If you thought Scandinavia’s ‘moment’ in design was going to be short-lived, you were wrong. If anything, fascination in the aesthetic of the northern countries is growing. The clean lines, whimsical but intelligent detail and devotion to natural materials seem the ideal response to the bloated excesses of other material cultures.
Beauty is the most recent genre to emerge and one of the earliest – and strongest – protagionists is AGONIST. Founded in 2008 by Christine and Niclas Lydeen, the Swedish-born fragrance brand is now recognised as one of the most unique offerings within niche parfum.
The scents, created with renowned parfumeurs, are unisex and equal focus is placed on the design of the bottles. AGONIST fragrances come encased in Swedish glass handcrafted by Åsa Jungnelius of Kosta Boda, Sweden’s most prestigious glassworks. Bottles often list ingredients. Every product is sustainably made and every detail developed with environmental respect.
Concepts comes from far and wide. Onyx Pearl, a beguiling mix of oriental flowers, Arabian Oud and white leather, is inspired by the visual imagery of Guy Bourdain. The Infidels mixes peppercorn, rose and patchouli to capture the moment when a bud is about to burst. Now, AGONIST launches Blue North. Inspired by the blue skies and frosted nature of Sweden, top notes of cardamon, rosemary and spearmint are given depth and richness by ginger, sandalwood and musk. On the introduction of the fragrance into The Shop at Bluebird, I talk to Christine and Niclas about their work.
Bel: Why ‘AGONIST’?
Niclas: It’s part of literature – agonist and antagonist. In medicine, you use an agonist to trigger another force; two things become a third. We like the idea and find it relevant to the way we work.
Bel: Your fragrances are very conceptual. Is this kind of fragrance becoming more popular?
Niclas: Yes, within the niche market. People are more interested in finding another dimension of what the fragrance can be and not just the ingredients. Scents can tell a story; they can evoke memories.
Bel: How did Blue North come about?
Niclas: The idea came when we were in the studio. It was a really cold winter. We thought it would be interesting to capture the idea of ice, to create a scent that’s cold but comforting.
Bel: You’re also inspired by film, poetry and literature, icons of Swedish Culture. How do you translate an idea like poetry into a fragrance?
Niclas: We try to capture an idea or an emotion before we develop the actual combination of ingredients. If we get inspired by a poem, for example, it’s about developing the drama, the feeling and the aesthetics and trying to transform that into a scent that expresses all that. For The Infidels, we thought about passion. Rose is the icon of passion so we had three different roses. Then we thought, how can we work with rose to make it a bit broken, a bit dirty? So we added pink pepper and leather and tried to make it more masculine.
Bel: Both of you come from visual backgrounds: Christine from fashion, Niclas from design. How did the transition into fragrance take place?
Christine: We started to see fragrance as an accessory, something to add to your wardrobe.
Niclas: Christine was inspired by scent. I was interested in design, how you can influence what people think about a scent through visuals. Fragrance is very abstract so it was nice to meet the possibilities with visual graphics. For us, it was an amazing challenge – to try to find something that relates to the original idea.
Bel: How do you know when a fragrance is finished?
Niclas: It’s like art, it’s very intuitive. When we feel we’ve captured it. Sometimes it can take a long time; sometimes it’s quite direct.
Bel: Describe the Scandinavian relationship with nature.
Niclas: The relationship with nature is very important for Swedish and Norwegian people. In modern Swedish politics, it’s important that everybody has the right to nature. We’re also influenced by the darker seasons and the lack of light. We’ve lived on an island for some years now. We feel very close to the nature around us and we see all the changes. We love the contrast and that sense of struggle you get with the winds and the cliffs. And I think that’s why it resonates with the way we work. Swedish design is very much focused on function. From Ikea to Volvo, you have this kind of structural, modernist approach, simple but well-detailed. I think we have that but we also have this more complex artistic side and I think the combination works.
AGONIST fragrances are available at The Shop at Bluebird, Selfridges, Liberty, Avery Perfume Gallery and The Shop at Bluebird. www.agonistparfums.com