July 16, 2014
Boutique fragrance brand AGONIST PARFUMS has earned cool cred for its exceptional natural scents and handblown glass bottles. But behind the Swedish company’s memorable vessels and fragrances lies a love story, an artistic collaboration, and a celebration of Nordic beauty and culture.
The short story: In 2007, fashion stylist Christine Gustafsson moved from Paris back to her native Sweden, renting workspace in the same studio where art director Niclas Lydeen was operating a design and branding agency. They talked, then collaborated, then fell in love. “We shared this dream of working with fragrance partly because it was outside our very visual specialties,” says Lydeen. “In the hierarchy of the senses, people tend to focus on sight, on sound. But we felt strongly that fragrance is an invisible art form.”
When dream became reality in 2008, the couple chose the name Agonist, partly because “it’s easy to pronounce in many languages,” Lydeen explains. But the word also suggests something that triggers a response in something else. “The name represents the two of us, two forces becoming one and creating something new. It is the convergence of fragrance and sculpture; it is art and commerce.”
For Agonist’s presentation (the cofounders are designers, after all), the couple challenged artist Åsa Jungnelius and famed Swedish glassworks Kosta Boda to express each fragrance in a handmade glass flacon—visual art to accompany olfactory art. With no two exactly alike, the sculptural bottles attract connoisseurs, but Agonist’s fragrances are also available in sleek rectangular bottles color-coordinated to the art vessels. “We think of the sculptures as our haute couture line and the bottles as our ready-to-wear,” explains Gustafsson.
Each Agonist fragrance (the ninth debuted in March) is inspired by the natural world around the founders. Isis, for instance, evokes the transition from Swedish winter to spring, but bears the name of the Egyptian goddess of fertility for an even more personal reason. “Our winter is long and dark,” says Lydeen. “By the end, everyone’s just holding their breath for spring, waiting for the sun. And as we were working on this scent, Christine was also pregnant with our daughter, our first child.” “Isis the perfume is about new life, the sound of buds bursting, the precise moment of winter letting go,” says Gustafsson. “When our daughter was born, the decision seemed obvious. Her middle name is Isis.” —Karla Sugar