Industrial Design Engineer, Malú Lopez arrived in Berlin three years ago, and after interning and working for various start-ups, becoming an expert at PR and lifestyle related products, she took the plunge and founded her own jewelry brand YINKANA in 2013, after having an epiphany related to the smell of her childhood friend’s mother’s perfume. Her first collection, In Search of Lived Times, consisted of memorabilia collected in tiny glass vials, meant to encapsulate memory in the form of scent — visualized.
How did the idea of ‘visual perfume’ come about? Was there a specific experience that inspired it?
Yes! At one point I had the realization that wherever I was in the world, I’d often come across this specific smell that would make me feel really happy. I further noticed that this smell usually came from women between the ages of forty and sixty, which made me conclude that what I was smelling must be a certain perfume, and a very popular one at that. I asked myself why this smell always brought back a sense of freedom and calmness. I discovered that it was related to my best friend, Maria’s house as I was growing up, and more specifically, to the smell of her mother’s perfume, hitting me as she opened the door to their house on a Friday afternoon, when I knew that we were going to be playing for hours. I proceeded to call Maria’s mother to get the name of the perfume she used in the 90s’, (some Issey Miyake) and went to the store to find ‘the one’. Of course, the story goes that I tried every single Issey Miyake bottle there, until I came to the final one that gave me ‘the effect’.
From this discovery I started questioning why, if scent could bring back such happy memories, shouldn’t we try to conserve it somehow? This eventually lead me to the idea of jewelry, because it’s small and easy to carry with you at all times. Following that came the question of how to make it all by hand, and how to produce my own glass vials…
What, you make your own glass too? Tell me about it!
I didn’t want to order a bunch of generic vials online, so I connected with a glass artist and teacher, Sara, with a workshop in Valencia and learned to blow glass. Now, she produces and ships the designs that we developed together.
I started questioning why, if scent could bring back such happy memories, shouldn’t we try to conserve it somehow?
What was the first scent you made following your discovery?
Actually, I made a whole box of scents. After my big realization, I wanted to create a sort of ‘time machine’ for myself, so I made a scent for my father, one for my grandma, my grandpa, the house of my best friend, the house where I used to live in Italy and so on. Through this I discovered that most of the scents that brought back strong memories were from my childhood. That’s when most of our scent memories are formed, because that’s when that specific part of your brain is developing. If you want to discover the smells that are strongly connected to your memories, try going into your parents’ or grandparents’ bathroom and smell every bottle in their cabinet. If they are still using some of the same cosmetics, you will probably experience all kinds of memories flowing back.
I decided to start a brand and release a collection. I ended up offering two alternatives, one being a customized option — which is the classic anniversary or birthday gift from a boyfriend to his girlfriend (or vice versa). People started sending me long emails, describing their lives, relationships and families, and I would create a piece according to their descriptions.
Then there’s the ready-made collection, which are more general memories connected to smell. I approached that by thinking about the different identities of cities and places I know. What would be the identity of Berlin in the form of a smell?
Berlin Summer to me is Tempelhofer Feld, with the smell of the park, greenery and wildflowers mixed with the smell of people grilling. I wanted to preserve this part of Berlin’s identity.
I wanted to create a sort of ‘time machine’ for myself, so I made a scent for my father, one for my grandma, my grandpa, the house of my best friend, the house where I used to live in Italy and so on. Through this I discovered that most of the scents that brought back strong memories were from my childhood.
What is the most memorable request you’ve ever gotten for a custom design?
Haha, this is a crazy story. A girls once gave me a bone that is the smallest bone in our bodies, located in the ear [the stapes]. It’s incredibly tiny and I was handling it with tweezers, when suddenly it pops out of my hands and onto the floor. I was searching for hours on the speckled terrazzo floor before I finally found it.
And now the question is, why did someone possess a human bone in the first place?
It was from herself. She had a problem with her ear and went through surgery to remove the bone, and she wanted to keep it…
I remember one of your first scents called Berlin Techno, where you collected tiny items from the floor of clubs. Can you tell us more about that?
Yes! Berlin is infamous for it’s party scene and this was a part of the city’s identity that I wanted to preserve. I was going to techno parties and clubs carrying tools like scissors, tweezers and plastic bags, which caused some issues with the bouncers at the door. After I started selling my products at Sisyphus, getting past the door guy got a whole lot easier…
I would crawl around to conduct my research and collect samples, which were brought home and put into a huge jar. Two years later, I still have this jar, and it still has a really strong smell of fire, dust, humidity, and of course cigarette smoke — It smells like how you smell when you come back from a party.
The idea came about during my first year in Berlin, when I shared an apartment with some of the organizers from Sisyphus. I recognized that every weekend, as my roommates would come and go between the club and the apartment, the shoes in our hallway would start to smell like ‘party’. When I picked up the shoes and turned them around, I found the soles covered in colorful confetti. This is still one of my favorite pieces!
I recognized that every weekend, as my roommates would come and go between the club and the apartment, the shoes in our hallway would start to smell like ‘party’. When I picked up the shoes and turned them around, I found the soles covered in colorful confetti.
‘In search of lived times’ function like a time capsule, preserving a very small fragment of history. If you were going to make a piece that encapsulated your life so far, what would you put in it?
It would have to be something from my grandmother. She was very special to me! Through her life she was an avid collector precious objets like rare shells and stones that she would take to a jeweller and have made into jewelry. She did the same with dresses, bringing back rare fabrics from Morocco in the 60s to have a tailor convert them into incredible dresses. She was this funny combination of classic, Southern Catholic grandma, with an affinity for the mystical properties of stones and energy transmission. She claimed that she overcame her depressions thanks to the power of quartz stones. When I started YINKANA, she was my biggest supporter and investor in the business.
The second object is my teddy bear, Espitín, whom I’ve had since I was just a few days old. He’s been through a lot and almost looks a bit satanic by now, but I love him and he brings me a sense of calmness.
A funny object I’m attached to, is a pair of socks that I bought 15 years ago, and they’re still ‘together’ and going strong!
(Yes, we did ask where we can get these magical socks that last a decade and a half, but unfortunately they were found at a random street market in Andalusia and were of an unknown brand, thus the mystery remains unsolved…)
Is there a specific scent that is extra special to you?
Lavender. My father has an obsession with it and uses all things lavender, so it has a strong connection to my childhood and gives me the feeling of being home. He loves classics and he’ll never change.
Is that your favorite smell?
Out of my jewelry, I have a scent called Ocean, which is my favorite smell. This is another one that’s connected to my childhood; My parents have a house by the sea and we used to go every summer. In the morning, the tide would be low and expose the seaweed, and it would smell really strong, like a boat harbor. Some people don’t like it because it’s quite pungent, while others just love it. It’s funny, but I have memories of really bad smells that are connected to very happy moments.
It’s funny, but I have memories of really bad smells that are connected to very happy moments.
Your pieces are not necessarily supposed to smell nice like a perfume, but they function as a type of memory trigger, right?
Exactly! But at the same time, most people prefer to smell something nice, and they also expect my pieces to smell nice, so I try to create a balance. I don’t want to be so much of an eccentric artist, and I try to stay grounded. I make some pieces that are more challenging and others that smell like flowers and days spent in the park.
You recently launched a new collection L’age d’or, which is very subtle and delicate, and I’d say a more classic take on jewelry than your last collection. What inspired this?
I wanted to do something different, and make a more classical collection inspired by my grandma, with gold and proper rings. This was also a way for me to develop technically and learn how to solder and work with silver and brass. Brass is a great material because it’s so easy to manipulate and it works really well with silver. I tried to transport the essence of my first collection in the sense that it is light and soft, but into more classic looking pieces.
What’s coming next? Are you going back to scent and memory?
I’ll always come back to that idea. It’s not just a single collection for me, but one that keeps evolving.
I guess it’s fair to say that you’re a nostalgic person?
[Laughs] Yes! It’s all about nostalgia. It’s a theme. I enjoy it so much. It’s a way to see life.
Yes! It’s all about nostalgia. It’s a theme. I enjoy it so much. It’s a way to see life.
Are there any other themes or other senses you’re interested in exploring.
I’m currently dealing with metal and stones. I don’t want to do a jewelry brand based on precious stones, but as I’m a collector, I want to use only what I collect myself. When I was in Brazil recently, I was with a friend who knows a lot about stones, but instead of collecting hundreds, I picked a few that I found in nature to make special, unique pieces. I also really like working with the hammer. It’s very masculine, but what you produce is so feminine — it’s the perfect yin yang. Next, I want to learn how to ‘make the metal that holds the stone in a ring’ (the head). It may seem like an easy thing, but it’s really difficult to make by hand.
I’ve ventured into a couple of jewelry making projects just for fun, and I find that the nitpick of it all can be quite frustrating. Do you ever find it frustrating?
I’m actually really imprecise. In fact, I kind of hate precision. It would be so difficult for me to be a carpenter, because you have to connect everything perfectly. Jewelry is different; while you have to have precision, it’s not in the same way [as carpentry], where everything must be connected perfectly. With jewelry there’s this ‘threshold of magic,’ where you sometimes don’t know how, but it just happens that while you’re soldering it all just comes together perfectly. You can’t control it. It’s just a feeling you have to have which is different precision.
Does the jewelry making ever test your patience?
Yeah, this is something in life that I want to work on as well, for when I have kids especially! It’s good training. I don’t loose my nerves, if I did I’d have to find something else to do. Even though it takes time, I really enjoy it. I have days when I just produce and I lock myself in the studio and don’t set any meetings.
With jewelry there’s this ‘threshold of magic,’ where you sometimes don’t know how, but it just happens that while you’re soldering it all just comes together perfectly.