Barnabe Fillion Has Created Aesop’s Ouranon, A Perfume That Smells Like Contemplation & Persistence

By Ashleigh Cometti
French perfume designer Barnabe Fillion is a long-time collaborator with Aesop, and the nose behind all six unorthodox scents in the Othertopias story.

French perfume designer Barnabe Fillion shares the vision and process behind Aesop’s beautifully complex new scent, Ouranon.

Innovation. Tradition. Art. Synesthesia. Music.

These five words give an accurate snapshot into the world of Barnabe Fillion, the French perfume designer behind some of the world’s most beloved fragrances: Le Labo’s Geranium 30, Paul Smith’s Portrait for Women and countless others, some for his own brand Arpa Studios, and nine as part of his long-standing partnership with Aesop.

Barnabe is as much a storyteller as he is a perfumer — one who’s been tasked by Aesop to document the olfactory story of the Othertopias, worlds both real and imagined.

Ouranon marks the sixth and final fragrance in the Othertopias story, which started adrift the ocean with Miraceti, moved ashore with Karst, unearthed a verdant wasteland with Eremia, explored the outer and inner self with Eidesis and Gloam respectively, before ending the journey with Ouranon.

The woody, spicy scent evokes the enduring state of monolith — a place of contemplation and persistence.

But what does monolith smell like, exactly? According to Barnabe, the scent captures the contrast between something quite ephemeral, with something solid and confronting.

“This scent for me is something you cannot grab — it’s very light and it’s very stimulating, with something that is very solid and static and artsy and mineral all at the same time,” he says. “There is a mix of something fresh and light, with something very mineral and intense. We really looked at balance here.”

Ouranon, an unorthodox, gender-fluid scent, toes the line between light and dark, with contrasting notes and a focus on minerality. There’s beauty in its complexity, and Barnabe says he creates harmony within the fragrance he formulates using one of two methods.

“Either, I have a conceptual idea on which I will try to apply ingredients, so I will look for the ingredient corresponding to this idea,” he says. “Or I will have an idea of a scent in my mind, or a chord, usually in a project they do combine. I need to balance them by bringing some other ingredients, more characters, or more finality to the story. Contrast is something I do use a lot, and repetition — I often work with the same ingredient but can source differently or from a different type of extraction.”

Ouranon took two years to develop, the shortest time frame out of all of the Othertopias fragrances before it. It closes the book on the Othertopias story, sealing its perfect final chapter.

“It’s one that invites you to consider disappearance and things that won’t disappear. The first was the boat, Miraceti, you’re going somewhere. But this idea [Ouranon] is about coming back here, things are going to fade into Earth too and solid things will stay,” he says. “As a concept, it invites you to really enjoy the Othertopias, knowing there is no beginning and no end. The concept of Othertopias is somewhere you enter and somewhere you go out — a chronology of different geography, or a different notion of space.”

There’s a certain level of trust and mutual respect that’s been built up over the past decade, Barnabe says of working with Aesop. Rather than be bound by trends, schedules or launch dates, Barnabe explains working with the fragrance house is a truly collaborative process.

“It’s really about having the time to develop, and the quality of the ingredients. This is quite exceptional,” Barnabe says. “I’m not only working on the formula according to the brief, but I’m creating with the team this inspirational world and how all the perfumes could interact with them.”

All six fragrances in the Othertopias story are designed to transport you to alternate spaces — both real and imagined. Photo / Supplied
All six fragrances in the Othertopias story are designed to transport you to alternate spaces — both real and imagined. Photo / Supplied

His craft pushes conventional boundaries of perfumery — employing innovative design methods and drawing on his background in both botany and phytology.

A vital element of his creative process? Listening to music while he formulates. “I make music and I think about music. There is a very important music correspondence in me between both,” he says. “But it can also be with visual art — fragrance is just a connection for me to another medium. And to the memories or the reminiscence of other mediums. Fragrance allows me to dive into my perceptions for something else, it could be from a painting or a walk today, or from looking at photography. Scent allows me to either go back to the association or add tonalities into memory.”

Barnabe is currently in Kyoto, Japan, but continues to work remotely, formulating his next olfaction. The distance makes this somewhat tricky, but not impossible.

In some ways, formulating fragrance is a precise art, one that calls for isolating molecules — a fusion of art and nature that calls for sharpness and technicality. A chemistry class of sorts, but one that Barnabe says can also be rough and experimental.

He sends his trials while abroad back to his own laboratory in Paris and travels with his tools on which he formulates (hint: it’s a computer). “When I’m in Paris I do everything myself with my team. But when I’m in Japan, like today, I’m sending trials and they are smelling it,” he says. “They are evaluating, they give me some comments and then they send me samples depending on where I am. I receive it in two days, one week, sometimes the same day if I’m in France.”

It’s this back and forwards, constantly communicating and finessing, that takes the longest time, meaning Barnabe and his team can tweak a fragrance little by little until they arrive at the final scent profile.

His is a perennially experimental approach to scent, not pigeonholing fragrances by gender, season or time. It’s never been his intention to target anybody when formulating a fragrance, he says.

“I’m more targeting a feeling, a texture. I’m trying to represent a landscape or something I had in my mind. We are exploring, not giving frames.”

Ouranon marks the final chapter in the Othertopias story, capturing an enduring state of monolith. Photo / Supplied
Ouranon marks the final chapter in the Othertopias story, capturing an enduring state of monolith. Photo / Supplied

How best to wear Ouranon? For Barnabe, he prefers to spritz it on his clothes. “That’s something that allows me to come back more easily, because we forget the smell of our own skin, or we lose it. There’s a long-lasting relation with our clothes,” he says, adding no, spritzing your scent on your sleeve shouldn’t stain it.

But should you prefer to spritz on skin, Barnabe recommends using it on those “hidden places” — think the back of the neck under your hairline and the inside of your wrists.

“There’s a certain temperature here that really merges with the skin — it’s quite fabulous here,” he says.

Ouranon is priced at $265 for a 50ml eau de parfum and is available from Aesop signature stores, selected department store counters and

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