Nigerian Artist Laolu Senbanjo Reimagines Bulgari's Man in Black Cologne

Nigerian Artist Laolu Senbanjo Reimagines Bulgari's Man in Black Cologne

The famed artist and Beyonce collaborator sits down with VMAN to talk about designing the limited-edition bottle of Bulgari's Man in Black cologne.

The famed artist and Beyonce collaborator sits down with VMAN to talk about designing the limited-edition bottle of Bulgari's Man in Black cologne.

Text: Christina Cacouris

Since moving to Brooklyn from his native Nigeria, multimedia artist Laolu Senbanjo has collaborated with the likes of Nike and Beyonce, and now can add Bulgari to his list of heavyweights. The legendary luxury brand tapped Senbanjo to redesign the bottle for the Man in Black Essence cologne, a blend of ebony wood, black cocoa beans and sweet rum, resulting in a warm and sensual cologne that for Senbanjo evokes images of Youruban God Sango, to whom he dedicated the bottle design. VMAN sat down with Senbanjo at his studio in the Meatpacking district to talk more about Youruban influences in his design and his artistic process.

Find the limited edition fragrance exclusively at Bloomingdales, where you can meet Laolu in person this Thursday (October 19) from 5-7.

You were really intent on bringing your Nigerian heritage into the design of this bottle; tell me about the process of designing it.

As an artist I actually, I use all my senses. I see the picture, I smell, I hear. I started to pick out different elements of the Man in Black Essence, and what it meant. And that was the ‘boom’ moment, because looking at different elements of scent came out to me a lot—virility, magic, power, strength, lightning, fire, everything just came together and I was like yeah: Shango. I took different elements of symbols, mythology, and lives. Shango is a god, a man, [and] a warrior all at once. And this warrior element of this cologne, that’s what gave birth to the design.

Which of the notes specifically drew you to those inspirations?

I would say that the ebony wood, the sweet rum and also the black cocoa beans—it’s just so fascinating for me because I never knew all these details before. I just smelled it and felt like I loved it.

What was your relationship like with fragrance growing up?

In Nigeria, we’re heavy into brands in the sense of to go to the parties you have to put on a YSL or a Ralph or a Tommy or, you know, that gives you a sense of class or belonging. It was about coolness. You had [the bottles] on your shelf. Sometimes your bottle wasn’t even filled up! It was just [for] the designs alone because these designs were well crafted. I remember some of those bottles I had, some of them I didn’t even throw them away when they were finished. Because I just loved how they felt.

Did you think about those bottles when you were designing your own?

I thought about Coco Chanel, the bottle, because that was the bottle that’s been drawn the most by artists, that is a great object. When I was going to design, I was like: I want to make this bottle the most artsy bottle ever. I want people to like it, draw it, keep it, you know—have that legacy.

So I looked at the previous designs of the bottle and I was like ok, how do I do this? How do I maintain my culture, integrity, how do I assimilate everything from the Bulgari essence, the scent, and then stay true to all these different elements and also blend it with my culture and stay true to my culture.

When did you start painting on clothing?

I use the slogan “everything is my canvas.” I came to New York to pursue my dream of being an artists so I was like ‘yeah, I’m going to New York, I’m going to make it as an artist!’ but it was a rude awakening, the reality. All the money I saved I brought it with me and in a couple of months—whoosh!—everything was gone. I didn’t have money to pay rent, I was struggling. So I’m thinking to myself, ok, I just have to survive in a way. So I started painting on people’s jackets, painting on people’s clothes, I started painting on people’s shoes. And it wasn’t long [until] I got a call from Nike to design a limited edition shoe, and a t-shirt and a poster. I started crying when I got that call. And I got the call to work with Beyonce on Lemonade.

How did she discover your work? 

Instagram! She went on my Instagram, she went on my YouTube, she sent me a coffee table book, she put my art in her coffee table book. She loves art and she loves to support people who are talented. She did her research. I did a couple of videos of me painting someone, and she saw that and she was like ‘yeah, I want this in my video!’ And I told her the meaning behind it, the culture, and she was just blown away. And we talked about culture, I never even knew she was into Yoruba culture. That just blew me away, people actually thinking of advancing the culture in this way. And just to jump on that Lemonade bus was just super cool for me. It was amazing. And it changed everything. It’s amazing how far you can go when you take a bet on yourself.

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