7 minutes in sensory heaven with Aesop’s master perfumer, Barnabé Fillion

The architect behind the brand’s Othertopias fragrance story speaks to its final chapter, Ouranon

Okay so it was less seven minutes in heaven and more 11 minutes and 59 seconds over Zoom, but death and the afterlife certainly came up a lot. And that felt entirely fitting for a fragrance that represents the last breath of Othertopias – a six-piece perfume collection that began in 2021 with Miraceti, Karst and Erémia, and ends now with the release of Ouranon

Inspired by the Ruins of Petra and characterised by its maker as “definitely more of a sunset than a sunrise”, keep reading for more poetic descriptions of perfume, and a peek inside the mind of master perfumer and metaphysical enthusiast, Barnabé Fillion.

Ouranon Eau de Parfum joins the lineup of Aesop's Othertopias

It seems as though Othertopias was very thematically built around beginnings and endings. Would you mind speaking to that a little bit?

The concept of endings was very interesting for us. It confronts something very ephemeral about life, and everything that comes and goes. We wanted to contrast this ephemerality with architecture, and the solidity of rooms. Ouranon was inspired by the Petra desert, the Petra Ruins. So imagine you are in the desert, and you’re having these feelings of everything going back to dust, to earth. Then, at the same time, you are standing in front of this massive solid structure. It’s about beginnings and endings, but mostly about how the two interact.

Ouranon being the last of the Othertopias, there is a sense of finality. How did you navigate that?

We launched three Othertopias at the beginning so it’s difficult to say which was the first, but in my mind it was Miraceti – the boat. Boats are about departure. Of course, it’s also how you return, but you go on a boat and you go somewhere. So for Ouranon, we really took the concept of that departure, and thought about it as a journey out, not in. It’s also about the life cycle and coming back home, back to the earth. Either way, it’s not a finite end.

This idea of the end being the beginning is a thread that’s woven throughout all the Othertopias. I’m thinking of Rōzu and how it was this beautiful exploration of the decaying rose, and the liveliness of that process of decay.

Yes, permanence and decay. I think that’s a relationship we’re very sensitive to, and I think it’s because it’s something you can do with the ingredients. You can explore scent as an essence that’s very pure, very fresh. Even fresher than that, you can work with a Co2 extraction, which will be more like you’re smelling it in nature. And then you have the absolutes, which in terms of scent molecules are on the larger end of the spectrum.

It’s all very structural, and you mentioned architecture. Scent is such an ephemeral thing and architecture is so tangible, so what’s that about?

I think what perfumery and architecture have in common is this notion of construction, of having a foundation. You have the space itself, you have windows…again, it’s like if you are in the Petra desert, and feeling like there’s nothing else and everything is going to come back to earth, and then at the same time you are confronting this human creation of the monolith, it’s very interesting in terms of perception. Instead of being overwhelmed by this massive space, it’s about interacting with something static in front of you.

I like the idea of Ouranon encapsulating all these confrontations, because endings are confrontational, and they are something that we as humans are very afraid of. And so to make an ending beautiful without underplaying the fact that it is an ending…it feels quite pastoral.

Totally, and that’s a conversation that we wanted to initiate.

You speak about the first trio of Othertopias as being like a boat or a departure – and this was always conceived as a six-piece collection, so you had it mapped out from the beginning. But did you always have an idea of where that boat was going?

This was a long project. I first got the idea for Othertopias when speaking with a friend of mine, a philosopher. I knew very early on that it would be six perfumes, but I changed the structure of the six along the way. One thing I knew for sure is that the end couldn’t be the end as death. And we did think a lot about that pastoral moment of the cycle of life. So we looked to different civilisations, and different ways that we celebrate our transcendence. Architecture was something that came up as this tangible thing that remains over civilisations. And in that way, Othertopias becomes this conversation about evolution, where nothing is standalone. Each of the six perfumes is in dialogue with all the others. 

What made Ouranon the perfect note to end on?

Ouranon is about that contrast between something ephemeral that you can’t really grab, which is like the Co2 extraction of lavender flower and the petitgrain, and putting that in conversation with something so mineral and so solid and so earthy… such as frankincense and this overdose of myrrh. All of the elements build on that contrast, so it’s this idea of mineral, of fossil, of something that will be around for a much longer period of time than a flower.

On what occasions will you be reaching for Ouranon?

I don’t tend to recommend a time of day for a particular fragrance because it’s very individual. I’m very surprised sometimes by how the Othertopias play out on different genders and also at different times. With Ouranon, I do feel that it has this oriental aspect that lends something deeper to its character. I know people who love to wear it in the morning but for me, being so heavily inspired by the desert and being able to smell the clay and the soil and the earth and the minerality… and Petra for me is such a colour, it’s the red, it’s perhaps more of a sunset than a sunrise.

Aesop Ouranon is available now at Aesop boutiques in New Zealand including High St and Newmarket (Auckland) and Wellington CBD.