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Smells Like Scandal: The Artist Making Perfumes Inspired by 'Dynasty'

London-based artist Sarah Baker reveres all things fake and fabulous about Hollywood. As she prepares to launch her latest project—two perfumes inspired by A-list glamor and "Dynasty"—she talks art, commerce, and the genius of the Kardashians.
Our Time, "Money Fan," framed C-type print, 8 x 10" © Sarah Baker

Years before Courtney Stodden was called a "performance artist," Sarah Baker was faking fame as an art form—or, more accurately, "Sarah Baker" was. Baker's projects look real, but are steeped in persona. Staging excess as a means of examining commerce and celebrity, Baker worships at the twin altars of TMZ and MGM, so that new and old Hollywood clash like animal prints. In a project called Impirioso, she fictionalizes the death of Maurizio Gucci, heir to the Gucci empire, and turns it into a soap opera; in the short film Studs, she writes, directs and stars in an homage to Jackie Collins that features both "fantasy and disenchantment," and synchronized swimming.


As an artist, Baker is the real deal in fakery, where the end result is something like Andy Warhol meets Jordan meets Francesco Vezzoli. Launching at LA's Hammer Museum for their inaugural AIX Scent Fair on May 6, her two new perfumes, Graecoplokis and Uptown Safari—smelling, respectively, like "a yacht ride in the Grecian Islands," and "being on safari with Grace Kelly and Clark Gable in Tanzania"—are the first real products in her invented designer line, Rococco Rocco. Calling from Los Angeles, she explains to Broadly how Grace Kelly might have smelt if she'd drunk in dive bars and how Paris Hilton is the master of her own image.

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BROADLY: The first works of yours that I saw were the early performance pieces, where you're playing this sort of invented socialite character, also called Sarah Baker. Is she different from you? Or are you different from her?
Sarah Baker: At that time, I was interested in this high class, materialistic personality. I was looking at the way that a lot of celebrities brand themselves, and I wanted to be the master of my own brand. That was my interest when I was working with my image: a very specific kind of self-portraiture, where the character was a person, as opposed to somebody like Cindy Sherman's characters where she's exploring an everywoman. I was looking specifically at how we view the nouveau riche; also, sometimes, the way we view celebrities who are famous just for being personalities. That was around the time that Paris Hilton was becoming famous. We say these kinds of people are talentless, but actually they're very good businesspeople—each one of the Kardashians has made her way, in one avenue or another. I think one of the Kardashians has her own TV show about drinking; it's about making cocktails…?


Rocco Rosso Riche, production still by Emma Hartvig. Olivia d'Abo at National Theatre Studio. © SarahBaker

It's Kocktails With Khloe.
[Laughs] So I think that they're not just beautiful, but they're also talented. But it's a new kind of talent, one that we've only just started to see. It's funny you mention Paris Hilton, because this ties in with one of my favorite theories, which is that Paris is actually a performance artist; in private, she apparently has this completely different set of mannerisms, and a different voice.

Since then, I've moved away from self-portraiture. I've started exploring the same themes by working with actors and making soap operas. That's actually what led to making the perfumes, because I created this very Dynasty-inspired television episode. The story is inspired by a real person, Patrizia Reggiani, who had been accused of killing her husband, Maurizio Gucci.

Supposedly, she was in cahoots with her psychic and her chauffeur, which is kind of ridiculous.
She was conspiring with a motley crew of individuals. The story was unbelievable. I didn't want to have to use her name, and I didn't want to have to stick with the truth. So I created my own fashion brand, Rocco Rosso, and I designed the monogram, and I silkscreened reams of fabric; I got costume-makers to actually make the costumes, and I used fan-makers, and milliners, and I made props. The main character, Rocco Rosso, is trying to sell off his brand, and his wife, Lucia Rosso, is very upset about it, so she has him killed. There's a man in China who's trying to buy it, and Lucia's chauffeur is her long-lost son, and the butler knows about it…


… I took the story and created a very glamorous soap opera. After the film, a financier friend of mine said, "Why don't you make a real product?" I've always liked the idea of perfume, because of the celebrity connotations. I read years ago that Jennifer Lopez makes more money from her perfumes than from her acting or singing. I've been working with Ashley Eden Kessler, an incredible perfumer. There's a drama [Rocco Rosso Riche] that goes alongside the development; I'm working with a scriptwriter and developing a radio play. The way that these perfumes fit in with the narrative is that these are the perfumes that Lucia Rosso is thinking about making.

The Versace-inspired perfume Graecoplokis. Photo courtesy of Sarah Baker

You said that one of the perfumes smells like being on safari with Grace Kelly.
All of the perfumes as very luxurious; they're things that any person would want to wear. They aspire to be along the same lines as Chanel No. 5, and they are: the perfumer is amazing. I wanted it to smell like going out at night in a luxurious, chauffeur-driven night on the town—it has this musky, animalistic undertone; a bit dirty, almost like hot sex. Where the evening just takes you to the hole-in-the-wall bar. You know?

I really do.
It has rose and violet as the heart of it, so it smells the way "women's products" would smell, but it has patchouli and it has musk. The other one is inspired by Greek keys, the motif used in Versace. It speaks of ancient ruins, and Greek gods—I actually think it smells like taking a yacht ride around the Greek islands. It's fresh and oceanic. This one uses a note called calone, which is traditionally used in men's products. There's supposedly "feminine" and "masculine" [with scent], but nowadays most perfumers will say that scent should be unisex. So I am actually telling people that these are unisex.

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I love men's scents on women, anyway.
Do you wear perfume? What kind?

Eau Sauvage, by Dior, which is for men. Black Orchid… How about you?
Before I made these, I actually didn't like perfume! Because I thought that I was allergic to it. I think it's because I get a little bit carsick, and growing up, my sister loved perfume so she would wear a lot of it. And it made a big impression on me: being in the car, with her, wearing too much perfume. But now, I love it!

The AIX Scent Fair opens on May 6 and ends May 8 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.