Arpa, the Perfume Brand Evoking Memories through Synesthesia

Andrew M. Santos

Barnabé Fillion’s new, multisensory perfume project incorporates artistic and musical collaborations, inviting you to “celebrate life in every detail”


  1. Who is it? Arpa is an interdisciplinary perfume brand and “institute of synesthesia” launched by celebrated “nose” Barnabé Fillion
  2. Why do I want it? The evocative line of perfumes is inspired by sacred geological sites and intimate memories, and is enhanced by retrofuturist design and musical collaborations
  3. Where can I get it? Via ssense.com and arpastudios.com

Who is it? Arpa was founded by Barnabé Fillion, a model and photographer-turned-perfume-designer who has been Aesop’s “nose” for almost ten years. After assisting photographers including Helmut Newton from the ages of 16 to 25, Fillion was drawn to collaborate with artists who worked in different mediums – poets, architects, and yes, a perfumer – by a shared interest in the concept of synesthesia. “I totally fell in love with the language of perfumery,” he says. Accordingly, he went on to study botany and phytotherapy, and completed an apprenticeship under Christine Nagel, the nose at Hermès. A little later, he would meet Dennis Paphitis, the founder of Aesop, sparking their decade-long working relationship.

In parallel to his work with Aesop, Fillion continued to cross creative boundaries, producing scents in close collaboration with visual artists including Anicka Yi, Marguerite Humeau, and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, and fashion labels such as Comme des Garçons, Paul Smith, and more recently Rick Owens. Cooperating with cross-disciplinary creatives he admires is his “inspiration” for founding Arpa (the name itself is an allusion to the lyre in Greek mythology, a symbol of the arts). “The project is dedicated to those friendships,” Fillion adds. “It’s really to celebrate those friendships and collaborations.”

That being said, the first scents released by Arpa draw upon Fillion’s more personal memories of travelling the world, from Ethiopia, to Belgium, to Japan – synesthetic recollections, in which scents are intertwined with visions and sounds. “It has been a way to share some very personal moments,” he says. “They are so vivid for me. They are so full of synesthesia, so it’s easy for me to transmit.”

Why do I want it? So far, Arpa has launched three of seven core scents, each representing a site of cultural, geological, and personal significance. With notes of juniper, musk, frankincense, and vetiver, Arco Spettro conjures the volcanic acid baths of Dallol, Ethiopia – one of the hottest places on the planet, with links to the seminal French poet Arthur Rimbaud. Recedere, meanwhile, reflects sunlight through the trees of the Blue Forest, south of Brussels, with scents of iris, myrrh, and sage.

Finally, Fosforo is inspired by the Japanese island of Kyushu, and especially the city of Beppu, famous for its hot springs and annual fireworks festival. “I went there and I had that shock of seeing these fissures in the ground,” Fillion recalls. “At the same time I was looking at the beauty of the fireworks in the sky, and seeing all these families with their kids playing in this scenario. That was an inspiration.”

Fillion is careful to stress that Arpa isn’t just a brand, and refers to the project as the “institute of synesthesia”. This institute, he says, is building an archive of “primitive nature and geological landscapes” through its perfumes, with an awareness that these landscapes may not last forever.

Bringing this retrofuturist approach to preserving the natural world together with Fillion’s love of collaboration are the striking glass bottles that contain Arpa’s perfumes. Crafted by the London-based glass artist Jochen Holz, the layered glass bottles take inspiration from Italian Futurism, as well as the landscapes that correspond to each scent: the Belgian forest, for example, is evoked in rich yellow, green, and blue glass, representing the sun through the leafy canopy, and wisps of morning mist. These bottles are also housed in a two-part glycerine case that doubles as a perfumed cleansing soap, while composers have contributed melodies – or “frequencies” – to add an experiential element to each scent.

“I believe perfume to be a gentle weapon, a courteous gesture,” says Fillion. “I believe in the importance of ritual, the importance of having moments where you are creating a safe bubble that is nourishing you. Arpa for me is about the inspiration to celebrate life in every detail, everything that you taste, everything you see, and listen to.”

Where can I get it? Via ssense.com and arpastudios.com

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