French perfumer ‘distils’ the scent of one of Seville’s poorest neighborhoods

Barnabé Fillion, who has worked with some of the world’s top brands, found inspiration in the plants that grow in Tres Barrios-Amate to capture the area’s multicultural essence

Two of the youngsters who participated in the project.
Two of the youngsters who participated in the project.LUCES DE BARRIO
Margot Molina

If, as the French perfumer Barnabé Fillion says, “a good perfume has the capacity to take you on a journey,” his latest creation, Jardines en el Aire (or Gardens in the Air), is a trip around the world that begins in one of Europe’s poorest neighborhoods, Tres Barrios-Amate in the Spanish city of Seville.

Fillion, a renowned scent designer who has worked with top brands like Aēsop, Paul Smith, and Comme des Garçons, recently collaborated in a multicultural project that has “distilled” some of the plants that grow around the run-down buildings in this underprivileged neighborhood where some of its 18,000 residents come from Asia, Africa and South America. Children from the neighborhood’s Candelaria Educational and Social Association worked on identifying and collecting the plants and sending them by mail to Fillion.

“This is a project about the evocation of a neighborhood which is defined by its diversity, experiences, testimonies and multiculturalism,” says Fillion, 39. “A neighborhood which is home to so many nationalities cannot be labeled as just one of the poorest in Spain. It has something to say about the world, its complexity and also its richness and the contemporary history of a country. Our approach has been to distil and produce the essence of empathy and cultural exchange.”

The perfume "Jardines en el aire" by Fillion.
The perfume "Jardines en el aire" by Fillion.LUCES DE BARRIO

The result is a unisex perfume that smells to Verónica Benítez, 15, “of the countryside;” to Juan Yameogo, 11, whose family hails from Burkina Faso, “of jasmine;” and to his brother Donald, 14, “of the corners of his neighborhood.”

They are just three of the 18 young people between the ages of eight and 16 who have participated in the Luces de Barrio (Neighborhood Lights) initiative launched by the City Council through Seville’s Institute of Culture and Arts (ICAS).

“The most complicated part of the process was finding the subtle balance between all the essences that best represent the cosmopolitan character of the neighborhood,” says Fillion.

Among the young participants, there are children from Morocco, the Netherlands, Ecuador and Colombia. Paula Bellido, 15, whose family is from Bolivia, was surprised by the number of different bird species in her neighborhood: 70, according to SEO Birdlife. Birds are the focus of another aspect of the project called Sinergias, a musical polyphony composed by Desirée Martín to celebrate the multiplicity of voices in Tres Barrios-Amate.

The overall aim is to make a role model out of Tres Barrios-Amate, which has high unemployment, drug dependency issues and the second-lowest per capita income in Spain (€5,389). According to the 2019 Urban Audit report, six of the 15 poorest neighborhoods in Spain are located in Seville. The list is headed by Polígono Sur, where the average annual income stands at €4,897. For Fillion, poverty needs to be fought as it reeks of “the indifference and contempt of a few people who are quick to stigmatize others.”

Sinergias, a musical polyphony by Desirée Martín, is also part of the project.
Sinergias, a musical polyphony by Desirée Martín, is also part of the project. LUCES DE BARRIO

Barnabé Fillion has based the perfume on the orange blossom from the bitter orange tree, of which there are 1,756 in the neighborhood, as well as on different incense aromas that remind him of the area. He has also used plants from five different continents, including the rose and rosemary (Europe), the cedar and the incense tree (Africa), the orange tree (Asia), the American pepper tree (America) and the red eucalyptus (Oceania). Their inclusion is a metaphor for the cultural diversity of this location, which lies to the east of the city and includes an urban park called Amate, which covers 32 hectares.

Jardines en el Aire has been produced by the Mane laboratories in Grasse, France, in a limited edition of just 333 bottles, which are being “given away” to those making a €50 to €100 donation to the art and nature workshops that will continue to be held by AES Candelaria. This makes it probably the cheapest perfume ever created by Fillion, whose career includes research with NASA to find out what the Moon smells like. “This perfume emanates from imagination and creativity and it leaves a fragrance that transmits ethical and ecological values,” says Fillion. “It is not a commercial product.”

According to the architect Sergio Rodríguez, curator of the Neighborhood Lights initiative and part of the Seville’s Nomad Garden collective along with architect Salas Mendoza and geographer Fran Pazos, “the whole project is an experiment to continue weaving an urban fabric that improves relations between species and so improves the general habitat. Despite the precarious living standards and the poor quality of housing, the neighborhood has a very cohesive social fabric and, despite the many different backgrounds, coexistence between people is not undermined.” Almost 8% of the 18,000 residents of Tres Barrios-Amate come from abroad, mostly Morocco, Romania and China.

Architects, geographers, urban planners, composers, musicians, instrument makers, designers, botanists, publicists, biologists and journalists have been working through the coronavirus pandemic since February 2020 on this ambitious project with a budget of €90,000. “The crisis has been a limitation, but also an incentive to create new realities,” says Rodríguez.

Neighborhood Lights includes a vertical garden at number 6 Candelilla Street that has converted 24 air conditioners into flower pots in which rosemary, asparagus, laurel, roses and jasmine grow while providing nesting spots for the birds in the area. “We take advantage of the water released by the air conditioners which, thanks to a motor, is stored in a tank on the roof of the building and then waters all the boxes,” explains Rodríguez. “It’s not just an ephemeral artistic project, but a prototype that we’re going to study in collaboration with the School of Architecture to see if it’s economically viable and can be developed further.”

English version by Heather Galloway.

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