Sunspel X Perfumer H
COTTON LOOPBACK SWEATSHIRT IN NAVY MELANGE
"Your brain tells you what to use because that’s what you’ve been trained for in the last 20 years, and that’s what is so beautiful…it's like making music." Lyn Harris, the only classically trained nose in the UK, reclines in contemplation on one of the beautifully constructed chairs that sits front of house in her new venture, Perfumer H. It is not the first time in our conversation that she has tried to articulate what exactly goes into the art of perfume-making. Or should that be the science of perfume-making?
Of course her answers touch on both worlds, and over the course of Harris’ journey - her intensive education in France, the unique success she enjoyed with Miller Harris, and now this new ‘labour of love’ - she has continually refined a deeply personal approach to both. The art and the science.
Not that Lyn is averse to indulging in the more inexplicable delights of perfumery. There are frequent references to the ‘magical bit,’ the ‘magical thing.’ Its not too much of a stretch to suggest that the magic is a placeholder for those seemingly intangible qualities that allowed Harris herself to successfully navigate the intensive, unforgiving world of traditional French perfume, when the odds were seemingly against her. For a start she was British, and a girl. "It was all very male-oriented, very French," she says. "It was all about that world, you know? Oh, there goes another third generation Grassoir!” Despite this, Harris speaks with genuine affection about her time spent training in Grasse at Robertet, the renowned jewel in the crown of the French perfume industry. "Because I was British, I was just seen as the quirky, odd one but because of this people there actually took an interest, let me into their offices. Some of the old masters were very, very kind to me."
The perception of being ‘quirky and odd’ also translated to Harris’ work which stood out due to the resolutely British perspective that informed her olfactory tastes. In place of the prettified French fields that inspired her tutors’ own journeys, stood the altogether wilder beauty of the Yorkshire countryside in which she grew up. Frequent visits to her grandparents’ home in Scotland also played a huge part in Harris’ early development. She speaks of this time and place with huge affection, evoking Romantic - with a capital ‘R’ - images of something akin to the opening chapters of an old-timey children’s adventure story. "My grandparents had the most amazing garden with flowers and vegetables, and I remember they made beautiful bread, cakes, jam with their berries… Oh it was idyllic! You would wake up in the morning and the fire would be on and you could smell it - a whole world of constant smells. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t smell something from those memories…."
"…That’s when my dream began I think."
For Harris, this dream has increasingly focused on repositioning the role of The Perfumer, something she has been fine-tuning throughout her career, and quite possibly perfected with Perfumer H. She first returned from her studies to the UK at a time when licensed scents for big brands reigned supreme: "people weren’t really bothered about the fragrance, it was about the name on the bottle. The promotional campaign. I thought: this is a great sadness." After growing disillusioned as part of that particular machine - "you’re in this little back room, you make everything, and then the brand gets all the recognition" - she and partner Christophe Michel ventured out on their own, founding Miller Harris in 2000. It became a true success story in the world of independent perfume, with three stores in London, a Selfridges concession and over 60 stockists worldwide.
Perfumer H, the logical next step for Harris, is exclusively about personal journeys, something that extends to the service provided. Harris offers an incredibly high-end ‘bespoke’ service, in which she will create one-off scents for an intriguingly private client list ("I’ve worked with some quite amazing icons but I can’t necessarily talk about them…"), but beyond that it is about finding the absolute right match for the customer. Smell is, when you think about it, an incredibly intimate part of who you are, so why, as Harris says, "would I go to a well known department store where everyone is getting commission and just trying to sell the next best thing… is that really going to suit me? No, you’re just going to end up buying something that will reek and you’ll hate. Here we try to give expert, thoughtful advice, and hopefully you’re going to walk out with a fragrance to cherish and love."
‘Cherish’ feels like the right word once you begin to understand the thought processes that go into creating each distinctive Harris perfume. "Nature is probably at the forefront of my mind when I begin, but then it can also be people, my surroundings, a piece of art… So I can be inspired by an artist, the way they put things together. I like to read about artists, go into their mindset." It’s about channeling their approach then, into the way you in turn approach perfume-making? "Yeah, exactly. I have an approach, just like an artist does. It relates to my materials and how I use them in my ideas - whether that’s focused on the materials themselves or just loving the style of something else entirely, and thinking: gosh! That style. You just have to wear it."
Harris ponders this amongst other considerations ("I don’t like to shock, unless its still wearable") whilst expressing the way she creates her perfumes, but it always returns to one thing: nature, and the unique way she manages to capture its wonderful sniffs and smells within a bottle of scent. The most telling reveal comes in her answer to a generic question for a latter segment of this profile, an answer that could only come from a nose such as Lyn Harris. Her favourite smell? "I love the smell of the rain at the end of a hot day as it settles on the pavement near to a bit of greenery. If, say, there’s a park nearby and you smell the distant oak tree through it." It is specific, escapist, comforting and intriguing all at the same time, which - when you think about it - are probably the dream qualities to look for in the perfect bottle of perfume. Suddenly, you start to get a sense of what to expect from her new range for Spring Summer 2016, simply titled ‘Rain Cloud.’
Harris reclines one last time in her chair, before jumping up again to fetch another scent to smell, to experience. The store itself opened its doors in Marylebone towards the tail-end of summer 2015, and the moment you step in to the duskily lit space, you’re seduced by an overwhelming sense of craft. Immediately ahead of you sits the open-fronted laboratory, in which Harris first concocts her fragrances, in full view of the shop floor. In between are rows and rows of elegantly minimal perfume bottles, conjured from individually handblown glass and adorned with intriguingly matter of fact labels: ‘moss’ says one; ‘ink’ says another. There is ample room - and a fittingly cool array of bespoke furniture - in which to truly experience the meticulously artisanal measures that go into the incredible scents you’re about to immerse yourselves in. Everything that Harris talks about (the art, the science), it all makes perfect sense in this environment.
By James Darton for Semaine
COTTON LOOPBACK SWEATSHIRT IN NAVY MELANGE
Lyn Harris Bespoke fragrance services
COTTON LOOPBACK SWEATSHIRT IN CHARCOAL MELANGE
Rain Cloud, Floral fragrance
Long-sleeved slubby cotton-jersey T-shirt
Tips to Pick the Perfect Fragrance
Discover Lyn's 5 tips to help you select your perfect fragrance.
"Style always comes into play, you know? The notes should mean something to you, personify something in the way that your clothes do. Fragrance does interlink with your fashion wardrobe which is why we do seasonal collections."
"Be in the mood to choose a fragrance. Have the time and right mindset, come when you are not in a rush."
"If you love it try it on your skin. Your wrist is a good place since you sweat there, it is important to get your natural smell interacting as that is what affects the fragrance."
"Smell and go with your instinct."
"Be confident and trusting in the people that you've gone to. You've done your research and chose them for a reason."
"Make sure to have a clean palette. Avoid eating heavy spices or garlic before."
Inside Perfumer H
Seductive, duskily lit, step inside Perfumer H's London boutique where you will be seduced by an overwhelming sense of craft, elegant rows of bottles and an open-fronted laboratory.
Lyn's Inspirational Reads
“I love to have books around me for research and inspiration. I love immersing myself in a beautiful book and being transported into another world; and of course, being inspired…this is one of my forms of relaxation and I make sure I find the time to do this as I find it very beneficial to my creative process.”
Neue Welt / New World
Valentino Master of Couture: A Private View
Hockney: The Biography, Volume 2
I Can't Stay Long
The Alhambra (Wonders of the World)
Hotel II Pellicano
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever
Around the World with Lyn Harris
Marrakesh, southern Spain, Brittany…Harris has deep connections to all of these places, but her escapes to the English countryside become the focus as she warms to the theme of travel. “I rent quite a few cottages, yes,” she tells me. “Do you know the Landmark Trust? Prince Charles has got this trust and they basically take amazing historical houses and do them up. It’s kind of formulaic but beautifully formulaic. The last place I went was just near Bolton Abbey.”
Body Resurrection since free hand wash 50ml
Acte III, Scene I, La Clairiere scarf 90
Frankincense Organic Essential Oil 5ml
THE JERMYN SUNGLASSES IN DARK TURTLE
Sugar lip treatment
574 Trainers Castle Rock
Lyn's Top Shelf
“I love oils and to massage my face once a day; I believe it keeps your skin clean and toned. I love good, honest products that aren’t too smelly and I do look for something that will perform and makes my skin feel alive.”
Geranium body scrub
Geranium leaf body cleanser
Cologne, Citrus fragrance
Green superfood raw reserve
Wake wonderful night-time facial
Intensive night cream
“Live life to the fullest”
"Oh, I laugh all the time, I’m terrible. Such a northerner! Probably my ten-year-old son, this morning.”
“My father was always my hero and I’ve always cherished my grandfather—he was the most amazing person, happy with nothing. That’s a big thing for me about materialism, maintaining this sort of torturous balance, because I think we’ve got too much of everything. If you buy something, it should be the best and that’s it. There’s too much over-consumption and my Grandfather didn’t live like that. He just had a few things around him but they were beautiful. So I think maybe he’s my hero.”
“Being fulfilled and happy are the most important things for me. I don’t think ‘success’, I just think ‘being fulfilled.’”
“That’s a good one. At the moment, I would love to live in a farm in Yorkshire again; I don’t know why but I probably would. But don’t tell that to my French partner!”
“I love the smell of rain at the end of a hot day as it settles on the pavement near to a bit of greenery. If, say, there’s a park nearby and you smell the distant oak tree through it.”
“Berries, particularly blackberries. My grandmother grew geraniums as well, but it was more berries and sweet peas.”
“No, actually! Because I create, I have to keep a clean pallet, so I don’t often wear fragrance at all. I love smelling it on other people, in many different variations.”
“Oh, I’ve got too many! But my favourite to look at? I would have to say roses, English garden roses…then pansies, forget-me-nots—wild things like that.”