Alex Musgrave is an artist, writer, photographer & perfume-lover who lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. We've been following each other for a while on social media, but I noticed that he recently created an Instagram account on Ikebana, the ancient Japanese art of floral arrangement. I was intrigued.
I asked Alex if he'd use Green Spell as inspiration for an arrangement —and this is the stunning result. Let’s find out what makes this very talented, visual perfume-lover tick!
ERIS: Alex, tell us about yourself and how you got into perfume.
I’m a hermitty kind of artist, even more so now with the global pandemic concerns affecting all of us. I live in Edinburgh, the beautiful capital of Scotland. I love this haunted, singular city and would live nowhere else. Its melancholia suits my temperament.
I studied languages and worked in fine art and museums and then fell into luxury retail management and perfume, something that had followed me like a wraith since my mother sprayed copious amounts of YSL Opium in airport lounges before we hurtled across shimmering airport tarmac in Africa and the Middle East. Even now, if I smell Opium, I simultaneously raise the aroma of aircraft fuel.
ERIS: How did you become interested in Ikebana — and what is it, exactly?
I quit retail to become a freelance art director and photographer. The Ikebana grew partly out of this and partly out of my work managing an Instagram account for a local florist. The biggest influence was a book called Modern Ikebana, A New Wave In Floral Design written by Victoria Geiger and Tom Loxley, who are the editors and publishers of the glorious rakesprogress magazine.
On the simplest of levels, Ikebana is the traditional Japanese art of flower arranging. However, this elementary description masks centuries of rites, rituals and a host of symbolic meanings. The roots of Ikebana lie in ritual Buddhist temple offerings, from loose blooms to flowers in vases to a slowly evolving religious language of representing nature through seasonal flora and foliage. Today there are many kinds of kado or Ikebana practitioners. I like to think of myself as a floral artist practicing Sogetsu Ikebana, freeform style if you like.
ERIS: What decisions go into each Ikebana arrangement?
I make sketches in small notebooks of all my ideas. I plan around particular flowers or a newly acquired vase or pieces of a dream. As a severe migraineur I spend a lot of time in the dark, in a stormy head. I often emerge with ideas for more abstracted compositions. When I’m taking photographs in the florist shop, I’ll see flowers like ravishing parrot tulips and huge blowsy poppies and think I must have those and ideas bloom. For me it is an instinctual thing, I like small scale work, arranging carefully until it feels right, removing foliage and flowers to reveal negative space. I like working at night, working with shadows and the way they embrace and menace compositions.
ERIS: How did you “translate” Green Spell perfume into Ikebana?
I approached my Ikebana Green Spell in much the same way. I actually wore it a lot without really knowing the full list of notes. Then I thought about the odours, the way they worked on skin and bursting out of the bottle. Textures, head notes, greenhouse sultriness and amazing Miles Aldridge hyperreal vintage boudoir fade. The tomato stalk, blackcurrant, galbanum, narcissus and fig leaf all really seduced me, and I looked for plants/materials to hopefully reflect my reading of Green Spell. I knew I wanted Dianthus Barbatus, the green frilled, pompom dianthus and some green mums dipped in malachite glitter. I made a plastic flower to capture the weird gasp of artificial brilliance that Antoine Lie soaks his perfumes in and added a stripy green ripe tomato pinned with hypericum berries to represent the earthy garden aromas. Pins, threads, ink and form are signature me, wrapped around the elements until it clicks.
ERIS: The result is fabulous—thank you! Anything else you’d like to share?
I really enjoyed this collaboration, going back and forth between the perfume, my sketches and the gradual assembly of the final Ikebana composition. It demonstrates that perfume can be ‘manifested’ in different ways, not just in a literal showing of a bouquet of the ingredients but in a more abstracted display of mood, hue and textures.
©TSF Alex Musgrave 23 February 2021