Just what has Lyn Harris been doing with her time for the past two years? Since stepping aside from Miller Harris, the brand she founded in 2000, she has been reacquainting herself with her deepest loves – the British seasons, slow craft and creative collaboration – and cooking up a unique personal venture.
The sweet-smelling fruits of her labour have now been unveiled, revealing a reaction to the mass-market business of beauty that has personal resonance to her and hopefully to her customers. Perfumer H, a shop and working laboratory is a retail concept that puts creation and craft at the heart of the perfume-buying experience.
The look and feel of the Marylebone atelier is key, housed in a discreet corner shop with tinted windows, and elegantly fitted out by interiors alchemists Retrouvius. The décor, a mix of bespoke textile panels, handsome cabinets, reclaimed shelving and mid-century furniture complements the warm tones of the hand-blown glass vessels that hold Perfumer H fragrances and candles. And at the back of the store is the trump card. Here is a real working lab where the perfumes are made up in front of you, surrounded by apothecary bottles stored in original teak shelving (salvaged rather appropriately, from a school science lab). It’s all very experiential, yet very relaxed.
And so to the fragrances. The concept is three-tiered, but ultimately these are all high quality perfumes based around Harris’ authentic passion and respect for her beloved British countryside. Authentic may have become a dirty word, but it imbues everything here. Harris is fanatical about slowing the consumption cycle, offering an antidote to mass-produced perfumes. “We’ve got anything and everything now, there’s an overkill,” says the perfumer, who grew up in Yorkshire but took herself to Paris and then Grasse to learn her craft. The comforting, uplifting scents are a reminder of Harris’ childhood, much of it spent in Scotland with her grandparents. Their jam making, bread baking and vegetable growing made a lasting impression on her.
Starting at £195 there are the entry-point Season Edition fragrances in richly-coloured glass bottles which you can have engraved with initials if you so wish. These are the ‘ready to wear’ collections of five scents (one to represent each of the five fragrance families – citrus, floral, wood, fern and oriental) that are updated twice a year. I’ve been wearing Cologne for the last couple of weeks; a not-too-sharp citrus softened with a twist of asparagus that’s perfect for everyday. Each 100ml bottle is sold with a funnel and two 10ml refillable travel sprays and they’re so popular they’re selling out already.
Then there are the Laboratory Editions, the library of other fragrances that Harris has spent two years developing, such as the many scents based around different varieties of rose. These cost from £250, or if you fall particularly hard for one of them you can pay £2000 and buy the formula outright, meaning it will be yours alone and no-one else can have it.
The candles are another carefully considered offering. Five varieties hand poured into the same hand-blown glass holders with evocative names that conjure up cosy autumnal evenings – Ivy, Dandelion, Smoke, Fern and Marmalade. These cost £95 and like everything else can be personalised with initials.
And for the ultimate personal indulgence (starting at £15,000), there’s the bespoke service. This sounds a bit like a therapy session where the pragmatic, Margiela-wearing Harris teases out your innermost values and desires and translates them into a unique perfume of your very own. It’s the service that she has offered to private clients for many years (It’s how Miller Harris’ bestselling L’Air de Rien came about, originally a bespoke order for Jane Birkin) and was the trigger for Perfumer H. Harris compares it to a Savile Row-type experience, “it’s all about how it’s composed, like a well tailored jacket”.
But what’s so nice about the overall Perfumer H concept is the harmony of the smells with the visuals and the element of thoughtful craft. The collaboration process with likeminded artisans is something Harris relishes. “I work closely with our glass blower Michael Ruh and it’s so different working with an individual. He can only do eight bottles a day; it’s a craft in itself. You don’t get that anymore.”
And while most of the appeal comes from the scents, (Harris has a knack of creating modern versions of natural fragrances, a lot of them are unisex), I can’t deny that the stealth factor is also a plus. It’s not shouty, it’s not cheap and it’s made by hand in limited quantities. Because who doesn’t like to feel they have something that no one else has?
Visit PERFUMER H at 106a Crawford Street, W1. Perfumerh.com
WORDS AND IMAGES: Navaz Batliwalla/Disneyrollergirl