by: Miguel Matos
Flowers are life. Flowers are pure. Flowers are erotic. Flowers are Beautiful. But flowers can also be deadly, sinful, repulsive and ugly. Flowers are actors in nature's endless narrative. They seduce and tempt, sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. The flowers invented by Parfums Quartana are the ones that lead us to dangers and illusions. To debauchery and oblivion. They are not simple plants and their smell carries unsuspected effects on the human mind. They form fatal potions inside their sexual organs. Their petals allure the ones who dare to own a voyeuristic position. After smelling these, one is not the same.
“Les Potions Fatales explores the treacherous beauty and intriguing lore behind nine of the world’s most poisonous flowers. At once tantalizing and perilous, these mortal fleurs have been used to nefarious ends throughout history. Yield to their charms and surrender to a fragrant femme fatale (or homme fatale) — seductive on the outside but ultimately dark, sinister, and dangerous.” - Parfums Quartana
Les Potions Fatales is the name of the line from the amazing brand Parfums Quartana, a line that has been praised and awarded, even if it is not a very famous name for now. All of the perfumes in this collection evoke flowers and their names come from specific species, although their smell is something of a fiction created by the personality of the flowers and the fact that all of them are poisonous. Some attract you and poison you to violent results, others merely give you a bite until you are stunned. I adore this collection and its design is remarkable.
In the last edition of Pitti Fragranze, in Florence, I had the opportunity of chatting briefly with Joseph Quartana, owner and creative director of the brand. We talked about life, death and awards:
MIGUEL MATOS: Joseph, this year you won the Perfume Extraordinaire Award from the Fragrance Foundation for your Poppy Soma. What do you think about that?
JOSEPH QUARTANA: Yes, to my surprise and shock! It was actually my second FiFi, but in a different category. The previous award was in the Indie category. What's different is that the Perfume Extraordinaire prize is completely decided blindfold. So it starts out with all the houses and their perfumers evaluating all the fragrances that they created for a year to determine their favorite. I found out that Symrise, who I have collaborated with, was going to submit my Poppy Soma for consideration for the Perfume Extraordinaire. It doesn't mean you are nominated, it just means that they have submitted it. Before that, I was actually really devastated when I heard that I was not nominated for best indie. Actually I was not mentioned in any of the “top 10 of the year” articles in perfume blogs, except for Fragrantica. You guys gave me a nice shout out. I worked on Poppy Soma for three years with hundreds of variations so I was expecting some recognition.
MIGUEL: I really love Poppy Soma. It's my favorite within your brand and I like the metallic bloody aspect in it. It's a disturbing fragrance.
JOSEPH: Thank you. You have good taste. I wanted all of them to be disturbing. The concept is about poisonous flowers, so there is a darkness there. Anyway, I was so surprised the day that I found out about the nomination. We were going up against Kilian, MAC, Diana Vreeland... I thought there was no way I was going to win. The irony is that the same night that I won the prize, I survived the ceremony and two hours later I was in the emergency room because my gallbladder was going to explode. So I was getting surgery at 7am. It was the best and worst night of my life all in one. But I was going too close to death with this. In fact, this whole collection of fragrances was a meditation on death for years.
MIGUEL: Why is it so?
JOSEPH: They are all about poisonous flowers and how they were used for murder and suicide, assassination and bad sorcery. I was imagining the design and the small films that brought back to life the femme fatale, a sort of spirit that represents each of the poisonous flowers. I was taking my mind to some very dark places during this whole time, drinking a lot of wine almost every night. And you know someone said that if you look at the darkness, it looks back at you. Truth is I almost died that night.
MIGUEL: Was it a consequence of everything?
JOSEPH: Yes, but isn't that weird? What a strange coincidence.
MIGUEL: Even though it is not part of the concept of Les Potions Fatales, it is a reflex of your own self?
JOSEPH: Yes, in the process that went into it. It was all about death and I almost died after winning the prize.
Notes: Sichuan Pepper, Curry Leaf, Red Pepper, Black Gardenia, Jasmine Sambac, Red Rose, Old Church Incense, Labdanum, Tuberose, Styrax, Musk Tonquin
"Known to the Ancient Sumerians as 'the joy plant', poppy symbolized nocturnal oblivion, specifically sleep, night, and death in the pre-Christian world. 'Soma' is a Vedic word that means 'moon' and refers to the sweet milky sap that when oozing from the poppy bulbs would glow in the moonlight, and which was processed into raw opium to be smoked. Ours captures the before-and-after of the experience from sweet, milky sap to pungent smoke."
MIGUEL: Was it the Poppy Soma poison effect?
JOSEPH: Actually, Poppy Soma is about the dreams that you get from an opium trip. We focused on the aspect of how the Chinese used it for sex. I was imagining two intertwined nude bodies, dreaming together on opium. This warmth and the smoky smell. These fragrances come from a real place. I was very angry with the fashion industry after I lost my shop in 2012 where I worked for 15 years and I almost lost Sixscents too. So I had this venom coming out of me and when I created this collection of poisonous flowers it was a catharsis. I felt better but it almost culminated in my death.
MIGUEL: Would you say that this period of your life is over and closed?
JOSEPH: I think I have passed it, yes.
MIGUEL: And how do you feel now, smelling these perfumes that came out of it?
JOSEPH: It's nice. I can look at it objectively, from a distance. And I am still surprised at how nice they came out.
MIGUEL: I think darkness can be beautiful inside.
JOSEPH: Absolutely. And in this day and age when everyone is taking Xanax and Prozac and this fake instagram bullshit of living the perfect life, you need the relativity of bad and I wanted to embrace that as a counterweight to this fake happy culture that is everywhere.
MIGUEL: Which one is the darkest, meanest of your fragrances?
JOSEPH: Wolfsbane for sure. It's a stroll through dark ominous woods at midnight with wolfs lurking around you. There's an apprehensiveness to it. Wolfsbane is actually used by warriors to poison arrow tips and also hunters to kill wolves. So we wanted to capture the rage of a warrior and the ferocity of a wolf in a psychedelic way. You don't know if it's going to fuck you to death or kill you. It's super intense in a dark beautiful way. It's like having gay sex inside Berghain listening to dark techno at 6am.
MIGUEL: What is the next step for Parfums Quartana?
JOSEPH: I have been thinking about the follow up. What's going to be next? Do I want to do a completely different thing? Very recently I found a solution with something completely different but it complements this first collection. I can't reveal much for now.
Miguel Matos joined Fragrantica in 2013 and edits the Portuguese version Fragrantica.com.br. Miguel writes for Beautyalmanac.com.