Scentury’s Helder Suffenplan met with artist Kandis Williams in her Berlin studio for a perfume blindtasting a conversation about olfactive memories. Williams lived in Baltimore, New York, Paris and New Orleans where she experienced the intoxicating scents of jasmine, orchid and tuberose at night times. Today she lives in Berlin making a name for herself with her unique photocopy collages.
PORTRAITS: Franziska Taffelt
1. THE BLIND TASTING
TUBÉREUSE BY MONA DI ORIO
We confronted Kandis Williams with a mystery perfume in a neutral, opaque vaporizer. Only afterwards did we reveal the name of the scent. Follow Kandis on his journey into scent …
“She didn’t come to the forest to get herself into trouble …”
She might be from a warmer place. The intoxication, the woodiness, the very earthy feeling of the perfume … Maybe she was born in the Middle East but now lives in the North.
I picture this woman with her warm background in the freshness of a European forest in Fall. Fresh. Clear. It’s the Black Forest: very thin, long, straight fir trees. She is dressed in flowing things. It’s less about presentation and more about comfort. She is having a leave, a retreat from the city.
Staying in the wood is adventurous for her. At night she sleeps in a tent. Maybe she also brought the perfume to make the situation more homey. Like a home that you carry with you, an internal kind of safety. The perfume feels very safe, warm, musky — a very private scent someone wears often or has been wearing over a long time. There is also something very powdery to it. It reminds me of when you change a baby and you use powder. I have done this a lot. I have many brothers and sisters so there are a lot of children in my family. And babies always smell lovely, powdery fresh — everything about them.
She didn’t come to the forest to get herself into trouble, but maybe a younger couple came to the same place and there is this younger man … And I guess she is a very sexy women still. But she will stay with her family, it’s like a pretend adventure and she is aware of that. It’s only in her head, no one get’s hurt. It’s all about conversation, flirting, possibilities.
I could imagine to wear this perfume myself. It is a nice fantasy to be confident and collected when I am a bit older. Someone responsible for the safety of others. Stable but still attractive. Sexy but in a comforting relationship. That would be an optimistic, hopeful fantasy about my future.
2. THE INTERVIEW
“A theatre of competing loud feminine smells.”
SCENTURY: What is your earliest scent memory?
Kandis Williams: My father used to wear Polo Sport by Ralph Lauren and even Old Spice and Stetson deodorant. Very male fragrances. His presence was linked to that smell.
SC: So your father was very masculine?
KW: With three sisters of his own, a wife and four daughters, he couldn’t help but being masculine. Each of these women had their own scent. I remember a mixture of powder, alcohol and a crude blend of cheaper perfumes. A theatre of competing loud feminine smells. One aunt wears leopard prints all the time, I think she buys all her perfume at Right Aid.
SC: You grew up in Baltimore?
KW: Yes, Baltimore, Maryland, It’s really close to the water and the bay has a brackish water, so it’s a really particular smell. My grandmother always said that she could smell the rain coming. Lots of marshlands and swamp trees as well. It gets very humid in the summer.
“New York smells like consumption.”
SC: You lived in many cities. Did they all smell different?
KW: Oh yes! Before I moved to Berlin, I lived basically between New Orleans and New York. New York smells like consumption, like other people, like the subway, cars and pavement. Also like handbags and clothe, like things! I love the Bond No. 9 fragrances because they are so much inspired by the city. For example the pavement scent they have created. I recognize this smell from my time in NY.
New Orleans smells much more romantic. There are so many floral scents in the air even in the middle of the city. At night time you can smell jasmine, orchid, tuberose … And people are much more natural, people sweat! In New York they always cover it up. In New Orleans when you sweat, people say, “You’re shining!”
SC: Is this the gallantry of the South?
KW: Yes, and it’s also sexy! There is a lot of romance to it, a kind of wildness. New Orleans is very bodily and not so mental.
SC: Did you try some of the perfumes from your mother or aunts as a child?
KW: No, I was kind of anti-these things. Growing up in this women’s society I rejected early things like make-up, earrings, jewelry and lipstick.
“Using perfume is my way of dressing up.”
SC: Did that change in any way?
KW: Yes, the older I got the more I distinguished myself from my family. In New York I was living with a girl who wanted to become a perfumer. She made me read The Perfume by Patrick Süßkind. She was also making these very experimental perfumes in our ice trays in our house and was especially into nasty perfumes. So when you made yourself a drink and put ice cubes in it you never knew if it was just water or something else. It was gross! In the end she failed the test to become a perfumer and went back to painting.
SC: Do you use perfume on a regular basis today?
KW: I use perfume when I go out. I actually don’t really dress up: I wear jeans and sweaters all the time. So using perfume and putting on some earrings is my way of dressing up.
SC: Thank you, Kandis!
ABOUT KANDIS WILLIAM
Name: Kandis Williams
ABOUT THE PERFUME
Perfume: Tubéreuse by Mona di Orio
Perfumer: Mona di Orio