When kolam rhymes with fragrance; a visual and olfactory adventure in Tamil-Nadu

I always had a fascination for the futurist look and origami like aesthetics of Issey Miyake pleated clothes. The dynamic plissés follow an architectural process based on triangles, diagonals, spirals and extensions to suit the body mouvements. The geometrical simplicity of the clothes has something deeply contemplative and indirectly reminds me of the structural South Indian floor paintings called kolam. Issey Miyake perfumes reflect the same simplicity and elegance.

Little did I know that one day, I would receive a mail from Shiseido Beauté Prestige International, a company based in Paris that produces and markets perfumes for several brands such as Issey Miyake. They were looking for a kolam specialist for their new project.  The idea was to create two fragrances for women and men inspired by the olfactory landscape of South-India and the graphical world of floor paintings. I was excited at the thought of reconciling my love of perfumes and kolam and the adventure took place in October 2018. My assignment was to organize the travel, set up contacts with the kolam artists and find shooting locations in Chennai or Madras in collaboration with the communication agency Blackbear based in Paris.

Crédit Photos: Brian du Halgouet/Blackbear

Meeting with remarquable kolam artists

The choice was easy, as I know personally many women in the field of kolam. Over the years, many have become close friends and for this project, creativity and adaptability were the key words. Seven kolam artists were chosen and the shooting took place in DakshinaCitra Heritage museum in Muttukadu near Chennai.   Lakshmi Rekhotsava, Gandhimathy Senthilkumar, Prathima Udupa, Anuradha Kamalakannan, Bala Chandrasekharan, Mythili Vijayaragavan, and Subathra Sankaran responded enthusiastically and thus started the colourful venture. Each of them maintains such fruitful and intimate ties with kolam that it was easy, yet a challenge to meet the customer's artistic guidelines.

Lakshmi Rekhotsava likes simple and thick lines, weaves her kolam patiently without any dots. She carries on the morning gesture at the foot of her eight-storey building glorifying not only the entrance of her apartment but the entire building.  Recently she has created a kolam group called Rangavalli with the aim of keeping and spreading the art of kolam for the future generations. Through her and for many years, I have been able to document and understand the ins and outs of this art. A detail of her kolam has been chosen for the package of Shades of kolam perfume for men.

Anuradha started drawing in the 5th grade following her mother and women relatives. Kolam reveals her creativity and becomes a way to reach artistically inclined people like her. She adds that kolam is a path to attain peace and improve concentration. A detail of her kolam has been chosen for the package of Shades of kolam perfume for women.

'Kolam is my passion' says Gandhimaty. Earlier she used to draw kolam only during the sacred month of Margazhi (mid-December to mid-January) and at the time of festivals. Later, she started designing kolam to create awareness about health, environment and social issues.

Prathima feels that kolam is the kind of art where she can express her feelings. It is said that drawing sikku kolam or entangled kolam makes life complicated but in her own experience, drawing this type of design, helps her becoming a strong-willed person capable of solving life problems easily. A detail of her kolam enhances the package of Shades of kolam perfume for men.

Bala is known for her stunning powdered diagrams. She believes that symmetry invites perfection and balances the world.  As a friend, she addresses personally each group member on their birthday or marriage anniversary with a thoughtful kolam.

Mythili is joy incarnated. She sings, draws, creates new kolam, experiments, entertains and encourages wholeheartedly each member of the group. Her contagious humour is a treat.

Subathra is the true guardian of the traditional padi kolam or line kolam. She excels in drawing minute parallel lines enhanced by red oxyde called kavi.

Client: Issey Miyake, Prod: Black Bear Studio (Henri de Trogoff), Director and image: Sacha Vucinic, Drone: Pradeep Babu et Natessan, Étalonnage: Lydia Lopez (Reepost), Music: Pouvoir Magique, Fixer: Chantal Jumel.