What’s Up, Doc?

Making her debut at the world’s leading trade fair for niche and luxury perfumery, Esxence—which takes place each year in Milan— Sarah Baker literally had heads spinning. In addition to her discrete collection of four fragrances taking their starting point from iconic high fashion textiles and fabrics, the Motif Collection, that gave birth to her maison, also on show was the striking limited edition of the fragrance Jungle Jezebel created by nose Miguel Matos that caused a buzz among the parfum cognoscenti when it was launched late in 2018.

Barely hours into the fair and the launch of new fragrances, it was announced that one of the fragrances launched in 2018, Atlante by nose Sarah McCartney, had been shortlisted for a prestigious award in the 6th annual Art and Olfaction Awards in the Independent category. The winner will be announced next month in a ceremony in Amsterdam.

But most impressive of all was the main collection’s new look, unveiled at the fair. And the story behind the new branding is just as beautiful as the new articulation itself.

“…there will always be something magical about San Francisco; that promise of a better place, a happier life.”

“I really wanted it to relate to San Francisco,” explained Sarah, who was born there, but spent many of her years growing up in Buffalo, NY. “My parents, who were part of the whole San Francisco arts and literary scene of the 1970s, actually moved to Buffalo specifically because they did all the research and learned that it was arguably the best place in the USA for public schools at the time.

But for me, going back regularly, there will always be something magical about San Francisco; that promise of a better place, a happier life. So I really wanted that to come out in our brand story and identity. It was important to me that that sheer joy of positive expectation was something we should embrace with our brand.”

And, indeed, it does. The stylish new look to the bottles features caps in a colour directly inspired by the unique colour of the Golden Gate Bridge and a brand logo paying homage to Baker’s father’s work on the branding for a Californian theme park in the 1970s. The label on each bottle proudly names the nose with whom creative director Sarah Baker has collaborated on the individual fragrance. There is definitely something slightly retro about it all—think the minimalist sculptures of Donald Judd, the aesthetic of Gucci in the 1970s and fonts that seem to look even further back, to the great era of American popular culture in the heyday of Hollywood in the 1930s. Yet, the gestalt is cuttingly contemporary.

Certainly, the essential magic of San Francisco is there; from that constantly changing colour of the bridge—it’s actually called International Orange—mirrored in the bottles’ caps to all of the quirky romance we associate with the bay city. Just think about the iconic scene featuring Ryan O’Neal and Barabara Streisand in the screwball ball comedy What’s Up Doc (1972).

Finally beginning to realise that he can’t get the terrible, awful, magnetic woman who has almost destroyed his academic career—and his relationship with his fianceé (Madeline Kahn, as the scene-stealing Eunice)—out of his mind, O’Neal’s character, the geeky Dr Howard Bannister, flees to the top of the hotel; to an unfinished building site. But there—in the style of all good Hollywood denouements—he encounters Streisand’s character, Judy Maxwell, sprawled on a grand piano under a tarpaulin. As Judy (Streisand), sings As Time Goes By, the camera pans around the couple where, out of focus, we recognise the Golden Gate Bridge coming into view from the location’s vantage point with its dramatic panoramas across the bay.

Nothing could be more fitting. Just as What’s Up Doc? channels nostalgia in the 1970s, the combination of Sarah Baker’s new branding and the singular fragrances offer exactly that kind of romantic and stylish timelessness that we think of the minute those first chords of As Time Goes By start to play.

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