How the history of diptyque demonstrates the intertwine of fine art and fragrance

Each scent in the diptyque range is inspired by a story, memory or experience. Image courtesy of diptyque.
The three founders of diptyque were passionate about the arts and travel. Image courtesy of diptyque.
Interior of the landmark diptyque store on 34 Boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris. Image courtesy of diptyque.
Recently, for the Hong Kong July auction season, diptyque collaborated with auction house Phillips pairing five of their scents with five artworks. Image courtesy of diptyque.
diptyque’s boutique store at K11 MUSEA in Hong Kong utilises blocks of beeswax to create an ambience telling the story of diptyque. Image courtesy of diptyque.
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Hardly a scent lover would be unfamiliar with the fragrant candles and other luxury offerings of diptyque, but lesser known is how its extraordinarily rich artistic history has come to define the brand’s identity.

TEXT: Denise Tsui
IMAGES: Courtesy of diptyque

 

Each scent in the diptyque range is inspired by a story, memory or experience. Image courtesy of diptyque.

 

Every perfume house has its own story, some more unique and astonishing than others. The history of its inception more often than not defines the identity of the brand, and for diptyque, this is no exception. The legendary French fragrance company—revered for its scented candles—has roots seeped in the arts; intertwined since the very beginning.

In 1961, three friends—painter Desmond Know-Leet, together with interior designer and architect Christiane Gautrot and theatre set designer Yves Coueslant—opened shop on 34 Boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris, with the ambitious idea to create displays of art and objects brought back from travels to Germany, Turkey, Greece and beyond; objects that could not be found elsewhere in Paris at the time. Alongside this ‘bazaar’ concept, the trio sold fabrics they designed together. The boutique store, with identical windows on either side of its door, brought to mind the idea of the diptych in art, two panels that make up a single work, and thus the name diptyque (French for diptych) was born. More than 50 years on, the iconic shop still remains, emblematic to the history of the brand.

 

The three founders of diptyque were passionate about the arts and travel. Image courtesy of diptyque.
Interior of the landmark diptyque store on 34 Boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris. Image courtesy of diptyque.

 

Boulevard Saint-Germain, a thriving bohemian hub that, at various times in history, has been the meeting place of artists, poets, writers and intellectual minds—from Ernest Hemingway, Simone de Beauvoir to Marc Chagall, Jean-Paul Sartre and many more—was the perfect location for realizing the trio’s unique vision. The curated window displays were decorated with paper lanterns, ducks, pigeons, roosters, Indian incense, wooden toys, Gaulish covers and other exotic finds. People flocked to revel in this little shop of curiosities, even though many of these items were not actually for sale.

Although the fabrics did not sell well, the artistic trio, ever daring and inspired by their travels and the arts, embarked on an adventure to introduce candles into their offerings. In 1963, they launched three candles: Aubépine, Cannelle, and Thé, which became instant best sellers. This was followed in 1968 by their first eau de toilette, L’Eau, a fragrance inspired by the scent of pomanders and 16th century potpourri.

As their fragrance inventory grew, the founders’ dedication and love for the arts and for travel continued. Frescoes, master paintings and artisan creations were a never-ending source of inspiration. Memories from their travels became the foundation of many scents. Gardens, rich with the natural aroma of flowers, plants and trees provided an extra dimension to nourish their imagination. Each scent, prided on being genderless—possessing neither a distinctly feminine or masculine aura—tells a story, underpinned by a drawing designed uniquely for each scent appearing on the back face of the label.

 

Recently, for the Hong Kong July auction season, diptyque collaborated with auction house Phillips pairing five of their scents with five artworks. Image courtesy of diptyque.

 

Continuing this relationship with art, diptyque recently collaborated with auction house Phillips in Hong Kong to pair five of its fragrances with five selected artworks from the Spring Sale in July, marrying scent with fine art and epitomizing the belief that on the one hand, scents elicit emotions, and on the other hand, art is something that should be felt as much as it is seen. The pairings received generally positive reception and was a welcome experience.

Among the selection, the late Matthew Wong’s fiery and charged 2017 landscape painting, Warmth, was paired with diptyque’s Do Son, a scent inspired by childhood memories of one of the founders who recalled spending summertimes at a pagoda in Vietnam’s Do Son, along the idyllic Halong Bay. The lightness of the scent, infused with tuberose, orange blossom, jasmine and amber wood, was a surprising contrast to the visual heaviness of Wong’s painting.

Similarly, Philosykos, paired with Yves Klein’s 1961/63 Table Bleue (Blue), felt at first like an unlikely pairing. The scent’s creation originates from the memory of a summer spent in Greece’s Mount Pelion, where one needed to cross through a natural grove of wild fig trees in order to reach the glorious seaside. This woody scent made up of fig leaves, fig sap and fig wood, along with a hint of pepper, prompted a feeling of freshness when looking at the coffee table encased with Klein’s iconic blue pigment.

 

diptyque’s boutique store at K11 MUSEA in Hong Kong utilises blocks of beeswax to create an ambience telling the story of diptyque. Image courtesy of diptyque.

 

While diptyque’s range has expanded over the years with fresh innovations to bring it into the modern lifestyle, including car and home diffusers, skin and body care, and even brooches and bracelets infusing fragrance, above all, it is the candles that remain the ultimate icon of the brand. This is encapsulated in the interior shop design of diptyque’s boutique store at K11 MUSEA in Hong Kong, where blocks of raw beeswax is embedded into its visual merchandising displays.

Other diptyque stores around the world have also been known to be similarly innovative. And of course, nothing beats the quaint and historic store on 34 Boulevard Saint-Germain. This dedication to bringing fragrance into the home, coupled with its belief in décor stemming from the founders’ passion for the arts, is what makes diptyque a legend in its industry.

 

 

Shop diptyque at K11 MUSEA
B126A, B1, K11 MUSEA, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong

 

 
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