Joseph Quartana of Six Scents Essentials on Ultra-Modern Gourmands and The Beauty of Duality

Since the launch of Les Potions Fatales, Joseph Quartana’s life has done a complete 180. There was his triumph of winning the 2017 Fragrance Foundation Awards Perfume Extraordinaire for Poppy Soma, followed immediately by a near-death experience. Thankfully the NYC-based creative recovered, and is now relaunching the fragrances that made him a household niche fragrance name with the limited edition release of Six Scents Essentials.

While the launch was conceived pre-pandemic, it feels eerily fitting that Quartana has taken a minimalist approach this time around. Excess packaging or extravagant bottles have been replaced by simple 30ml decant bottles that retail for $58-$63 each. The term accessible luxury comes to mind, but for Quartana it is also an emphasis on the juice rather than the decorations surrounding it. “Covid has collectively grounded us,” he states. “It has given us the opportunity to stop from our frenetic pace, and because everyone is staying at home and being a lot more thoughtful and reflective, to focus on substance instead of hype.”

It’s that dedication to the craft which led Quartana to choose his collaborators for the Six Scents project. “The criteria was that they had to be independent, buzzed about, and owned their own fearless aesthetic and voice. These were the kernels of energy in the fashion industry, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” he explains, adding that in today’s fashion landscape, his hypothetical Six Scents collaborators would be Rick Owens, Zana Bayne, Bernhard Willhelm, and Anthony Vaccarello at Saint Laurent. “What we wanted to do was find these sources of pure creative energy and pair them with super accomplished perfumers that can take the ideas and manifest them in real life,” he explains. “They did, and the results resounded.”

The first drop consisted of #087, Ascent, and Urban Tropicalia — two of which won the Fragrance Foundation Prize for Best Indie in 2011. #087 is an ode to road trips. The vision of designer Daisuke Obana executed by nose Stephen Nilsen, it encapsulates both the natural and industrial, fusing hinoki cedarwood and sugi pine needles with an engine motor oil accord. The result is a green aromatic with hints of rosemary that takes the mind to a soothing retreat whilst not losing sight of the city in the distance. “It’s a well-rounded journey through Japanese pine along the sea edge,” Quartana comments. “Stephen Nilsen is a master, you’ve got 8 different accords harmonising and it creates a whole other world.”

Designed by Rad Hourani and created by nose Christophe Raynaud, Ascent represents the life and death cycle via semen, baby powder, leather, and frankincense accords (olfactory equivalents to conception, infancy, middle-age, and death). It’s a slightly sweet musk that maintains a hint of darkness. “Ascent is the black sheep, some people like and enjoy it, but it’s been tricky. It’s a complex one, not for everyone. It’s more art than it is wearable fragrance,” he admits.

Less polarising but equally complex is Urban Tropicalia, a concept devised by Alexandre Herchovitch and crafted by Joachim Correll. It’s a unisex floral-fruity scent done right: a balanced amount of sweetness that doesn’t turn saccharine, nor such an overdose of fruit that it feels unsophisticated. Think blackcurrant, apricot, green apple, lemon, and jasmine enveloped in amber and cedarwood.

This month, Six Scents is launching a previously unreleased scent: Nappa Noir. While the fragrance was developed in 2008, it never went into production. Now it is being brought out of the archive to let consumers bask in its gourmand glory. Composed by Calice Becker, it includes saffron, vanilla, tobacco, coffee CO2 extract, and a speculoos cookie accord. “It’s a violet and patchouli-heavy gourmand leather,” Quartana explains. “Fundamentally, it’s a black leather scent for him or her with a twist, just enough sweetness, and modern depth. Out of the 37 scents that I have ever done, it is one of my favourites.”

Gourmands hold a special place in Quartana’s heart as the fragrance family was what initially ignited his love of fragrance. “Angel birthed the whole genre and was the first scent that really blew my mind. I was 19 when it came out. I was going out, working in nightclubs, and Angel was how I wanted to project myself because it is such a masterful scent. Every time I sit down and create a fragrance, in the back of my mind I want to steer it in a gourmand direction,” he says. While the genre has gained a cult following, it is perhaps one of the most difficult ones to perfect, treading a difficult line between familiarity and banality, sensuality and vulgarity.  “Gourmands require the most dept hand, it’s not amateur hour. That is why I like doing this field,” Quartana adds. In an honour of his Italian roots, he hopes to one day create “the fragrance equivalent to Sicilian dessert items, spending a year in Sicily working with chefs”.

One gets the sense that this an artistic mind where the wheels perpetually keep turning, fuelling an unwavering dedication to creation. “What I realised, especially after winning Perfume Extraordinaire, is that if you are not working at a one-thousandth level of detail compared to your competition, you’re in the wrong field,” he proclaims. “Fine fragrance is called fine [for a reason]. It’s demanding that degree of quality. There’s 2,000 rose scents you can choose from and we are nitpicking over that for months as we test it and slowly fine-tune these sculptures.”

Another example of these fine-tuned sculptures is Diagonal, an eau de parfum created in a collaboration between Gareth Pugh and Emilie Coppermann, set for release on December 6. The composition contains notes of black pepper, white amber, black tea, and musk. “The essence of the fragrance is rooted in Gareth Pugh’s vision of the contrast between white and black as colours,” Quartana explains. “It’s a deeply metaphysical tension, white coloured spices and black coloured spices clashing and wrestling with each other through the beginning, middle, and drydown.” Aside from his avant-garde designs, Pugh is a pioneer of fashion film, being one of the first to embrace the medium as a means of presentation rather than the traditional runway format.

Similarly, the timelessness of these scents, created over 12 years ago, speaks to the enduring influence of a unique creative vision. “These fragrances have stood the test of time, just like you can listen to a Depeche Mode record made in 1990 and swear it was made yesterday, because guess what? It was super innovative, original, edgy, and done well across the board,” he comments. “That kind of stuff lasts, it cuts through all time.”

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