Choosing to pay homage to this beautiful perfumed gem, Thierry Wasser “wanted to express more with sandalwood, and call it completely and differently my own.” As Perfumer for Santal Royal, he composed a woody, oriental fragrance that plays off light and dark contrasts. An artist of Moroccan origin, Tarek Benaoum works in France, fusing the spontaneity and modernity of urban art with Eastern-inflected calligraphy. Using an almost encrypted-looking script, Benaoum juggles his own language with a sense of Eastern.
“Beyond its elegant bright and woody facets, sandalwood has a richness that is rich and deep.” Emerging with sunny Neroli and jasmine head notes, bolstered by cinnamon-spiced rose in the middle, this Eau de Parfum is truly Guerlain in its style. Its base notes reverberate with sandalwood – Album sandalwood from Australia to be precise – that intertwine with leather and amber notes alongside an Oud accord and musk tincture created by the House. A fragrance of bright and dark contrasts, it combines all the radiant joy and sunny luminosity of white flowers with enchanting amber notes and oud and leather accords. Originally from Asia, Sandalwood was first introduced to Europe during the Middle Ages. Used in furniture and incense, it has since become a staple within luxury perfumery. Rare and treasured, today Sandalwood Album is being grown in new areas, including Australia and certain Asian countries. Obtained by distilling 15-year old sandalwood and its tree roots, sandalwood essence also enchanted the Middle East.
Discovering the world of graffiti during adolescence, Tarek Benaoum soon made himself known with the tag “clone”. After becoming passionate about penmanship, he took classes in Latin calligraphy at the Scriptorium in Toulouse, where under the direction of Professor Bernard Arin, he learned about other forms of writing. Throughout his work, Benaoum applies what he calls “semantic scrambling”, a way of changing meanings to create an encrypted, intriguing, almost mysterious design. Using spray paint alongside classic tools such as brushes, Tarek frequently turns to blues and golds, the key colors of traditional illumination work. Throughout his designs, motifs appear to chase each other as a mix of decorative and meaningful elements combine to create a “hybrid script” that fuses calligraphy, tags, graffiti-like designs and incredible hieroglyph-like effects.
Similarly, his work often revisits words that he holds dear, such as love, violence, experience, happiness, love, music – all reinterpreted with a sense of poetry, philosophy and spirituality. His work can be found in situ on buildings across Paris, Los Angeles, Tunisia and Morocco, and has been featured in exhibitions including “Art from the Streets” at the Singapore Art Science Museum, “Open Letters” at the Institut des Cultures d’Islam cultural institute in Paris and “Street Generation(s): 40 Years of Urban Art” in Roubaix, France.
Woody, mythical, soft, sophisticated, intense, creamy and deliciously charming, sandalwood has long been considered one of perfumery’s most legendary ingredients. While sandalwood isn’t found in Guerlain’s legendary Guerlinade, you will find it many of the House’s other famous compositions including Jicky, Mouchoir de Monsieur, Shalimar and Samsara.
Meanwhile in just five years, Santal Royal has become one of the biggest successes of the Absolus d’Orient collection. It’s a magnificent duo that Tarek Benaoum’s work celebrates. Words, images and meanings are layered, juxtaposed and interlaced with arabesque designs and flowing script to reveal mysterious and decorative writing. To completely reinvent the bottle, Tarek Benaoum has coated it in rich shades of oriental blue and illuminated it with flowing gold script. Amid stylized calligraphy, the Guerlain name sits surrounded by meandering symbols that intertwine and escape across the bottle. Opting for cobalt blue in a divine lapis-lazuli tone, the artist evokes wisdom and spirituality, applying a sedate, yet magnificent navy-blue color that has been used for millennia in artistic, historic and religious objects and artifacts. You’ll find this distinctive lapis-lazuli blue shimmering on the eyes of the Ebih-II statue from the ancient state of Mari, now in the Louvre. Or, in such masterpieces as the British Museum’s Standard of Ur, where it provides the mosaic backdrop for a depiction of an epic tale of war and peace.
To accentuate the blue spray-painted bottle, Tarek Benaoum has traced it with mystical brush strokes of calligraphy and letterwork in precious gold, a shade which (for him) symbolizes immortality. To create the hand-painted pieces, this craftsmanship has been repeated by Benaoum across each of the 22 individual bottles, before being topped with the distinctly Guerlain finishing touch of a “Les Dames de Table” blue and gold ribbon adornment around the neck.
Do you write in Arabic, or have you created an invented, personal language? Does your calligraphy have meaning?
Tarek Benaoum: I don’t speak or write in Arabic. I’m French, I was born in Salé in Morocco and came to France at the age of five. I grew up in Paris in the 20th arrondissement. It’s a cosmopolitan area I love and somewhere I lived for 20 years.
My language isn’t invented because I use words and phrases in French, English and sometimes other languages. However, I do transform Latin letters with French calligraphy to create a hybrid that is inspired by Berber writing, Amerindian writing, African symbols and Egyptian hieroglyphics. Letters, words and phrases blur into each other as I reinvent them, leaving the viewer faced with a message that is imprinted with mystery.
Do symbols such as the eye or the three circles that we see in the pieces created for the Guerlain House have a specific meaning?
TB: Yes, these are symbols and shapes that I love and use regularly in my work. In Japanese culture the circle, l’ensô, symbolizes the infinite cycle of life and death. Circles are also a figurative representation of the shape of the Earth, and is also often found in Mandalas. It has a divine aspect. As for the eye, it’s a mystic symbol, it’s omniscient. The eye sees everything. For me it represents the spirit and reflects the soul as well as a certain type of clairvoyant vision. The Eye of Horus was also often used in Egyptian mythology.
Do you have any favorite symbols or shapes that you like to use in your work?
TB: Circles, squares and triangles form the basis of all Latin letters. For me it’s natural to tie these shapes into my work. They represent the link I create between the art of calligraphy and painting.