For Manuel Kuschnig and Shizuko Yoshikuni, the scents lingering in the air are telling us a story.
As the noses and minds behind Aoiro Airdesign in Berlin, the Austrian-Japanese duo create evocative spatial scents for brands, exhibitions and spaces that do just this. Their practice takes vast inspiration from Shizuko’s homeland, whether it’s following the Kōdō philosophy of ‘listening’ to smells (more on that later) or working with Japanese craftsmen. For muun, Aoiro created Mutabi, coined from the Japanese ‘mu’ and ‘tabi’ – ‘dream’ and ‘journey’, it is an atmospheric bedroom scent to send you off into your dreams. It comes in three guises: a candle (made of edible-grade soy wax, Manuel assures us, although he can’t vouch for the taste), wood diffuser and pillow mist. Here, they explain the alchemy of their work and how they know when they’ve hit the right note.
You follow the Japanese Kōdō philosophy, the path of the scent. What does that mean?
Shizuko: Kōdō is the Japanese ritual of experiencing a scent, but in this philosophy we don’t use the word smelling. The action of capturing the scent is actually described as ‘listening’, so this is just a different attitude to how you find the fragrance, that you don’t smell with your nose, but you listen with your mind. This is why we create scents that almost always stay in the background, so you’re ‘listening’ to the atmosphere that it creates.
Can you explain the ideas behind the scents in your range?
S: Colors Japonica, for example, was inspired by traditional Japanese colours, which are mostly derived from plants or living things – animals or the sky.
Manuel: Always from things you find it nature. So, there are 30 or 40 different types of red, quite specific, but always something you can relate to. It’s not like some abstract cc00ff or whatever! You can have an instant connection to it then because it’s something you recognise. Our second range, Hakado, is more earthy. It includes a charcoal dripper, it’s purified charcoal that comes in a ceramic dish, you drop the essence on top. So it’s more like a ritualistic thing, a daily reminder to take time, to take a break in the day that isn’t full of information – the scent can centre you, energize you.
Like a power nap…
M: The Japanese are very good at power naps, I must say. After a couple of months there you find yourself asleep on a stranger’s shoulder on the train. You feel so awkward the first time it happens, but nobody cares. It’s totally normal.
Speaking of napping, how did you begin the collaboration with muun?
S: We started to talk about about the whole journey around sleep, around dreams. We thought of the bed as being a kind of island. We started to explore, ‘How do you want to feel when you’re falling asleep?’ Or maybe when you’re just lying in bed, or when you’re getting up. When we work with brands we really pay attention to the other senses too. Visuals are very important. For muun, it was the materials: this velvety blue and the contrast of deep blue and white. The blue is very calming, like the deep ocean, you don’t hear anything down there. And white, it gives the sense of floating…
M: We wanted not only have this calming sense. Obviously, you want to have a quality rest, whether it’s a big sleep or just a nap, but either way it’s something refreshing. It’s not just this typical bedtime lavender thing that makes you tired, but something that generates the energy again.
How do you start the process of composition? How do you come up with the different ingredients?
S: For example, certain wooden scents or herbs give off the feeling evoked by dark blue, Or, leafy scents give this whiteness some character, a therapeutic quality. We love trying different components. Sometimes we test it and it can be too energetic so we minimise certain aspects and change the composition, explore more deeply, exchanging and tuning…
Discover the Mutabi collection here.