Andrea Maack — The striking scent of artistic freedom

With a background in visual arts, a passion for fashion and beauty and a limitless approach to creativity, Reykjavik born and raised Andrea Maack created a successful series of scented art exhibitions using scents as a medium of artistic expression. Nowadays, she turned her artistic vision into one the most sought after and unique brands within the international niche market of perfumes. Clear, clean, strong sometimes even abrasive scents, cut right out from the rough fairy-tale landscapes of Iceland, encaptured in a very unique bottle inspired by the obsidian volcanic rocks found in the Icelandic highlands. Who can resist that? I had the pleasure of meeting Andrea Maack and hear more about her Icelandic upbringing, her sources of inspiration and the stories behind some of her most coveted scents. Available at ENTRANCE.

By Diana Colcer

Photography: Benjamin Hardman and Amy Haslehust

Your are primarily a visual artist. Can you tell us more about your background on that? How did the idea of creating scented installations came about?

To go even further back al little bit, I always had a big interest in beauty and fashion. In Iceland, you do your traditional education and then most people want to go away and explore the world… So, I went to London. I lived in London in my early twenties and worked in the fashion industry there. When i came back to Iceland, I decided to study arts, because I thought it was an open field — whereas in beauty and fashion you can do certain things, in art you can do anything, and I wanted to challenge myself a little bit. In the beginning, for me it was more about the art, i focused on drawing, sculpting and the theory of arts. But for the first shows I did after I graduated arts school, I really wanted to incorporate my fashion and beauty background and at the same time I felt completely free to create whatever I wanted and bring into the exhibition whatever elements I felt like it, as I wasn’t going to sell anything anyway. The fragrances just happened as a part of a story where I was making these clothing pieces that were completely unwearable — they were these crazy fragrances that sort of mirrored the garments, fragrances that had my drawing as a starting point of inspiration and I didn’t think anyone would wanna actually wear them. SMART was my first scent, and people loved it. My first show was up for six weeks and people would come in and get one of my drawings, sprayed my perfume on it and totally loved it. We played around with the idea of beauty, and at the time, did a couple of other shows where we would put out perfumes that weren’t actually available the buy… The field of beauty was going through a lot of changes that I wasn’t aware of, I was just focusing on my art. And yeah, this is how it all started. It was an experimental project that took off. I though I should just go with the flow, see where it leads. And here I am.

To us, Iceland is this magical realm, a bit nostalgic and fantastical. How did growing up in Iceland, in this environment, influence your creativity and your artistic personality?

I think now, when I look back it’s easier to see how Iceland influenced me, because when you’re just living here, as a child, you think that everybody can run around in glaciers and see the northern lights everyday, you think that this is the world. And then, when you become a young adult you don’t want to be here anymore, because you fantasise about the big cities around the world. Today, Iceland feels more like an unconscious vibration inside me — I don’t think about it when I’m creating, but it’s obvious that it influenced me, I think it’s just “there”, in every scent, in every bottle that I design. I did a lot of travelling as kid, and now I really love it to be back in Iceland, because now I can really appreciate it. People pay a lot of money to come to Iceland and see all this magical stuff, and it’s kind of at my doorstep. I think this environment gave me my freedom in creativity, when you grow up in a place like this you see so much, a lot of amazing nature, a lot of beautiful things. You have so much space to do whatever you want and that’s probably why I’ve never felt any boundaries in what I do. I’ve never felt restricted.

Is this feeling a part of you personality as a woman as well?

Yeah, absolutely, it’s the way I grew up and I’ve never thought about myself as being unable to do this or that. Maybe it’s just my upbringing, or it’s just the energy in Iceland, unconsciously.

Before you were creating perfumes, before you even started as a visual artist… what was your favourite perfume? And what is the childhood smell that you are most fond of?

I wasn’t wearing that much perfume, actually, and didn’t think that much about scents. I think everyone went through the CK One and the Issey Miyake phases. My grandmother wore Cartier, which I didn’t really like at the time… And then white musk came into fashion and everyone was wearing it. That’s why, when I created SOFT TENSION I kind of wanted to recreate it, to put sort of a modern twist on the white musk. Of course, some childhood smells stayed with me also. For example, when I created BIRCH, I had in mind a family house we had just outside Reykjavik, which was surrounded by birch trees. This is the only tree that we have here and it has a very specific scent in the summer and in the spring, when it’s sort of raining on it… Then, we have a very strong pool culture here, so I have a lot of memories form back when I was a professional swimmer and I was swimming daily — that clean distinctive smell really stuck with me.

How do you turn drawings into fragrances and do fragrances have a colours? What is your colour?

Obviously just saying that a scent can be drawn on paper is a very abstract claim. But as a artist, you work with visuals all you life and you just think a bit differently. So, when i started with the drawings I was just thinking about the lines, how they would travel on the skin and about the notes of the fragrance, how they would change on the skin. When I smell something I just get these images — for example, SMART is just very, very white. And COVEN, another cult fragrance,  feels very green, although there’s nothing really green in it. I like scents that are quite clear, that express a colour very thoroughly.

So what is your new favourite colour or scent?

Hmm… I can’t say black and white, because they’re not really colours. But now, as we get ready to launch DARK, which feels just very, very red, I feel like I’m changing. We work a lot with roses now, and that’s a challenge for me even as a woman, because i’m not really romantic in that kind of sense. And I don’t really like romantic smells that much — you know, they’re just too sweet for me. So, to take the rose and make it really, really dark… I loved doing that. It was like oxidising it. So, for me red is everywhere now.

What about everyday scents? What inspired you toady?

I went to visit these crazy red and green craters and that was very inspiring, to see these raw, dashing, untampered with colours in nature. Also, the thing with Iceland… Yeah, the open spaces feel vast and limitless, but still, there’s nobody there. So, I guess solitude is another key inspiration point. I think some of the best ideas come in solitude, when you are able to be completely isolated from the world and technological devices. When I first had the idea of a perfume i didn’t have my computer of a week, because it was broken. I sill do that, isolating myself to write down ideas, although I am just as addicted to my e-mail and phone as everybody else. I think in order to let yourself be inspired, you have to calm your mind and just not look at anything for a few days. And then write down the thing you really wanna do. That’s how I got my most authentic thoughts.

Why unisex perfumes? Why not target genders differently?

Because I’ve never really planned to or thought about it. Even when the brand was already selling perfumes in shops, people asked me “why did you put your name on the bottle”… I never thought about that either. But now I’m actually very happy that we didn’t think about those things when we started, because I really don’t like the idea of people putting you in a box. I don’t like telling women or men what they should wear… Although I secretly enjoy being a women who creates scents that are so coveted by men also. It feels kind of empowering that men like to wear my fragrances as well.

So would you say that your fragrances are more like characters or embodying certain attributes, feelings or emotions?

Yeah, absolutely. You can’t really tell people what to like or what to wear. Some of the scents I consider more feminine, but we found out that men like to wear those to the gym, because they consider them softer, but still masculine and clean, suitable for working out. And that’s kind of unexpected! I like these stories where you create a scent and then you hear about how people are wearing them and it turns out to be something that you’ve never though about.

From all you fragrances, which is the one you feel represents best your personality?

It’s probablY COVEN and CRAFT, I think. They’re very different. COVEN is this crazy green scent that i thought nobody was going to like. I thought we’ll just make it a limited edition. But it turned out to be our most popular scent by far. The idea behind it was to get people closer to nature. People in the big cities who really crave for the green and for nature. It’s the Icelandic in me. And I think that CRAFT is the edgy, scandinavian, icy scent. Not that i’m very icy, but I think I’m the “on to the point” kind of a character. I’m not sweet, I’m more like “let’s get things done”, which is very scandinavian. But then, you could say that we all have the icy exterior that you have to get through or melt to get to the heart. That comes from our survivor instinct — I mean, yeah, it’s a great country, but also very, very harsh. Like, for example, now it’s going to be dark for many, many months and you learn to be prepared to go without sunlight. People from abroad who come and live here are like “wow, how are you able to do this and not lose your mind?”. You have to be accustomed to work in the darkness, to go about your life regularly, just like anyone else in the world, but in the absence of light.

Have you portrayed this roughness in your perfumes?

Absolutely. I think they definitely have that complex edginess. They can hit you right away, they can be quite rough, i think.

How about the one you wear or would wear most often?

I’ve been wearing a lot of SOFT TENSION. It was always one of my favourites. It’s the only one in the collection that’s softer and quieter. There is a trend now in beauty, where people think about niche perfumes as something out of the ordinary — because they spend a lot of money on such a perfume, they want it to be crazy. But SOFT TENSION is comforting, it’s not to vivid. And it suits me fine, because I smell a lot of things. Now i’m working on two new scents that are coming out next year, so I’m always testing.

How do you know for sure when a perfume you’ve been working on is perfect and ready for the world?

I’m gonna go with a got feeling. Usually, I just know. I think we have at least 100 scents that are really good, but the question is what to launch. You can’t launch everything at once, you have to do it strategically.

You said you like to isolate yourself from the world and not be influenced by the industry. But do you feel you have influenced the industry yourself? And how?

I think it wasn’t just me who had an impact, but a group of us who came out in a period of time. A new generation of people who weren’t necessarily in the industry of beauty, but they somehow developed their own voice. The rules are broken. On some level, yes, I think that through my art, I influenced the way we relate to perfume.

What do you feel are your biggest achievements?

Just, probably, having a brand. I worked my way up very hard, and even though I didn’t think i could’t do it, just being “here” being successful at this point feels like an achievement. A lot of brands don’t make it. I’m also very proud of being the first Icelandic fragrance brand and I hope many will follow. We’re also one of the first beauty brands in Iceland, because we don’t have many beauty brands either, and we definitely want to pave the way. Here, nobody is going to teach you what to do, because we don’t have a history in beauty brands. It’s great to have all that freedom, but it’s also a trial and error kind of thing.