Fragrant Friday: The Olsens’ New Fragrance and the Ryan McGinley Shot Campaign

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage

It Takes Two was a 1995 film by the Olsen twins, but it also describes their general approach to life, design philosophy, and vision for their first fragrance, to be released through their contemporary line Elizabeth and James. Launching at Sephora in January 2014, the fragrance will feature two scents: Nirvana White and Nirvana Black.

When asked about the reasons for creating double fragrances, Mary-Kate said, "We have always been interested in exploring duality. We wanted to go back to who our customer was and the idea of a modern woman. We want to work hard, have a personal life, and have a career. But perfume is about intimacy that brings pleasure. And for us, our nirvanas are in bed, at home. We wanted to offer two different choices and options."

At the fragrance launch, the Olsens, both dressed in black, were surrounded by imported peonies (not in season in New York's fall) from New Zealand, and Lily of the Valley bouquets from the Netherlands. The peonies were a nod to a feature top note of Nirvana White, a floral musk with muguet. Nirvana Black is of a slightly woodier musk, with violet, sandalwood, and vanilla.  Nirvana Black took a year-and-a-half to develop, while White took only a few months. And yes, there will eventually be a perfume for The Row

Although the scent gives some olfactory clues to the Olsens' personal nirvanas, the fragrance campaign offers a more visual representation. Shot by Ryan McGinley, who has a penchant for capturing the carefree nature of naked youth, we aren't entirely surprised that the ad campaign features a naked female model, sleeping and sprawled across a swaddle of rosy pink, glossy sheets, with a dog lying across the back of her legs. (Note: Not Mary-Kate Olsen's dog.) The dog was particularly exciting to Mary-Kate. “She’s never had a better day on set than when she got to play dog trainer,” said Ashley. “She was so excited.” Read on for our interview with Mary-Kate about her first scent memory, that quirky five-hairpins-only rule, and more.

Photo: Kathleen Hou

You mentioned you were inspired by duality in creating the fragrance. What do you see as the common elements bonding Nirvana Black and White together? 
I think they both have a musk with tones that are a bit more mascu — I mean, not masculine — because musk can go either way. But they're both dark.  There is sensuality in both and I think [black] is a darker floral. The White can easily be a kind of "floriental" — it's an oriental, but with a little floral. They do sit back to each other, it's just a different feeling. 

You said that Nirvana Black took longer to develop than Nirvana White one. Why do you think that is? 
I don't know, it's funny when you care about something so much and you want to be proud of your product — you want to take the time to make sure it's perfect. So it was about finding the perfect balance between the notes.

Do you see one as more for night and one more for day? 
Some people might think it that way, or summer/winter, but I think it also comes down to what you're attracted to. Which one did you like?

I liked the black one a lot. I'd be curious to see what they smell like together. 
Think about the white one in a black bottle, and it might change your perspective on it. 

You and your sister are known for having sophisticated taste, even at an early age. What was one of your first scent memories?
There was a vanilla fragrance that Fred Segal in L.A. sold and I can't remember what it was exactly, but I remember that.

What are your favorite scents? 
For me, I love sandalwoods, ambers, tobacco. I like scents that are more masculine.

Photo: Courtesy photo