Experiment: Covers!

“Perfume” by Patrick Süskind

Cover proposals by Angelika Pirkl and Milena Vassova

Ready Steady… Experiment!

At akg-images, a large part of a Picture Researcher’s job is working alongside publishers preparing image selections for upcoming book covers. These are the searches that can be the trickiest; where simple keywording is often not sufficient to find that elusive image with the right mood or setting. Sometimes it can be a small detail in the corner of a painting or a figure passing inconspicuously through the background of a photograph that can catch the researcher’s eye. Finding these unexpected contenders is the reward of the job, and there is a silent satisfaction to be had when seeing the final result in the bookstores. (In the past, we have presented to you a selection of published book covers featuring images from our archive. From initial high-res to final design, these images have often undergone incredible transformations, rendering them almost unrecognisable.

This month we are starting “Experiment: Covers!”, where we unleash our researchers into the daunting world of book cover design. With the exciting task of finding suitable cover images for Patrick Süskind’s “Perfume”, our researchers got to work scouring the archive for portraits of red-headed beauties or images that evoke the novel’s central theme of scent.

Setting the Ground Rules:

Before we began designing our own covers for Süskind’s novel, we agreed on some basic rules we would follow to ensure neither of us had an unfair advantage:

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Results:

We would never dare to proclaim that our results matched those of design greats such as Peter Mendelsund, who recently released his beautiful collection of covers in a stunning hardback edition. What we wanted to achieve with this experiment was showcase some unearthed gems from the akg-images archive, follow our researchers’ creative processes from initial concepts to cover proposals, and prove that an image’s potential can be much greater than that which initially meets the eye.

Happy browsing!

Read below to hear the full story behind each cover proposal, told by our researchers (and designers for the week), Angelika Pirkl and Milena Vassova.

More cover proposals from our researchers


Take #1: Red-haired beauty, ahoy!

Cover proposal by Angelika Pirkl
Cover design (left): Angelika Pirkl
Original image (right): AKG90461, Toulouse-Lautrec, “Femme qui tire”, 1894
Photo: akg-images / Erich Lessing
Angelika tells the story behind her cover proposal:

This cover is based around two of the novel’s most memorable characters, Grenouille’s first victim and also his last, the Plum Girl and Laure Richis. In both cases, it is the victim’s striking red hair that sticks so firmly in the reader’s mind and holds such a strong fascination for the murderer. This crop is taken from a pastel nude by Toulouse-Lautrec. The girl’s downward gaze could imply that she is being observed by the murderer, utterly unaware of his attention and of the danger she finds herself in. For the font I have tried to incorporate the soft pastel colours of the original artwork.”

Take #2: Red-haired angels ascending!

Cover proposal by Milena Vassova
Cover design (left): Milena Vassova
Original image (right): AKG1448060, Adriana Bisi Fabbri, “Angels red hair blue background”, 1914
Photo: akg-images / Mondadori Portfolio / Sergio Anelli
Milena tells the story behind her cover proposal:

My initial approach to finding a suitable image for the cover of ‘Perfume’ was quite straight-forward. I wanted to discover a striking painting of a red-haired girl or girls in the archive, which would evoke associations with Grenouille’s victims, especially with his first victim – The Plum Girl. ‘Angels’, created a century ago in 1914, by the Italian painter Adriana Bisi Fabbri, seemed to be ideal for the first cover design. Here Fabbri depicts supernatural and mythical beings – angels, the intermediaries between the earthly and the heavenly, caught in motion on their way up to Heaven. Thus, it wasn’t just the hair colour that made me think of Grenouille’s victims, but equally so the itinerary of these red-headed angels who seemed to be leaving their life on Earth.”

Take #3: Let’s add some perfume clouds!

Cover design (left): Angelika Pirkl
Original image (right): AKG202493, Armand Seguin, “The Flowers of Evil”, c. 1894
Photo: akg-images
Angelika tells the story behind her cover proposal:

Again, the girl’s half-cropped position in the corner of the cover suggests a certain vulnerability. This time, her fearful sideways glance could indicate that she is aware of her persecutor. The abstract swirls in the background of the painting are reminiscent of perfume clouds wafting upwards; the girl’s scent which fuels the murderer’s obsession and becomes such a central theme of the book. I have intentionally faded the top-left and bottom-right quarters of the cover to reflect the delicate and transient nature of scent. As the background of the cover was already quite busy, I opted to keep the font clean and minimalist.”

Take #4: Monsieur Grenouille, we see you!

Original artworks
Original image (left): AKG262790, Léon Bonnat, “Portrait of the Artist”, 1855
Photo: akg-images / Erich Lessing
Original image (right): AKG228820, Franz von Stuck, “Spring”, c. 1912
Photo: akg-images
Angelika tells the story behind her cover proposal:

This was the first cover proposal in which I decided to incorporate a depiction of Grenouille himself. I chose this self-portrait by Léon Bonnat because the figure’s curled fingers and fixed stare, alongside the painting’s dark colour palette, seemed to hold a certain menace. By taking a tight crop of the image I wanted to place emphasis on the protagonist’s nose, and his heightened sense of smell. The right-hand side of the cover once more depicts a red-haired beauty, the personification of Spring, innocent and pure like Grenouille’s victims.”

Cover proposal by Angelika Pirkl
Cover design: Angelika Pirkl

 Takes #5&6: Bottled angel scent and fish guts!

Cover proposals by Milena Vassova
Cover designs: Milena Vassova
Photo (left, AKG2614532 – Soviet Perfume Advertising, 1928): akg-images / Archive Photos
Photo (right, AKG2573302 — Fish Exchange in Wesermünde, 1930): akg-images / Imagno

“Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.”

                                                                                                               – Patrick Süskind, “Perfume”.

Milena tells the story behind her cover proposals:

For the second and the third cover designs I decided to focus on the main theme of the novel revolving around the sense of smell. The first image, originally taken in 1928 for an advert of a perfume factory, I chose for its striking aesthetic appeal. The elegant depiction of a woman holding a perfume bottle brings to mind the exquisite smell of the virgin girls and the essence absolue or the ultimate “angel scent” that Grenouille is striving to achieve on his quest to become the world’s greatest perfumer. 

The second image – another beautiful black and white photograph taken circa 1930 – depicts fish exchange in the halls of the fishing port of Wesermünde (located in Süskind’s home country Germany). This photograph of a fish market evokes a different kind of smell to the Plum Girl’s natural scent of sea breeze, water lillies, and apricot blossoms – it calls up the stench of rotting fish surrounding Grenouille when he draws his first breath on one of summer’s hottest days in 18th century Paris”.

 Take #7: Is that scent I see?

Original image
Original image: AKG3020830, Mass in Lourdes, 2011.
Photo: Olivier Martel / akg-images
Angelika tells the story behind her cover proposal:

Once I had experimented with various depictions of the male and female protagonists, I wanted to attempt a more abstract approach with this design. I wondered how I could best express the concept of scent on a book cover that would ultimately only be accessible via the visual senses, a cover that was intended to be seen not smelt. I immediately thought of rising steam, fumes or billowing smoke. Yet the images I came across during my initial search under keywords such as “cigarette”, “smoking” or “fire” did not seem to possess enough sensuality for this cover. I was determined to find a more evocative image, a photograph that would really capture the word ‘perfume’. It was one particular scent that suddenly inspired me; an aroma so opulent, almost suffocating, that I could feel it in my nostrils as soon as its memory had entered my mind. Frankincense! I began searching for timeless photographs of Catholic masses or swinging thuribles. The image I eventually stumbled across struck me as such a strong contender for the cover that I didn’t want any elaborate fonts distracting attention away from it. I therefore kept the lettering simple and uniform”.

Cover proposal by Angelika Pirkl
Cover design: Angelika Pirkl

Take #8: I think I remember the film!

Cover proposal by Angelika Pirkl
Cover design (left): Angelika Pirkl
Original image (right): AKG3108728, Red ink diffusing in water, 2009
Photo: akg-images / picture-alliance / McPHOTO
Angelika tells the story behind her cover proposal:

With this cover, I intended to appeal to a younger readership; perhaps an audience mostly familiar with the cinematic adaptation, rather than the novel itself. The packaging of the book is therefore more in line with that of a modern thriller, in this case geometric and quite sterile. I have chosen a contemporary photograph of red ink diffusing in water. The reddish colours and fluid movement in the photograph evoke the novel’s recurrent themes of both scent and hair, whilst also having some of the eerie qualities of blood. I lightened parts of the image to remind the viewer of the weightless nature of perfume; lingering in the air, floating mid-space, then dispersing”.

Take #9: Blind justice!

Cover proposal by Milena Vassova
Cover design (left): Milena Vassova
Original image (right): AKG2062491, Justitia statue from Tübingen Country Court, 1999
Photo: akg-images / ullstein bild
Milena tells the story behind her cover proposal:

For my final cover I have chosen a representation of Lady Justice – a sculpture situated above the jury court room in the County Court in Tübingen, Germany.  Iustitia is usually depicted wearing a blindfold – a symbol standing for objectivity and impartiality. Although one could relate the figure of Justice to Süskind’s novel by considering the moral and juridical dimensions of the acts of crime committed by Grenouille, I picked this image for a different reason.

I stumbled across this photograph when searching for images of a blindfold in an attempt to suggest a lack of one of the senses, other than the sense of smell. The diminishing powers of a single sense, visual perception in this case, automatically renders the other senses more potent. Thus, by covering the eyes the emphasis falls elsewhere – in this case, on Grenouille’s extraordinary sense of smell.

The novel’s title is placed under Justice’s chin in order to prompt the eye to travel down the sculpture’s face – away from the blindfold and the scent-gathering nose and resting on the neckline, thus evoking Grenouille’s first act of crime – the strangling of the Plum Girl.”

Take #10: Back to basics, we go!

Cover proposal by Angelika Pirkl
Cover design (left): Angelika Pirkl
Original image (right): AKG298301, Toulouse-Lautrec, “Madame Poupoule at Her Dressing Table”, 1898
Photo: akg-images / Erich Lessing

On this last cover I wanted to return to a more classic approach, by using a simple depiction of a perfume bottle. I spied this particular glass flask on the dresser of a young woman in the painting ‘Madame Poupoule à sa toilette’ (Madame Poupoule at Her Dressing Table). I took a crop from the painting and modified the colours to give the detail a richer, more sinister, tone. I liked the idea of having a vast dark space between the perfume bottle and the book’s title font, as I felt this suggested an element of suspense or menace that embodied the mood of Süskind’s writing.”


Experiment over… until next time!

We hope you have enjoyed browsing our researchers’ cover proposals and joining us on this creative journey! Should you wish to take any of our design proposals to the next level, by giving the images a happy home on one of your upcoming covers, please get in touch. We would be delighted!

To read the full caption details of each original image, please click here to view the selection on our website. (*Please note that some of the images may not be available for licensing in your territory).

Watch this space on our blog for future adventures in the “Experiment: Covers!” series, soon to come.