MODEL and businesswoman Anna Freemantle has given the capital’s celebration of fashion a new look. With contributions from Juergen Teller, Pam Hogg and Lady Amanda Harlech, beauty and art combine to create a spell-binding programme
Imagine bottling the scent of Edinburgh. How would it smell? Of rain, beer and male sweat perhaps, suggests Sissel Tolaas. Although it’s a while since the renowned odour artist visited the capital, these are her abiding olfactory memories of her brief encounter with the city.
“Scotland were playing England at rugby that weekend – and they lost,” she recalls, so the air was heavy with the macho whiff of disappointment – and not the sweet smell of success. When Tolaas, artist-chemist, scent expert and perhaps the fragrance industry’s most provocative figure, does get around to creating her smellscape of Edinburgh, which she plans to do in the near future, she will spend a lot of time in the city – following her nose.
Berlin-based, she’s “a professional in-betweener” and has already recreated the smells of 15 world cities, including Kansas City, Paris, Vienna, Cape Town and Mexico City, the results of what she calls her “crazy research”. This involves sniffing the stench of drains and gutters – there is no such thing as a “bad” smell or a “good” smell in Tolaas’s odiferous universe – rubbish bins, trees, traffic pollution, flowers, rain, dog turds, armpits...
So, Tolaas, a blonde-bobbed, crimson-lipped 50-year-old Norwegian, who is a professor at Harvard University for “invisible communication”, a mathematician and a linguist, will arrive in Edinburgh later this month, trailing scents and sensibilities – and radical ideas that are definitely not to be sniffed at.
In collaboration with Berlin-based fashion designer Kostas Murkudis, she’s bringing a unique project to Scotland – Endless_Lessend No. 01 – which has been specially commissioned for the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival (EIFF) at Summerhall (the old Dick Vet School building). The place is currently thrumming like a hive of bees with artistic and cultural endeavours by artists, performers, writers and creative producers, such as EIFF director Anna Freemantle.
Thirty-three-year-old Freemantle is the brains behind the event. As well as commissioning Tolaas and Murkudis to stage their exhibition of “the endless dress and the endless smell”, of which more later, she’s persuaded Juergen Teller – the German provocateur who has, according to one critic, “stripped back and made over the business of fashion photography” – to create the exhibition’s signature image of Scottish-born, international supermodel Stella Tennant wearing Vivienne Westwood.
Some of Teller’s photographs will be shown at Summerhall. This season alone he has shot ad campaigns for Marc Jacobs, Vivienne Westwood, Céline and Moschino, but he’s also just published a book, Pictures and Text (Steidl, £38), with images of a feral Lily Cole unclothed and languishing in a rubbish dump and the naked and unashamed Westwood splayed on a baroque settee.
“It’s a real coup for us to have Juergen involved. It’s so exciting,” says Freemantle, an Amsterdam-born model whose own image has graced the editorial pages of every glossy magazine over the years.
Edinburgh-based, she has lured many other iconic names to the festival, ranging from such stylish Scots as cult designer and fashion punk Pam Hogg to the terminally cool Glasgow-born portrait and fashion photographer Rankin. Together they are creating an installation. Award-winning Aimee McWilliams, who stormed on to the fashion scene with her tartan-army-meets-sex-club collection in 2003, will stage a runway show, as will Pam Hogg.
Lady Amanda Harlech, who has worked with John Galliano and Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, will deliver a talk – as yet untitled. Often described as Lagerfeld’s “muse,” she prefers “map-reader” or “pathfinder,” although the couturier calls her his “collabatrice” or his “outside pair of eyes.” Harlech brings her own Galliano and Chanel couture pieces to the city. They will be pegged on a washing line in Summerhall’s Animal Hospital Corner Gallery, while the Dissection Room is the venue for many other events.
“For some reason, it’s all quite dark and edgy – I hate the word Gothic,” says Freemantle, referring to the programme she’s curated. “But I do think that we have somehow responded to the strangeness of the venue. I mean, where else could you listen to the Milanese professor Ludovica Lumer discussing Dress the Self: Art, Fashion & Neuroscience? Or watch a runway show by Harvey Nichols, or attend an after-show party where the DJs will be the artist Jim Lambie and Pam Hogg? All this in a incredible room where animals were once surgically dissected.
“We’ve other venues involved, too. There’ll be pop-up fashion performances interacting with the artist Callum Innes’s Ingleby Gallery light installation, which floods a dark tunnel beneath the Regent Bridge on Calton Road. With Eribé Knitwear, we’re holding family workshops on the history of knitting at the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street – where you can discover how to knit with your fingers. At the Danish Institute, there’s an exhibition of photographs by the Danish photographer Marial Lomholdt of the designer Borcher’s couture, which will be featured in one of our catwalk shows.
“The Institut Français Écosse is screening Le Jour D’ Avant, the six-part series concentrating on the 36-hour countdown to half a dozen couture shows, including those of Donatella Versace, Jean Paul Gaultier and Diane von Furstenberg (DvF).”
With her exquisite sculptural bone structure, Freemantle is a particular favourite with DvF, whose latest collection she modelled only a few weeks ago. She has modelled since the 1990s after being scouted by an agent as an academic teenager, when she was still expected by her parents – a doctor and a lawyer – to follow them into more intellectual pursuits. Since then she’s strutted her stuff on international catwalks alongside Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell and has worked with Versace, Valentino and Louis Vuitton among many others – living proof that beauty and brains are not mutually exclusive.
Married for 12 years to South African-born artist Jonathan Freemantle and mother to Max (four) and one-year-old Leo, she runs the creative consultancy, Zwart – Dutch for black – with her husband, organising chic parties under their Noir! label.
Last August – “with baby Leo strapped to my chest” – she organised an Alexander McQueen tribute fashion show at Summerhall. She worked regularly as a model for McQueen, who died in February 2010, and whom she says she’ll never forget. It was this poignant event that led her to the International Fashion Festival, which Freemantle runs with Jonathan, Jaco Justice and creative consultant Yelda Bayraktar Hefer.
“The McQueen show was quite a success, so Robert McDowell [the financier behind the rebirth of Summerhall as the city’s biggest arts venue] suggested we ought to do something much bigger this year. Robert is very interested in fashion and art so he’s generously sponsored us, but we’re still looking for more funding, although the chef Mark Greenaway, of No 12 Picardy Place, recently became one of our core sponsors,” explains Freemantle. “You can’t do something as ambitious as this on a tiny budget.”
Ambitious is the word. There’ll be runway shows, salons, talks, panels, workshops by the jewellers and silversmiths Hamilton & Inches and an exhibition, Syn/Aesthesia, which includes video installations by Hussein Chalayan and Ryan McGinley’s video for Pringle of Tilda Swinton, as well as Tolaas and Murkudis’s exhibit, says Freemantle. With fjord-blue eyes and asymmetric cropped platinum-blonde hair, she appears the archetypal ice-queen, although she exudes warmth and enthusiasm for the art of fashion and the fashion of art. Within an industry based on the fabulous and the fleeting, she believes in the collusion – indeed, the collision – of fashion and art.
“I have lived with an artist for years – we actually met at a big art fair in Oxfordshire – so I look at everything in this world through the eyes of an artist,” she says. “My husband, who has a meticulous eye, is responsible for my cultural roots.” Hence, the intriguing experiment involving Tolaas and Murkudis, whose Scottish links are impeccable since he designs a range of fine cashmere clothing for Johnstons of Elgin.
Although she works as a scientist at the Re_search Laboratory in Berlin, funded by International Flavours & Fragrances, the American company that has developed perfumes for Prada, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, Tolaas has never created a fragrance – although she has made a scent from coal, which apparently smelt of deceit. Using Headspace Technology, a technique developed in the 1980s to capture the odour of substances, with a piece of apparatus like a bell jar, she can mimic any smell.
Only days ago she and Murkudis began work on their Edinburgh project. He took his scissors and cut into a bolt of silk. Tolaas trapped the resulting molecules, which will be scanned and copied chemically. They smelt of many things – “the worms that made the silk, nature”. Other smells will be added as Murkudis creates the dress. The filmmaker Jönas Lindstrom is documenting the process of cutting materials, collecting molecules and making the smells. Eventually, the exhibit will travel the world as this extraordinary composition grows.
“It is indeed endless in every sense,” says Tolaas. “The dress will never be finished – the smells will linger.”
Forever researching, collecting and recreating smells, she has an archive of 6,730 odours and has even replicated the whiff inside David Beckham’s football boots, which apparently pong like Belgian cheese. In addition, she’s taken part in many major art exhibitions across the world – she has a degree in fine art. For Fear 0/12 – Smell of Fear/Fear of Smell, her show at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2006, she extracted the sweat of 21 men. These smells were included in a scratch-’n’-sniff edition of the German art journal, Mono Kultur, in 2010.
“Our body smell is as unique as a fingerprint,” says Tolaas, who has spritzed herself with the coppery smell of money before going into business meetings. And guess what – result! Her nose’s findings are manifold – she’s made scent logos for Adidas and “Swedish smells” for Ikea and Volvo. The US Government wanted her to track terrorists using their body odours. She told them it was a very sensible topic, but declined to help.
Is there any smell that revolts her?
“No,” she replies. “There’s no best and no worst smell,” she claims, adding that she’s tracked her 15-year-old daughter Tara’s smells since she was born. “And, yes, I’ve trained her to smell, too, so she has a remarkably sophisticated nose.”
Is Tolaas’s nose insured for millions?
She laughs at the idea. “I tell you what, though, if I catch a bad cold and lose my sense of smell for a few days, it’s a holiday.”
We live in a world, continues Tolaas, that is sanitised, deodorised and pasteurised for our protection. “We’ve become a society of ‘blandscapes.’ We’re ‘smell-blinded.’ Along the way we’ve lost so many smells, and smell is an important tool for knowledge and communication. My mission is to get people to use the knowledge they get from their noses for lots of purposes. We need to challenge our noses – we can all actually detect up to 15,000 different smells. Nothing stinks, but thinking makes it so.”
Clearly, the nose has it.
• The Edinburgh International Fashion Festival, Summerhall, August 16-19. Visit www.edinburghinter nationalfashionfestival.com for more information. Advance day tickets, £45, four-day tickets, £180. Individual event tickets also available.
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