There are few industries that possess such complex overlaps of art and science as perfumery, where innovation feeds creativity which in turn demands experimental processes to develop new olfactive stimuli. And then there’s Paco Rabanne.

Paco Rabanne has built a reputation for the revolutionary and the exploration of new and unexpected design terrain has become a trademark of the Paco Rabanne oeuvre. For fashion as much as fragrance. Back in 1966, with the launch of his Manifesto Collection in 1966 “12 Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials”, the designer radicalised the traditional materiality of fashion, redefining what was wearable with metal mesh fabrics, kinetic silhouettes, plastic.

Back in 1969, Paco Rabanne launched their very first fragrance, Calandre (French for grille as in car, or mangle, like machine). A knife’s-edge green affair that was as far removed from the peace and love movement of the era and instead existed in a stratosphere of space travel. Which makes sense since this was the year of the moon landing. Fifty-two years on and the Spanish house’s tango with technological advancement continues with their latest fragrance, Phantom.

The new scent for men, Phantom is continuing this tradition of shaking up the game by blurring the distinction between science and art. A collaboration of tradition and technology, Phantom is peak Paco Rabanne experimentation, one that defies expectations. Or more accurately, what you expect – an elegant, sophisticated fragrance – is just the start. What happens once you wear it is when the exciting part starts to begin. Embedded in the fragrance is an olfactive algorithm, a scent code if you will, designed to make us feel happier. To make us feel sexier. To make us feel a little bit more than human.

To achieve this stimulating sense of affect, Paco Rabanne turned to four of the greatest noses in the industry – Dominique Ropion, Anne Flipo, Loc Dong and Juliette Karagueuzoglou. A dream team that was tasked with imagining a perfume that’s about more than today – it’s for tomorrow. Or, at least the world we imagine tomorrow to be. “Phantom is the perfect remedy to these strange times,” Karagueuzoglou tells ICON. “It is a fragrance that makes you feel free, sexy and confident. What better way to forget about what is happening and to think about a bright future?”

That future, it seems, is cybernetic.

Phantom presents an interesting case in the way computer technology has the potential to play a role in this most intimate of sensory experiences, smell. It begins with the bottle, a first-of-its-kind connected container in the shape of a robot. “Phantom has an NFC chip embedded in the spray caps of the bottle,” Karagueuzoglou explains. “By just touching Phantom’s head with a smartphone you are connected to the Phantom universe.” Suddenly, Phantom becomes multisensory – not just about smell. The chip gives you access to exclusive playlists, interactive games and filters. Officially the world’s first “connected” fragrance, Phantom is immersive in a digital sense, one that Karagueuzoglou says taps into the younger generation’s terms of engagement. “It’s a new concept of fragrance that answers Gen Z’s aspirations for entertainment and sharing.” And this is just the first step. Then it’s time for the aromatic presence.

Before we go any further it’s important to understand that the construction of Phantom was not solely just to smell good. That’s a given. What Ropion, Flipo, Dong and Karagueuzoglou were also tasked with was to create a fragrance that would elicit positive emotional responses. In measurable, tangible ways.

Firstly, and foremost, Phantom is built upon a scaffold of rich lavenders (“Three different kinds of lavenders!” marks Karagueuzoglou). A classic ingredient  known for its traditional freshness and calming properties, these are levelled up to a rounded, creamier version of itself via a big dollop of vanilla. But before this leads into pastry and gourmand territory, an angular, modern edge of vetiver arrives to add depth. All this is lifted by zesty, energising lemon in the top notes. It’s an intriguing blend of barbershop-style notes and aromatic freshness that, according to Karagueuzoglou, will immediately make you feel good. Real good. In fact, according to the team who created it, it’s scientifically guaranteed to make you feel happier.

Using what the team at Paco Rabanne describe as Augmented Creativity, the noses were assisted in defining the exact dosages of each ingredient required to stimulate emotional responses. This is aided in part by the use of a “vintage” molecule within the fragrance, known as Styrallyl acetate that Dong was determined to use in overdose quantities. A radiant, green fruity note that lifts the entire fragrance, this Styrallyl acetate also adds extra oomph by boosting each of the other notes along the way.

“Styrallyl acetate is a molecule that can be found in gardenia, tuberose and rhubarb. It provides a green and fresh spark to the top notes and contributes to build the lemon facet,” explains Karagueuzoglou. “Our neuroscientific researchers noticed that each odour we smell has an effect on a particular part of our brain. In the case of styrallyl acetate, the brain part that’s stimulated is the one controlling the state of alertness – i.e spatial or visual attention, when you feel that something imminent is going to happen.”

The combinations developed by the noses, reconfigured and reconnected via Augmented Creativity, poses interesting intersections into how the concept of “connected” in technology – online, interactive, immersive – can now be extended to something we see as uniquely human: emotions.

The philosopher N. Katherine Hayles once proposed that we have always been post-human – a view that configures the human body and being in a way that it can be seamlessly articulated with intelligent machines. She wrote that “in the posthuman, there are no essential differences…between bodily existence and computer simulation.” Fragrance is by design a seamless extension of the body’s presence. Aroma exudes, creeps through space and presents its wearer before they’ve been registered by sight, touch or sound.

“Technology comes in many forms: from the power and limitless possibilities of synthetic molecules to the crafting and production of exceptional naturals,” explains Dong. “And of course for Phantom, it’s the combination of artificial intelligence and neurosciences that helped bring this project to another dimension.”

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Paco Rabanne Phantom EDT 100mL, $149, SHOP NOW

‘GHOST IN THE MACHINE’ WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE SEVENTH EDITION OF ICON PRINT MAGAZINE. ORDER YOUR COPY HERE.

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