Despite evolving conversations around gender fluidity, fragrance is the one space that continues to be defined by strict binaries of feminine and masculine. Florals and delicate smells traditionally have been assigned as feminine, while stronger and muskier scents as masculine.
Patrick Kelly, founder of an innovative fragrance label, Sigil, doesn't subscribe to such archaic restrictions. Driven by the power of his own scent memories, the LA-based perfumer created four gender-neutral scents that are 100 percent natural and "for every identity and body."
With this venture, Kelly aims to establish a queer-owned brand that a wide range of identities can connect to. Both behind and in front of the camera, Sigil is intentional about its collaboration with, and inclusion of, other LGBTQ artists including Karis Wilde and Howin Wong.
"I think it's so silly to make a fragrance gendered. I wanted to disrupt this tradition and just put faces that are beautiful, that don't have to have that binary pushed on them," Kelly told PAPER. "I like to use the words animus and anima energy as archetype of us having a balance of animus or masculine and anima or feminine energy in all of us. So each of the fragrances has different concentrations of those two energies, and can certainly be worn by any person, identity, or expression of gender at any time."
From orange blossoms to the smell of sage on a sunny California day, each scent evokes a different memory. Paying homage to hermetic and alchemical traditions, the four scents are called Solutio, Amor Fati, Prima Materia, and Anima Mundi. Each has its own story and customized tinctures handcrafted by Kelly.
Talking to PAPER, the self-taught perfumer explained the inspiration behind each scent, why he chose to make them genderless, and queer representation in beauty.
What does the name Sigil mean?
The word Sigil comes from Sigillum and it represents a symbol. When the author of a symbol creates the symbol, they're imbuing it with the intent of a manifestation of their will. There's an occult Esteem who talks about Sigils being the art of believing and the art of creation. Perfume, to me, is a lot like that.
When you wear a perfume you're creating this idea of personality, persona and intent. I think of spraying the blend on your body like creating a sigil — creating a magical symbol or manifestation of your intent and direction in life. So that's the background of the brand name. All of the formulas names and stories that they tell are really steeped in old hermetic and alchemical traditions.
What is the story behind each of the fragrances?
Solutio, in alchemy, is the separation of a base material into its smallest parts so that you can get every microscopic grasp of what a material is comprised of. When I was creating this, I thought of perfume as a process like that, considering each disparate element. I also wanted to evoke this idea of hot and cold, almost like coal hitting water — this vapor and misty quality.
Amor Fati is all about this idea of eternal recurrence, the snake eats its own tale and we are born and reborn. There's beauty in the struggle of life and that's what makes being human so magical. So we wanted to create something that was a nod to the tradition as well as to holy wood and incense ceremonies, so it's very smokey.
Prima Materia is my favorite, I would categorize it as mossy and earthy. It has a freshness and orange blossom trilogy, essential oil, an orange blossom tincture that I hand harvest. I wanted to create something that was as celestial and bright and bubbling as it was very rooted and earthy, so it has notes like oak moss to give it that depth of character and long fixative quality. But it still retains a very effervescent freshness from the orange blossoms as well as the white sage tincture that I make.
With Anima Mundi, I wanted to do a floral that combined both animus and anima energies into one composition. It's all about a gestalt spirit or consciousness that connects all living things, a world soul. In concept, that is a feminine energy so I wanted to do floral like rose, jasmine and tuberose balanced with some smokier and spicier notes like tobacco and hinoki wood so you get something that is not a traditional floral. It's really much more complex and not overly soft or too heady.
The packaging is also really interesting. Was there a message you were trying to communicate?
I would say I was very intentional about the colors of each of the fragrances. I definitely wanted a more smokey blue color to evoke that evaporation quality of steam. With the mark, I really wanted to delve into those alchemical traditions, but I still have a modern and elevated touch with lots of negative space; so it feels premium and not too traditional. I think the 'S' mark means that even in nature there is wild beauty but if you look closely, there's kind of this pattern and you can seek it, feel it, smell it and experience it in multiple sensory ways. So yeah, I've definitely been intentional with the design and when you open the packaging the story of each scent is inside.
Why did you decide to make the scents gender-less?
I identify as male but in my consciousness and sphere of people I love and respect, there is a much more diverse pool of expressions of gender identity. It was something that I wanted to be authentic about. I wanted the faces of the brand, and members of the crew such as photographers, make up artists, and hair stylists to have be forward facing and I just wanted to give a platform, space, imagery, and voice to members of my community. I also think it's so silly to make a fragrance gendered.
I wanted to disrupt this tradition and just put faces that are beautiful, that don't have to have that binary pushed on them. With the fragrances, I liked to balance the masculine and feminine energies, and I realize that by playing with the lenses of anima and animus I'm kind of putting a focus on the gender binary. So I don't know that I'm nailing it every time but I'm trying to push forward and do my best.
What are your thoughts on queer representation in beauty today?
Noto Botanics is one brand that is really killing it in terms of product format, formulation, packaging, and the forward faces that represent the brand. I think it's an exciting time, there's much more breadth of expression across the LGBTQ+ spectrum in beauty in terms of how people use products and how they see marketing being positioned. There's more to connect into and faces and identities to look at. Overall, I am happy with just the variety and evolving opportunities for a broader base of consumers and humans.
Do you think there's a large audience for fragrances like yours?
I think in the last couple of years we've seen a swing towards a market for naturals as a premium experience. More brands are emerging with very beautiful, emotional and experiential packaging and stories to tell that are differentiated. I think there are a lot of good perfumes out there that maybe don't get as much recognition on the mass side with the story of the creator. Intention and formulation, hands that are touching the product create a slow and romantic process — our tinctures take two months to create before they even go into the formulas and then have to age and macerate. This process and that feeling of the founder being really involved helps the customer connect with the product. It creates a richer storytelling element.
To learn more about Sigil or shop their fragrances click here.
Photo courtesy of Sigil