“Smoke in the air and tarred telephone poles, tall freshly mowed grass, and tobacco leaves. Dead flowers bow to the ground. In the breeze, the feminine fountain pine tickles the top of your skull. A beached whale is about to explode.”
Dead flowers and marine life might not sound like your average perfume description, but then again, Fischersund’s flagship fragrance isn’t exactly your standard eau de toilette.
“No. 23 is our first scent, and it’s inspired by old Reykjavík,” Lilja Birgisdóttir tells us, as she sprays it onto our outstretched arms with a flourish. “In particular our father. Before he stopped working he was a metalsmith. He took over his father’s business and he was often near here, at the slippur [shipyard], fixing ships.”
As she speaks, Fischersund No. 23 wafts up to meet our nostrils, enveloping us in its scent. It is at once woodsy and fresh, with bright evergreen top notes layered over a smokey base. Lilja instructs us to close our eyes as she reads us the accompanying poem and suddenly we are whisked away into a perfumed flight of fancy.
A famous nose
While many readers outside of Iceland will have probably never heard of Fischersund, most will be more familiar with the name of the nose behind it. Jónsi, Lilja’s brother, is perhaps better known as the singer and frontman of Sigur Rós than a perfumier, but as Lilja explains, both activities have their origins in creativity.
“Jónsi is self taught in perfumery like he’s self taught in music — he learned to play instruments by himself. But that’s why I love his approach to perfumery, because it’s so his, it’s so personal. It’s so honest and raw and emotional,” she says.
Starting with a dream
So, how exactly is a perfume like Fischsund No. 23 made? Well, in true creative fashion, the first step starts with a dream or memory, one that Lilja says is always “connected to Iceland, or family.”
“That line is to get you located on the beach. Of course there is the ocean so there is some seaweed and sea salt, and when we were kids my father smoked a pipe. That’s my favourite scent — so nostalgic and warm.”
While the first three perfumes that Fischersund produced (No. 23, No. 54 and No. 28) were all developed by Jónsi, more recently his and Lilja’s other sisters, lngibjörg and Sigurrós, have become involved in the designing and scent blending process.
“Now we are all doing it together,” Lilja says. “So we’re all self-taught noses today! It’s more of a dialogue.”
Regardless of who is the original source of the dream or concept behind the perfume, the next step is always the same: trying to identify the elements of the scent within the memory. In the case of No. 23, these are predominately aniseed, black pepper, grass, tobacco and smoke.
“There’s not actually whale in it,” laughs Lilja, referring to the poem that accompanies the perfume. “That line is to get you located on the beach. Of course there is the ocean so there is some seaweed and sea salt, and when we were kids my father smoked a pipe. That’s my favourite scent — so nostalgic and warm.”
Finding the blend
After the individual scents have been identified and isolated, then comes the difficult process of blending them and finding the right balance of low, high and mid notes — much like in a song. The process takes a long time, with almost endless trials — and errors — as Lilja explains.
“It’s very scientific. Everything is weighed, and we write everything down,” she says.
This is for good reason, as Jónsi learned this the hard way. Lilja continues: “Sometimes when he was just doing stuff, he made something amazing — and then he hadn’t written anything down.” Although Lilja assures us that nothing astounding was “lost forever,” nowadays the family take a more thorough approach to their blending experiments.
While the various oils used to create the perfumes aren’t all exclusively Icelandic, some are only created as the result of hard labour on behalf of the Fischersund team. These days, youngest sister Sigurrós is largely responsible for blending all the scents for the perfumes and candles. “She’s the artisan of the family,” Lilja states, proudly.
Getting the word out
Finally, when the recipe for the perfume is finalised, the family are ready to share it with the world. But that too is a process, involving trusted testers and thoughtful packaging and marketing.
“In the workshop, we all try it together,” says Lilja. “We have a conversation about it, and people start taking it home, trying it on their family and friends.”
“You don’t have so much of that these days. Everything’s so accessible to everyone. All information — you can just look on your phone and Google it. We’re missing this sense of wonder.”
Once the scent is endorsed by this lucky crew, it is time to return to the original inspiration behind the perfume in order to create unique artwork inspired by the memories and elements it embodies. Inga and Lilja, as visual artists, are both deeply involved in this part of the perfume’s creation. Kjartan, Jónsi and Sindri have also created music to complement the Fischersund fragrances. The ultimate goal here is to design the right environment to foster the element of connection that is created by shared human experience through scent.
Sense of wonder
But in the overwhelming fast-paced era of Tik Tok and relentless PR machinery, Fischersund’s lack of high-key business and marketing know-how can also work in their favour. “What I love is that there’s this natural word of mouth about us,” says Lilja.
Fischersund’s store manager Rachel agrees: “We kind of love it,” she says, of both the brand and its location’s semi-hidden nature. “You don’t have so much of that these days. Everything’s so accessible to everyone. All information — you can just look on your phone and Google it. We’re missing this sense of wonder.”
Stepping into Fischersund’s store, that sense of wonder that Rachel calls to mind is immediately instilled in you. From Jónsi’s fascinating ‘scent organ’ (a literal antique organ with the keys replaced with row upon row of tiny bottles of scents and oils) to the ever-changing scent-themed exhibitions hosted in the building’s basement, the whole house is the embodiment of the values and intentionality the family wants to bring to the world with their products. And while the Reykjavík Grapevine’s budget doesn’t quite stretch for scented pages, we encourage you to get your hands on a bottle of Fischersund No. 23 if you can, so that you too can immerse yourself in the delightful wonderment it brings.
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