Mario Lombardo was born in Argentina, his family emigrated to Germany when he was five. His design studio BUREAU Mario Lombardo focusses on print design and coporate identities. Amongst others Mario art directed the magazines Sleek, Spex, Dummy and PAGE. His works have won numerous awards. Mario loves perfume and has launched a line of scented candles and personal fragrances under the name of Atelier Oblique. www.mariolombardo.com.
PORTRAITS: Florian Oellers
01. THE BLIND TASTING
Habit Rouge BY GUERLAIN
We confronted Mario Lombardo with a mystery perfume in a neutral, opaque vaporizer. Only afterwards did we reveal the name of the scent. Follow Mario on his journey into scent …
There’s something smoky about the fragrance. It suggests solitude. Perhaps on some luxurious morning when I step out of a house with a view of something cold: mountains, or a lake. It is a stolen moment, because I come from a flat country, and I rarely take vacations. I know nothing about mountains. Maybe I’m recalling a moment from a movie, or a song. The solitude I hope the mountains may afford me is cool. But then the scent becomes fresher and more beautiful. More gentle, too. So finally I feel like slipping into the day.
It’s a fresh start that I smell here! There are still mountains, but they must be in France, because the smell is growing very romantic now: sweet, and lemony … It cannot be far to the sea. This must be the Cote d’Azur!
A hint of something floats on the air. Soon it will be overlaid by the smell of espresso. It is the presence of a woman, but the woman has gone. The fragrance is left over from the previous evening. The woman may be a first love whom one has met again after forty years, to talk about the past: an encounter not in the present but a distant memory, unfolding before one’s mind’s eye. A woman one was once very close to, but who is a stranger now, and new. The room is luxurious.
It oozes Cote d’Azur feeling: feudal, villa-style, and very private. Here lives the man whom the woman has come to visit. It is a bright morning, and the day will be hot. The space is sparsely decorated in leather, with marble floors. Walls are a delicate green, shot through with shades of gold. This is a space where going barefoot feels delicious. There is a sense of home!
Ceiling-high windows open onto a balcony. There are no shutters but heavy curtains. One cannot see the sea from here, but there is a garden in full bloom. Not that one looks beyond the curtains. Yet what is out there very slowly suffuses the space within.
These two persons were once very close. They will meet again, but perhaps only after a very long time. Their reunion was a reverie. A mixture of lies and truth: an illusion — yet each played a part, so as to lend it more substance than truth. The truth is, they are as normal as everyone else. This was meant to be a moment that each might remember, as a first love is remembered: the first love the two of them had shared. So it was not so very far from the truth.
The owner of the villa lives alone and he has money. He is in his 60s. The woman is about the same age. She has a wealth of experience, and has laughed a lot in life. If this were a movie, Jane Birkin would play her role while he would be a Paul Nixon type of guy. What he does professionally doesn’t matter to me. He can afford himself solitude, as well as the time to enjoy it.
They have drunk wine. Coffee and a cigarette will follow hard on its heels then what happened yesterday evening will go up in smoke: a memory already. There was nothing tragic about the encounter; in fact it was very sweet. It was a pleasant evening. It was a marvelous lie.
2. THE INTERVIEW
“No other connection than smell.”
SCENTURY: What was your earliest experience of fragrance?
Mario Lombardo: We fled the junta and hence Argentina in 1978, when I was five years old. When we returned there for the first time, 18 years later, we landed in what was for me a foreign country. I had neither memories of the place nor connections with the people there. But then we went to Rosario, to my grandma’s place, and I immediately felt at home. After a while things just clicked and I realized that it was because of the fragrance. It was a mixture of my grandmother’s rosewater, of kerosene in the smog over Buenos Aires, and curd soap.
SC: And that was what triggered your memories?
ML: There was no other connection to the past than that smell. And it was a very moving experience for me. It motivated me to go to our old house, to visit my old kindergarten, to consider from a distance people whom I would probably otherwise have known, or with whom I might have played on the street as a kid. That was almost the most moving moment in my life …
SC: Have you been back again, since then?
ML: Yes. I have been back to Argentina four times in all.
SC: Does it always smell differently there than here?
ML: Of course! The people too smell very differently. It’s really noticeable when Argentinians pay us a visit. Sweat here, smells a little more sour; theirs is sweeter by contrast.
SC: Do people there use perfume?
ML: Yes, and especially when they put on their Sunday best. They wear a good splash of it then, along with conspicuous big jewelry. That’s the day they see the family and go out to eat as a group. There is an incredible nostalgia there for all things European and this Sunday routine is a case in point. Nostalgia is a major issue in Argentina, on lots of counts — one need only dance a tango to sense that. We used to send 4711 Kölnisch Wasser from Germany to Argentina by the boatload.
SC: What was the first perfume you ever owned?
ML: I think it was Tabak Original, and my father used to use that, too. He returned to Argentina when I was still very young and I think he wanted to give me something to remember him by, when he made me a gift of it …
SC: Have you already had occasion to deal with perfume in a professional capacity?
ML: I have already developed a perfume all by myself, as part of an exhibition. Comme des Garçons scents were an important reference for me at the time: lots of wood and incense. I spent three months constantly modulating mine, and experimenting.
SC : But you didn’t collaborate on the project with a perfumer?
ML: No, but I would be delighted to get to know one! I’ve wanted to make scented candles for some time already. I’m totally fascinated by spaces and fragrances, and I would love to combine the two as a means of transporting personal memories from one place to the next.
SC: What personal memories do you have in mind?
ML: I used to listen to Joy Division on vinyl, for instance, for hours on end. I’d sit on the carpet in front of my record player and watch the record go round and round. I can remember exactly how that felt: there was a connection there, between the dreams the music inspired, the smell of the carpet, and the design of the album sleeve. Listening to the same albums on my computer today comes nowhere even close to that experience.
SC: Would you use words to describe such moments to the perfumer, or would you communicate with him visually?
ML: I would tell him about it and then wait and see what he came up with. I think there might be a few surprises in store and that is the point, in my view: I like to be surprised, and also to surprise myself.
SC: What is the best fragrance of all, in your opinion?
ML: My daughter’s own. But her smell is always changing. As a baby she smelled of softness and cream … She smells differently now.. I also love the smell of freshly baked bread.
SC: Do you always wear the same perfume, or do you tend to switch back and forth between a few?
ML: I used to have a lot of different perfumes and I thought one should wear perfume the way one does clothes. But at the moment I always wear the same one: Comme des Garçons #2. I’ve come to associate a particular fragrance with my mother, for example, and realize that I wouldn’t like it if she were suddenly to smell some other way. And I would like the same sense of permanence for myself now. Perhaps I am getting old [laughs].
HS: Thank you, Mario!
ABOUT MARIO LOMBARDO
Name: Mario Lombardo
ABOUT THE PERFUME
Perfume: Habit Rouge by Guerlain
Perfumer: Jean-Paul Guerlain
This post has first been published on November 11th 2013. For more perfume blindtastings click here.