In this series, co-founders Sarah Blair and Jeffrey Darling take an unfiltered look back at the making of Map of the Heart, from the beginning of the bottle to each fragrance, reflecting on the unique journey thus far.
Jeff: Sarah, do you remember the beginning of Map of the Heart? The bottle? And shape of the bottle?
Sarah: It began when I discovered this antique laboratory bottle in a junk shop - that was what started me on the perfume. When I thought about it further and we started discussing it, it became more about this idea of the heart being a symbol of connection between people. Particularly in the times we live in and the ways we communicate with each other. Are we more connected? Are we less connected? And so it was really thinking about those ideas and questions. We wanted it to have authenticity, which would later become the anatomical heart. And once we really thought about that, and about the name, it was being able to express different emotions though scents because a scent has that great ability to transport you immediately to a feeling.
After the name Map of the Heart was established, we looked for a bottle designer that had really done some extraordinary work. Work that had changed the game throughout their career. In researching this, the bottles that really stood out always came back to Pierre Dinand.
Jeff: I can remember you coming in with the idea of the fragrance. It was an interesting approach for us to try and explore from our background in film. The heart was immediately something that we both reacted to emotionally, and for many reasons. I guess it was tricky because you have a love heart, which has nothing to do with what we’re after, and then there is this anatomical heart which is the other extreme. Our design was somewhere in the middle of all this. That was an interesting moment - when we first conceived the idea of the bottle. It came from you approaching me with this random idea of pursuing a fragrance brand, then it progressed to this idea of the heart, and the heart is something that can become its only language. Really, the heart has kept the idea of the fragrance going. It was such an unusual position to come from. I think if we had done any other sort of bottle, it would’ve lost its intrigue quickly.
I remember you looking for bottle designers, finding Pierre and thinking How do we approach someone like this? We had already designed this presentation for Givaudan around the idea of the brand and so we sent it to Pierre, and he immediately reacted. We didn’t really know what we were in for. We’re Australians dealing with a French perfume industry. And inevitably, this is a business which is family oriented. Here is a classic designer in his 80s, having done some of the most iconic bottles in the history of fragrances, and we’re approaching him to see if he's interested in this bespoke project. So that was a great moment.
Sarah: And I think there was a lot of naivety. At this stage, we had found Givaudan and they had come on board already to produce the fragrances, so we knew that the idea was interesting. But we were still very naive about Pierre because it wasn’t until we met with him in Paris and walked into his atelier that we realised. And it’s the most wonderful office with a mezzanine that goes along one wall, and it is floor to ceiling of perfume bottles. Not in any particular order. So when we walked in there, there were so many recognisable bottles. Anybody who wears and collects perfume would have at least three or four of his designs in their collection. That was the first inkling of what a tremendous pillar of the fragrance world he was.
Jeff: And Pierre is a real craftsman, which was where we could relate to him. It wasn’t like we were walking into a manufacturer. He had the language, and it was a very easy process, a family process. It became an interesting and open dialogue. How long do you think it took for us to get the first developments?
How can you translate a story into a vocabulary for a scent? The heart has kept pushing us. We need something that has passion, love, ecstasy. These elements are very human and every time we’re looking for story, we always go back to that design of the heart. That’s the story which evokes the smell. All of those elements make it a Map of the Heart scent. They’re very powerful, scents that really do conjure imagery that's not of the ordinary. Imagery that feels like an experience. And that I feel this has been a fantastic element to be able to use in the fragrance world: to imagine story.
Sarah: He was very old school so the first thing that came back were hand drawings, which we still have. They were a little too much like an anatomical heart, with valves coming out and so on. What we said to him was that we really wanted the bottle to be of course, anatomical, but stylised. We weren't trying to go into some gothic, gory, medical-esque world, but something more emblematic as opposed to literal.
Jeff: He did very much understand the idea of ugly beauty. That you could fall in love and be seduced by it. It was a really interesting dialogue. The bottle has been so iconic because of its asymmetry.
You’d imagine that perfume bottles, hearts, they’ve all been around forever. But this has a totally different meaning and story - a different resonance.
Sarah: One of the things that I’m always very attracted to and love to explore is the idea of opposite forces. So the bottle is both ugly and beautiful, attractive and repulsive, all at once. I believe that everything that is truly beautiful has something not quite perfect. Finessed perfect beauty is sometimes boring because you can understand it immediately, whereas your fascinations holds in things you can’t quite understand or doesn’t add up. For me, the bottle definitely has that.
The bottle is both ugly and beautiful, attractive and repulsive, all at once. I believe that everything that is truly beautiful has something not quite perfect. Finessed perfect beauty is sometimes boring because you can understand it immediately, whereas your fascinations holds in things you can’t quite understand or doesn’t add up.
By the time we met Pierre in Paris, he had already made the first resin mould. And I remember when we met with him, he was going to a niche fragrance fair in Milan called Esxence. He invited me to go with him and so I did, and it was really there that I understood that his significance in the industry. Everybody knew him, everybody wanted a selfie with him.
Jeff: You began to see the privilege in our experience. It’s somewhat by fortune it happened that way. Few people had that opportunity.
Sarah: And the great thing about working with Pierre was that he then became a mentor through the manufacturing process. The filler that we use was his recommendation. The people that make the caps are people he recommended. The French glass engineers. Even though we were a very small company that had never done anything like this before, he really made those introductions and helped us through that process. And when we first were developing the perfumes and we went to Paris to finalise the first three fragrances, Pierre would always come to the meetings with Jacques (Huclier) and Giovanna (Aicardi). So he was very involved in the whole process, and it has been a wonderful collaboration.
Jeff: What was interesting about the whole process was that it wasn’t just a dictation from him, but rather a dialogue. The further we delved in, the intricacies, it was so much about the points in the bottle where you feel like stroking, touching and playing. The idea of collar was also another intricacy. Most collars are stock, and here we have a very odd shaped bottle. Pierre wanted a collar that would pull forward from the glass and be fluid in its form. The cap was also a big thing. It was something unique. You couldn’t put a stock cap on top as so many others have. He wanted something which would show the bloodline idea of the brand and have a bespoke signature on it. It is practical but feels fine and very handmade. That has been a beautiful signature of the collection.
Sarah: The cap was always meant to be something that just protected the spray and didn't detract from the bottle. It wasn’t necessarily invisible, but to suggest the bloodline of the heart. Which is why no matter what colour the bottle is, or what the scent is, the cap will always be red.
We also made the decision for the bottle to lie down.
Jeff: Pierre was very adamant from the beginning that it shouldn’t stand. I was pushing it to stand more than anybody, but then it's really interesting to make something that you have to pick up and isn’t a dresser object. It’s like something you befriend and want to own. Something which will stand out. Even figuring out who could make such a piece, because of the asymmetry: it was trying to be as seamless as possible. The way the glass is poured and how the moulds are filled were incredibly unusual. This is a very bespoke piece.
Sarah: Every year Pierre exhibits in a packaging fair. He still has so many glass manufacturers walk by asking ‘Who produces that bottle? Who are the crazies that took that on?’
Jeff: With our team we’ve made it work, which is a really beautiful thing to see. It’s opened a lot of eyes and kept a lot of intrigue around Pierre’s story. The bottle has certainly launched our world of fragrance and our brand in such an intriguing way.
Sarah: Certainly, and when we launched in 2014 at Pitti Florence, people were immediately attracted to want to know more about the brand. Particularly when you go to these fairs, there are thousands of bottles and quite a few hundred brands exhibiting. The heart bottle was different from everything else there. It wasn’t derivative. And so people wanted to know what it was, who we were. It was very important for the brand to have such an intriguing bottle.
The bottle is the promise of the juice. It is the starting point for a courting experience of the fragrance. And so the very gratifying thing for us when we launched was that not only were people very intrigued by the bottle, but when they smelt the fragrances they immediately understood the quality. Just as we had found Pierre to do the bottle, and he was definitely the right person at the right level, we then had Givaudan and Giovanna Aicardi to help us develop and refine the fragrances until we were very confident in the first three we launched.
Jeff: It is a two way street between the bottle and the scent. The bottle influences the scent and vice versa. The idea of the heart was this experience of life, of what it is to live. In other words, what are these experiences that you have in human existence? How can you translate a story into a vocabulary for a scent? The heart kept pushing us. We need something that has passion, love, ecstasy. We need these things in it. We need darkness. Valour. These elements are very human and every time we’re looking for story, we always go back to that design of the heart. That’s the story which evokes the smell. All of those elements make it a Map of the Heart scent. They’re very powerful scents that really do conjure imagery that’s not of the ordinary. Imagery that feels like an experience. And that I feel has been a fantastic element to be able to use in the fragrance world: to imagine story.
Video - Map of the Heart Presents: Pierre Dinand
Director Jeffrey Darling
Editor Adam Wills
Illustrations - Pierre Dinand