AN INTERVIEW WITH MAP OF THE HEART CO-FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR JEFFREY DARLING
Clem Macleod interviews Map of the Heart Co-Founder and Film Director Jeffrey Darling about the pursuit of storytelling through film and fragrance.
Do you think you’ve been received differently by the European market than the Australian?
Yeah. Like so many things, the Europeans love the Australian aspect of it. Simultaneously, the Australian’s love the European context of it. So it’s always that exoticness that people love. But a point of interest in our fragrance is the Australian ingredients – for example the Sandalwood in each fragrance are indigenous to part of Western Australia and are found on the lands of indigenous communities. I know some of the stories that we’ll build from will go deeper into journeys within this continent and the people on it.
So it’s a uniquely Australian brand?
Yeah, I guess it is. It’s got a uniquely Australian bloodline in it. However, ultimately it’s a globalised brand. We’ve got Pierre Dinand doing the bottles, he’s kind of the bottle-designing rockstar from Paris and he’s designed most of the key bottles in the world. He’s got about 20 bottles in Le Grand Musée Du Parfum in Paris now, so that’s been interesting because that’s really a part of Paris and the world of fragrance with Givaudan. I’d say its probably 80% Paris, but inevitably the creatives are coming from here (Australia) and the aesthetic is borne from here.
Who were your main influences for Map of the Heart?
I guess it has always been filmmakers. Most of our things come from more classical filmmakers like Bergman and Tarkovsky. Wild Strawberries and Stalker – those kinds of films. Films that bring with them an ambiguous, dream-like style. Which I think is part of the idea of fragrance. You really get that conjuring of memory.
“‘WHAT IS IT AROUND WHAT IS IT TO LIVE? WHAT IS IT THAT IS THE EXPRESSION OF IT?’ - THAT’S THE GREAT THING WITH THESE COLLABORATIONS, WE FIND WITH THE NOSES THAT WE DEAL WITH, THEY ARE ALL STORYTELLERS."
Do you think that the dream-like aesthetic is on trend at the moment?
Well, I guess Blade Runner has just come out. That’s got a dream/memory aspect to it. There’s a certain melancholia that comes with that dream quality. It’s really part of that language and vocabulary that people have out there. Just like there’ll be comedy aspects, there’s a certain emotion that comes with that sense of nostalgic dream in the sense of ambiguity that you get out of those story lines. It opens a lot of questions and makes your mind expand.
And that goes back to the vital aspect of memory.
Yeah. Very much with Map of the Heart, it was really based around the thread of ‘what it is to live’ and what the story of memory is. It makes you feel more human and more alive, to remember. With a lot of the scents that’s what we’re experiencing.
The Clear Heart is very youthful – an exuberance filled with salts and the smell of oceans and grasses. It really had that youthful experience of running down sand dunes. The Red Heart is more ripe, fertile and quite sexual, and the Black Heart was about having ‘to experience life you have to come so close to the edge of death to get that rush out of it again’. Gold Heart was much more a restorative peace, which came out of mythology and the abundance within the lands. The Pink Heart came out with another feeling of life, which was based more around a hallucinogenic. It was much more this experience of an opiated state that you could really go into; an outer-body experience. But, there’s more to it than that. Within the pink story one of the threads we pursued was the smell of plastic toys. It was quite a bizarre thing but it was based on the smell of blowing up a beach ball. As much as you would think that’s probably a repulsive smell, it kind of works in a sense of memory and escapism.
Similarly with Purple Heart, which was around the idea of valor, it came from the dirt of the lands and this feeling of something out of the earths, something heroic rises and a more floral scent rises over the dirty tones. It was almost built backwards. Usually you would start with something bright and it settles to something deep, this went the other way round so it was quite interesting. Even within that, the act of valor was really interesting too; based on the smell of ink. Smelling an ink well.
‘What is it around what is it to live? What is it that is the expression of it?’ – that’s the great thing with these collaborations and with the noses that we work with, they are all storytellers.
And since you’re getting lots of different people involved, they would all have different perceptions of things.
Yeah. Most of the fragrance work has been with Jacques Huclier, who’s one of the noses. Originally when we first started we sent out a visual brief, similar to a film brief, and seven or eight fragrances came back from Givaudan. We then picked three lines to explore from. All of the fragrances were from different people but the three that we chose were Jacques, strangely enough. So, he became our partner within it and we’ve recently collaborated with a junior perfumer at Givaudan to develop the pink. We also have another collaborator, Giovanna, our fragrance developer. She previously worked at YSL in developing fragrances so she is a huge asset to us.
Are you planning on doing other hearts?
There’s been a lot of intrigue around that. The bottle itself is something that has that sense of ‘ugly beauty’ and I think that’s what we always wanted. Something poetic. People either love it or hate it. As far as what else to develop from here we’ve been talking about a different millilitre sizes, but we’re still trying to explore those ideas. It’s not necessarily like a fragrance brand that goes into candles. Map of the Heart is much more an experiential brand, so it’s a different story all together. Where it goes next may be very different. The magazine is a big part of the development though.
Do you see the communication through the magazine expanding?
Yeah. And that’s key to it. The fragrance is kind of ‘exit through the gift store’ as far as the magazine’s concerned. But it gives us a reason to produce it and inevitably it is trying to find that attraction through creatives. People are interested because it’s so ambiguous, so you can bring in photographers, writers and artists, so many different virtues of media because they all have a different sense and experiential relationship with fragrance. Which is again harking back to starting in film.
Do you think your vision has changed over the years?
You’re always trying to reinvent your vision. You have these moments of reinvention and that’s the interesting thing, you’re always trying to look at what the streets are doing, what societies doing, what fashion’s doing. You’ve got to be always moving forward.
Do you find that more difficult now that it’s so easy for people to create content and get it out via online platforms?
I guess I find myself isolating away from that kind of stuff now. Even from the point of exploring Instagram for a while and coming to the realisation that it wasn’t helping my mind.
You don’t want to be comparing yourself.
Yeah. But in saying that, I also find the idea of Instagram an intriguing language because it’s made a lot of people understand very iconic still moments. Motion too. There’s something intriguing with that and I think that’s influenced a lot of the vocabulary of how we express things. I don’t think that’s really been capitalised on yet. Sure, it sits in Instagram, but how that influences other things or how you respond to that world; I think that’s definitely to be explored.
Do you think that Map Of The Heart will have a more organic following? Without worry of competitors?
Yeah, well I don’t think we can worry. Ideally if we could find our own market and find our own people to keep feeding, that’s really what we’re after. There’s so many competitors around that it’s not even worth thinking about; there are 3000 fragrances released each year. It’s really about how much we can build and develop with it and see where the journey takes us. For us, it’s definitely about the journey and the sense of being able to express ourselves. That’s important.
What are your future prospects for Map of the Heart?
The key prospect in my mind is to be able to communicate that fragrance is an expressive language and part of the creative vocabulary.
Within it, we’re really building the story to bring it to fruition and what comes out of that is a really interesting world of collaborations. That’s the thing that we’re really ambitiously looking for, which travels from art to magazines and stories, to some of the filmmaking that’s going on. So, in terms of where it could go, it’s an interesting world as to what it could become. There are so many different formats now. Even in film media, so many different worlds to put stuff out in. There are so many things to play with, and it’s just a matter of finding the tool to get those stories out.
I think that fragrance is a really undervalued entity. I guess because it is such a mysterious thing, to put into a bottle and capture.
“PEOPLE WILL REALLY WANT TO OWN A CERTAIN SMELL. ANOTHER WORLD WE WORK WITH IS THE MIDDLE EAST, BOTH IN PHOTOGRAPHY AND STORYTELLING. SO MUCH OF THEIR WORLD IS SO HIDDEN, BUT SMELL IS A REAL PERSONAL IDENTIFICATION."
It is. And I’ve found in my life that at certain moments smell has really transported me so quickly into other areas. But it has always been that debate, “how strongly does music shift you as opposed to how image shifts you as opposed to scent…” and they all have their own balances. You do get transported through these things though. Your mind goes on other journeys. Fragrance is really just another great way to express yourself.
With us, each colour and each story within each fragrance has certain worlds; hallucinogenic worlds of valor and youth. These things that certain smells evoke of certain things. The darkness that’s within the Black Heart, which is so different from the Clear fragrance in its youthfulness of summer, smells and grasses, oceans. It’s all about the different experiences.
Do you think that some people are more receptive to the sentimentality of scent?
People will really want to own a certain smell. Another world we work with is the Middle East, both in photography and storytelling. So much of their world is so hidden, but smell is a real personal identification. In a very basic way it’s so vivid in those areas – how fragrance is presented and utilised to individualise people. It’s interesting that most of the ideas of fragrance for me personally are really about a certain personal feeling that you get out of it, as opposed to an outward expression. It gives me a certain feeling, rather than presenting something to other people. The other intriguing thing with all this stuff is that different skin types, different temperatures, they really shift the tones of the scent. It’s another fascinating world to play with. It’s remarkable. Quite often when we’re billing these scents on different people it’s so different.
It’s always going to smell different on that little piece of tester paper than on someone’s skin.
Yeah, and how long it’s going to sit there.
That’s really where it’s going. It’s trying to keep those two things feeding, film and fragrance. That’s where Velvet comes under too – it’s really trying to give a lot of people an opportunity to express something, and fragrance gives that opportunity. We’re trying to encourage and build that.
How do you choose the filmmakers that you represent with Velvet?
I think it’s very obvious that they have a personal signature and style. I can really see when they have their own realistic vocabulary and it’s not an imitation. That’s what we look for and I think it’s very obvious that there are people out there that have their signature. There’s so much other work that’s just mimicked and that’s what you’re always looking to avoid. The thing that you want is to be able to detect that talent and help it grow to be identified. To get that expression out there at least; it’s very easy to get it snuffed out really quickly and people will lose that, and that inspiration and vocabulary that they’ve had disappears.
The industry is a hard industry, there are a lot of opinions in it and there’s a lot of management in it so we want to help guide people through it. I think with Velvet there are a lot of people that are trying to help that happen. They’ll mentor people through, and that’s what a lot of the connection is; how we can support people through and help them get those connections. It’s hard to understand what it means to be true to yourself. If you can fall in love with something and find an inspiration point then you’ve always got something to look back to.
It’s interesting I can look at things that I’ve done probably 25-30 years ago and I still identify with the feelings that are in there. I think that especially for young filmmakers it’s really hard when you first see the reflections of yourself in your work; you’re putting yourself out there and exposing yourself. It’s somewhat intimidating and awkward and people will see it as a piece of film that can be criticised, but for you it’s your essence.
Definitely with the film industry you learn to become pretty thick skinned and that’s what we’re trying to teach everybody. Do your thing and be rejected and it will keep happening for the rest of your life and if it doesn’t then you’re probably not going to be happy as well, you’ll just have a whole load of sycophantic people around you. So yeah, it’s a tough industry and the perfume thing has been like that to some extent as well because everybody always has an opinion on what things should be and for us, it’s a new industry. We can choose to follow everybody’s opinions or we can just say ‘well, yes I get that but we’re going to go this way and see what happens’ which I think is what the film industry has taught us.
Black Heart v.2 Campaign
Directed by Jeffrey Darling
Photography by Jeffrey Darling
Interview by Clem Macleod