Renowned food and still life photographer Annabelle Breakey has a passion for perfume. Her most recent personal project takes three of her favorite fragrances and presents them against elaborate and whimsical backdrops inspired by the fragrances themselves.
“As a food and still life photographer, a lot of what I do is beautiful and fairly straight forward. I love the world of fashion—who doesn’t like glitz and glamour and makeup and shiny bits and sparkle and splashes?” laughs Annabelle. “What I wanted to do with the perfume is to talk about the essence of the nature of the subjects.”
24, Faubourg, named for the address of the first Hermès store in Paris, is an homage to the company’s roots in the equestrian world. The background is a piece of calf leather toned to resemble an iconic Hermès scarf. The reigns, bridles, stirrups, ribbons, and flowers are all individual photographs married into a single image in post-production.
“Leather doesn’t bend like that, so we had to bend it, pin it up, photograph it, and composite it together. We shot about 50 photographs to make this single image. We could only find one riding crop, so we had to shoot it four times. I wanted the light to be coming from the back right corner. I wanted the lighting to be authentic, so I’d rather move the object and shoot it in the space it’s going to be than cut and paste it,” she said.
Annabelle says the McQueen Parfum by Alexander McQueen is her absolute favorite fragrance. For the photograph, she was inspired by the feathers on the shoulders of the matte black bottle. The fragrance has tuberose in it, which gives it a sultry quality, and she wanted the image to evoke a magical and alluring feeling. Her first concept was based on the sculptures made out of feathers by a conceptual artist she came across in Paris. She built an elaborate background of feathers, but realized it was too busy. So she bought orchid branches and a brass birdcage and painted them black so as not to overwhelm the bottle.
“It ended up being a lot more simple than I thought it would be. Perfume bottles are so small and shiny. You have to simplify the background so that the focus is on the bottle alone,” said Annabelle.
Valentino is known for contrasts. They shoot fashion and accessories in unusual locations, on the top of a mountain or in a dark alley. The style is at once tough and oh-so-feminine. For the image of the Valentino Donna fragrance, Annabelle headed to Chinatown to pick up Buddhas, firecrackers, roses, coins, and jade. She photographed all of these items individually in different compositions to create a unique background.
“I wanted to create all these metaphors in the wallpaper, and then keep the image of the bottle really simple,” she said.
The images are featured on her website and in her portfolio, which she says she doesn’t get to present all that often, but when she does, the large, colorful images make a wonderful impression.
“This project was just for fun. I wanted to do something a little more conceptual, with a higher level of thinking, and to execute it with photographic perfection. I wanted these images to look exquisite and delicious and natural and naturally occurring. You can do that with fragrances because they’re such amazing subjects,” said Annabelle.