August 16, 2016
Not all fragrances have deadly origin stories, although not all fragrances are Les Potions Fatales. "I felt an accumulation of venom from all that Seven drama," said founder Joseph Quartana, referring to his Soho boutique so beset with building issues — persistent scaffolding, sidewalk closures, artist Donald Judd's will — that it was forced to close in 2012.
"After losing 13 years of blood, sweat, and tears, I was at a low point," he lamented. "Then one night I was watching Breaking Bad, the episode where Walter White makes poison from lily of the valley, the flower, and I had a lightbulb moment. I knew that the pent-up venom had to be released as poison perfume. I had a new project that would lift me out of the doldrums."
With that revelation, followed by nearly three years of intensive research and refinement, Les Potions Fatales by Parfums Quartana was born. Each of the collection's nine scents (in collaboration with nine perfumers at Symrise) is inspired by a poisonous flower, making for a complex, intoxicating elixir of accords unlike anything else on the market. That most of the namesake botanicals have a treacherous history or legend attached — think murders, rituals, coups — only makes them more seductive.
The first of the deadly brews, Lily of the Valley is also the most classic, a seemingly safe introduction to the mortal, morbid collection. As a counterbalance to its whiteness and purity, Quartana said he corrupted the notes with a dark shroud, "grounding them in black leather glove." No really, that's one of the accords.
The delicateness of another flower, Hemlock, also lent itself to besmirching. Quartana envisioned a girl eating the small white flowers, one after another, far too many, until "her face melted to reveal a black vinyl gimp mask." Not convinced? Black vinyl is, too, one of the accords.
Also known as foxglove, Digitalis is the sparkliest of the bunch, taking its cues from its folkloric association with fairies and woodland spirits. It's thus airy and refreshing, like a palate cleanser for the wickedness still to come.
A native of Brazil, the sweet Bloodflower is eaten by caterpillars to help in the process of metamorphosis. So Quartana and his team emphasized notions of transformation, as well as "vampiric" notions of bloodlust, and finally notions of goth, since Bloodflowers is the name of a 2000 album by The Cure.
Like Bloodflower, Venetian Belladonna is another deceptively sweet juice, infused with plum and honey, recalling tales of alpine witches gathering the flower to cast seduction spells on men.
Wolfsbane was used by hunters to kill wolves, but before that it was used in the East to dip arrows for battle. As the name suggests, it's full of animalistic, masculine fury, while black truffle and wormwood — used to make absinthe — soften the edges.
Contrary to myth, the collection's other masculine scent, Mandrake, doesn't shriek when pulled out of the ground — but it does scream apple, the top note used to make it. And it may well possess properties that aid in male fertility, as long believed.
Midnight Datura, so named for its flowers that bloom only at night, glowing in the moonlight, is often considered an aphrodisiac — that is, if hallucinations and mild paralysis don't accompany the good vibes. This is the grassiest, leafiest of the aromas.
For Poppy Soma, the most opulent and costly of the collection, befitting its opium affiliation, Quartana recruited Emilie Coppermann, the understudy for perfumer Jean Louis Siuzac, who created Opium for Yves Saint Laurent in 1978. She re-created her mentor's vision, retaining the oriental structure, but amping up the addictive sensuality.
There you have it, the nine scents that make up Les Potions Fatales series, the latest in high-concept perfumes. It goes without saying that the artwork and packaging would need to be equally conceptual. For the flacon, Quartana re-imagined the blue amethyst bottles in which ancient Greeks stored their poisons and commissioned original visuals from Argentine artist Aerosyn-Lex Mestrovic, whose paintings are splashed across the front of the boxes to psychedelic effect. "It's like aposematism," explained Quartana, "when a creature signals to predators that it's toxic."