as a child? Do you remember the incense at High Mass?
AG: Oh yes, of course, and I really think it has informed my love for these woody sorts of fragrances.
HS: What is the most beautiful smell you can imagine?
AG: I find the most interesting smells are unexpected smells. Like in places I’ve never been before. When I was in Athens the whole city smelled like cum and I was wondering how this could be. The friend I was with said, “You are not hallucinating. It’s that tree!”
HS: [Laughs] I know that tree. The street I live on is lined with them. Every summer for a couple of days the whole neighborhood smells really embarrassing.
AG: Don’t be embarrassed [laughs]!
HS: If a master perfumer were to create a signature scent for you, what would your brief be?
AG: It would smell like light coming through a stained glass window, falling on a church pew. So it would be woody but bright. It would be a very intelligent, mystical smell, maybe with some surprise sherbet.
HS: Thank you!