NANAS EAU DE PARFUM
A PERFUME THANKS TO ALYSSA HARAD
Before I knew Alyssa, I knew her words. They came through a book she wrote called Coming to My Senses about how learning to love perfume exposed her to herself and helped her feel more rooted in the world, more connected to and compassionate toward those she shares time and space with. Eventually I met Alyssa in real life, and she sent me off with a decant from her personal, vintage bottle of the late artist Niki de Saint Phalle’s eponymous perfume. She checked in on me from time to time after that, and I sent her samples of work I released for Chronotope when I launched the brand and as I issued new perfumes. And once, I told her about an experimental method of composing formulas that I’d developed which mimicked how Niki, for a time, shot at canvases loaded with sacs of pigment with a gun to create violent, cathartic, actionist paintings. Alyssa then issued a challenge: might I try any other way into Niki’s work? Was I really taking inspiration from her? Or was I passively participating in a tradition of violence? To address Alyssa’s challenge, I turned to some of Niki’s contemporaries—Hannah Wilke and Ana Mendieta—before eventually returning to my experiment. Then, I found that Niki’s shooting paintings no longer intrigued me as much as did her big, bouyant, hyper-stylized sculptures of jubilant women she called Nanas. So I started over.
In French, “Nanas” is slang for sassy, confident young women; in English, its sound is a “ba—“ syllable away from “bananas.” Nanas Eau de Parfum, in turn, is built on a skin musk featuring civet—a material widely mythologized in perfume lore as one associated with saucy women—and iso amyl acetate, a molecule that smells overwhelmingly of banana candy. To this duo I’ve added three different ylang-ylang materials as well as both white and red champaca flower, before folding in lactonic, musky angelica root, a tightly controlled dose of minty, green shiso leaf and a generous dose of warm cardamom. Finally, to laminate the perfume so that it unfolds into increasingly realistic, more discernibly human layers of scent as it wears, I’ve added a blood-red botanical that smells of creamy yogurt and baked goods undergirded by a hint of sharp, acrid, valerian root. In turn, Nanas EdP performs a reverse stylization of the candy-like banana molecule, elevating it through the perfume’s dry down from cartoonish fantasy into reality, where all around us are deficits of care for other humans. While it may, for now, be easier to obtain and use life-taking weapons than it is to even notice or feel, much less hear or act on, the desires of our more compassionate and life-supporting spirits, our times’ reality requires it of us—and a reward is built right into that struggle once we undertake it. As it is when we peel back skins of bananas to uncover their sweet, interior fruits.
Alyssa’s passionate political challenge helped me do so. As I peeled away some of the rougher, edgier, more stern and aggressive layers of myself, I eventually found my own answer to a basic, oft-asked question, one I’d set out to discover for myself when I began creating the Citationals Series of biographically inspired perfumes: does life imitate art, or does art imitate life? Now that I’ve completed Nanas EdP, the third and final installment in this series, I’m confident my answer is simply, yes. Art and life each nessecitate and reflect one another. Whether or not an artist makes work that embraces others or art that repels them is up to artists themselves.
So in the footsteps of Niki de Saint Phalle, who sold perfume in order to fund projects that enabled her to change the real world for the better, a generous percentage of proceeds from the sales of Nanas EdP will go toward supporting women in the US who need access to life-saving medical care that has recently been litigated into no longer being their human right in many states. Lucky me, then, for knowing and already being in conversation with Alyssa Harad, a longtime activist for women’s rights, on this project. She’s graciously advised me about where I should direct these dollars, and I thank her for that advice—and much more.