Lifestyle chemistry

Natural materials, very pure oils and an artist's touch. Liza Witte draws on the history of the earliest perfume bottles from the beginning of the 19th century when they were first designed as works of art. Today, she signs soap collections exhibited in museums throughout Europe

The Silhouette Collection presented under glass domes. Soaps to display, to use daily or to perfume rooms.

Each perfume has a story to tell. It speaks of encounters, memory, bodies, travels and of emotions. "Nothing is more memorable than a smell" wrote the English poet Diane Ackerman. "A perfume can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting and yet evoke a summer of our childhood on a mountain lake". A fragrance is an alchemy. Whoever designs it has a deep knowledge of plants, flowers and chemistry, knows perfectly well the olfactory reactions on the skin, the persistence of a smell in an environment.

A perfume designer is able to identify desires by interpreting the characters of the people who often express themselves through the fragrance they wear. Liza Witte defines herself as an artist and perfumer. We are meeting her in Amasterdam where she relocated from a small village in Germany.

The Silhouette Collection, seemingly as lasting and solid as its glass predecessors, is in reality like perfume itself: ephemeral and sensuous, fading with time and use. As with perfume (from “per fumum” meaning ‘through smoke’) these monuments of smell prove to be transient, eventually dissolving into air

Lize Witte in her Amsterdam laboratory.

What is your story/background?

In my first life, I was a dancer. When I had to stop dancing because of an injury, I went back to what I had always been doing ever since I can remember, making things with my own hands. I was born and raised in a small village in Germany, surrounded by woods and countryside. My background has a great impact on the way I am working today; my grandparents, for instance, had fantastic gardens and made everything they could by themselves. I am really obsessed with materials, textures and storytelling, and in the past I worked with a lot of different materials. About 10 years ago, I had the vision of creating the Silhouette Collection, so I learned the art of soap-making and then dived into the world of fragrance creation. From this moment on, scent became my new material and story-board.

All my products evolved one out of the other. I did not plan to start a label, but it somehow happened; I got addicted to soap-making, stopped buying products and learned to make them myself. I had lots of oils, essential oils and started making my body oils myself. The next thing was that all my friends wanted to have my products.

When did you discover the soap world?

My first artist's life was that of a dancer. I had to shower at least twice a day, before and after work, and always got dry skin, rashes, and red spots from the ordinary soap or shower gels and was obliged to use a lot of body milk. I never liked plastic bottles, let alone in my bathroom, and wanted to avoid using it. I even removed the labels to have a more minimalistic impact.

Then I discovered some really good natural soaps and started collecting them in my travels - mainly Mediterranean or Aleppo soaps. I liked their scents, their colors and realised that they did not give me any rashes. I kind of got a bit obsessed with collecting nice soap bars. So, my Silhouette Collection is the result of these experiences. Moreover, I think these days it is really crucial to avoid plastic packaging as much as possible. So, soap and shampoo bars are a good solution also for the environment because they can be packed simply in paper, they travel light and disappear without a trace after using them.

In your opinion what’s the relation with Fashion, Interior Design, Art, perfume and soap making?

For me, it is all about material and texture, with a soul or a specific character; it all boils down to giving something a personal or intimate touch. Texture, movement, duration, and storytelling, as I experienced as a dancer, have turned into products that are personal, radiate, surround, embody and enhance something, tell a personal story and eventually disappear.

In addition, I have often collaborated with other artists and designers to create specific installations and performances, and made scents or objects that push the boundaries between people, between people and space and between people and objects. I am still dealing with performances. I have just finished a collaboration with an artist for an installation, where I am evoking the memory of the scent of a person who has long gone.

How do you make a fragrance?

For my own line of products, I focus on perfumes, body oils, room fragrances and soaps that are all unisex. I love it when people share their scents. Another issue is time. My work takes up a lot of time, because everything is handmade. I produce everything in small quantities, the Silhouette Collection, for example, is actually made on order and takes two weeks to be delivered.

What is the difference between your various collections?

Scent-wise, I am composing different types of perfumes, that are all niche fragrances. My handmade soaps contain more botanical notes from essential oils. For example, I also add extracts, macerates, clays, herbs, milk or natural color like charcoal as additives with a cleansing or with another function. I do not use artificial colours, additives, preservatives and the like. My perfume creations and body oils are different and special, something between botanical/floral, however marked with a fine fragrance.

A few essential oils created by Lize Witte. Above: Jux, Handmade Fragrance Übermut.

My Silhouette Collection stands out because and the scents are fine fragrance compositions.

Where do you start with a fragrance?

All my work is completely material driven. I start by selecting good ingredients – raw, authentic or imperfect, unusual -, I care about quality and also about simplicity. Imagine things that you can look at for a long time without getting bored or telling a story keeping the listeners' interest alive and flowing from the beginning to the end.

Same thing for the handmade soaps, I concentrate on very good materials because producing an excellent soap it's all about the ingredients and the scent. My soap bars are in fact like pieces of raw material. I focus on the packaging in order to make a visually attractive product, which is of course also handmade and handwritten by myself.

What about the Silhouette collection? How was it born?

I wanted to create something beautiful, an object for the senses, a visual, olfactory, and tactile experience, that had also a function and was recyclable at the same time: in this case the object vanishes without a trace when you use it. The shape of the flacons are not copies of existing perfume bottles, but the design that I especially created as a homage to the bottles of past times. Black is for me the reduction to the essential. I wanted to create icons, iconic designs focusing on the shape, and it was clear to me from the very beginning that they had to be black. Silhouette also means shadow, while “perfume” means “through smoke”. I usually work with layered or double meanings. I like the fact that things are not what they look like and that, thanks to the contrast of materials, perceptions change. For instance, the bottles that look like glass or cast iron, are in fact vulnerable, soft, and ephemeral. For me, the Silhouette Collection is an ephemeral landscape of solid scent. It’s a handmade series of five iconic perfume bottles, sculptured in black soap. For each bottle, I conceived an individual fragrance. The perfume bottles, on one hand, are beautiful sculptures but, on the other, they also serve as a room fragrance and a nourishing body soap. The form is the content.

On the left: Neroli Body oil, A juicy elixir, happy, fresh and fragrant; Timber, A deep and mature scent of cedar and gujak wood with warm amber and slightly smoky tones.

Right: Coffee scented soap scrub. All the labels are hand-written.

The whole idea of the Silhouette Collection revolves around the concept of ephemerality. I did several exhibitions and shows with the Silhouette Collection. For one show in a museum in Bern I built a kind of melting device hidden in a neat column. During the opening, I DJ-ied my collection. The effect was to melt several collections of Silhouettes live, so that they released their scent in the space and showed the transformation from a hard object into a melted landscape. This created a black landscape of scent that looked like sunken ships in black water.

What about the versatility of the Silhouette Collection?

Silhouette Collection is a layered concept. On one hand they are perfumed soaps in the shape of perfume bottles, while on the other they are also beautiful design objects, perfumed sculptures releasing their scents to the room and work as a room fragrance.

Can you tell us something about your next projects?

I am working on two new perfumes and also on a special incense project. I have just finished this scented piece for a performance of a friend and continue focusing on this incense idea also for my own collection. Besides, I am working with black ceramics and will slowly add a few items on my website.

How long does a soap fragrance last?

Do you mean the scent of the Silhouette? The Silhouette will perfume the air and its surroundings for quite some time, many months.

However, it will keep its scent for years if you get closer to the bottle. Of course, if you keep it in its glass dome, it will last very long and release its scent when the dome is open. With time, the outside of the Silhouette will get denser and the scent will keep longer inside the bottle. But if you decide to use the soap, even after several years it will still give you a very scented shower experience. The fragrance of the handmade soaps, if stored well, will remain for two years or more and then will slowly fade.

What are you best-selling fragrances?

For sure the fragrances people love most are Cardamom, Burnt Milk and Green Patchouli body oil, Italians for example love Neroli. Instead, my bestsellers in my Silhouette Collection are Nr 24/0 and Nr 15. For handmade soaps the best “hits” are Rhazul, Vetiver Mint, and Opatcho. Anyhow, it really varies according to the line of product and the person because the preference for scents is definitely something personal and I am not looking for serving the main stream

Opatcho Canon Ball Soap. The bomb: 600 gr of Orange and Patchouli scented soap.

Black Opatcho soap. It is produced in small batches, according to the traditional cold process method and does not contain any preservatives, parabens, artificial colors or any animal products.