“It’s actually quite mesmerizing how fast this project materialized,” says Ulrich Lang, the mind behind the line of cult-followed—and art-focused—collection of boutique fragrances Ulrich Lang New York. The project he’s speaking of, Aperture, arose two years ago while he was working on an olfactory idea that was “dirtier” than his previous four scents (Anvers, Anvers 2, Lightscape and Nightscape). After a chance meeting with the Aperture Foundation, the fragrancer and the institution—both of whom have long championed the medium—thought to collaborate on something special. “My only request was to pick the artist,” says Lang, who admits that photography has been the inspiration for the line’s scent development since he started the company in 2002. For this project, says Lang, “I was intrigued by this very young, very skilled photographer Olivia Bee from Oregon whose work I had originally seen in a European magazine.”
The two had a Skype conversation last September and “made it happen,” previewing the fragrance at an event at Paris Photo 2013. “I think the whole package—fragrance, visual and a charity component since a percentage of sales goes to Aperture foundation—was about thinking outside the box quite literally,” says Lang, who chose the final image for his packaging from Bee’s “Quiet” series. “In the end it all just worked together—the warm fragrance mirrors Olivia’s photograph, a young man’s silhouette against a bright red orange and lavender sky. And I love that the iconic Aperture logo replaced our usual typeface.”
As Lang admits, “I have a good eye for photography”—Erik Swain, Katy Grannan, Matt Licari and Elspeth Diederix have all contributed images for his campaigns—and Bee is no exception. At 20, she’s already drawing comparisons to Ryan McGinley, and not simply because the Portland prodigy shoots uninhibited (often naked) youth running free in fields of wild flowers or the wilds of Brooklyn. Hers, however, is a softer, more lyrical expression of unbridled bonhomie that is increasingly drawing bigger name subjects and assignments—though, to be fair, she was already shooting for the likes The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, and Hermès as a teenager. Last fall, her highly-anticipated solo show, dubbed “Kids in Loves”, debuted at the agnès b. boutique in Soho, with a second solo at Madrid’s Galeria Bernal Espacio running through November 9. Just before that closes, on November 7, Bee will take part in a group show at Galerie du jour agnès b.—which showed McGinley early on—a week before her works goes up in the gallery’s booth at Paris Photo.
“She knows exactly what she wants, what she likes, what she dislikes,” says Lang. “She is a risk-taker and it is refreshing to work with someone whose spirit is free. Not many people know how to work with corporate entities like Hermès and L’Oréal and simultaneously take on interesting projects that are probably of a smaller scale or with less visibility but equally relevant to their work.”
As for Lang, he’s currently concocting two scents that will complement Jim Goldberg’s seminal book “Rich and Poor” (re-issued by Steidl) while overseeing the Armory-like fragrance fair Elements Showcase. “Right now I see more niche fragrance than ever. The category has exploded over the past ten years and now there is a real, global retail infrastructure and a lot of interest in what the smaller guys are doing,” says Lang, noting Byredo was recently sold and Le Labo was just acquired by Estée Lauder. “This is a very exciting time for us independent fragrance manufacturers because we addressed the changing consumer early on and now the big players want to have a piece of the action. At the same time we must stay relevant. I see a lot of ‘niche fatigue,’ ‘faux niche’ and ‘niche copies’ in our market. In the coming years, niche will definitely become more mass, but I think there will be new movements where a platform like Elements can provide a global meeting ground for brands and buyers.”
Photograph by Olivia Bee