Try to define English perfume and names such as Penhaligon’s and Floris will often be top of mind. But surely there is more to English scent than these older houses that stem from the Victorian era and beyond. During a recent weekend in London I wanted to explore England’s perfume culture and the perfume brand I was most interested in knowing more about was Miller Harris. A name such as Jo Malone is unarguably more prominent on the global perfume stage. Often this comes at the cost of loosing a sense of identity. I discovered perfumer Lyn Harris’ work in 2004 and now have three Miller Harris perfumes in my collection. Lyn’s signature style blends quality raw materials, particularly naturals, creating simple yet innovative perfume.
I met with Charlotte, the brand’s PR Manager for tea at their Bruton Street tearoom. The quaint boutique offers a relaxing sanctuary away from the fast paced pavements of New Bond Street. The tearoom is a curated space featuring Lyn’s creations and the work of other artisans that inspire her. Ceramics from Parisians, Astier de Villatte, Karen Beauchamp’s wallpaper that reinterprets the perfumer’s sea fig flower packaging into interior design and a bespoke request from Wallpaper Magazine as part of their most recent handmade edition. For Wallpaper, Lyn created an olive oil infused with cucumber essence and peppery notes. This cucumber essence is also featured in the house’s limited edition tea that is currently on offer. The refreshing green notes marry perfectly with tea and I enjoyed a pot with Charlotte as we discussed the brand.
Miller Harris is now eleven years old. Lyn Harris created the range following twenty years of experience in the perfume industry. She studied perfume in Paris before taking on employment with prestigious Robertet in Grasse where her training continued. Lyn launched her career as an independent perfumer at a time when niche perfumery was a much smaller market than it is today and at a time when most of her counterparts were men. Her creations are a line of memories and experiences recalled from her travels around the world. Within the range the viewer can walk the Parisian streets of Saint Germain des Pres, attend mass in Spain, the swirl of incense and cistus enveloping your being or walk through an English rose garden after the summer rain. During my visit I am introduced to the brand’s latest scents, La Pluie and La Fumée. As the name suggests, La Pluie is a watery fragrance inspired by the experience of a tropical rainstorm. Lyn was in Mauritius researching, which is where the idea of this scent was born. I am always interested in how perfumers convey water. Lyn’s water is a balance of white floral notes and vanilla. A balance Charlotte tells me took six months to perfect. The ylang ylang and vanilla accord proved problematic, I am guessing because vanilla is more easily portrayed as resinous or gourmand, yet in La Pluie it sits quietly in the composition adding weight and a sense of warmth without distracting from the transparent watery nature of the perfume. This fragrance also contains Egyptian cassie and jasmine absolute with Tunisian orange flower. La Fumée is a wonderfully complex blend of incense, resins, wood and spices. Spanish cistus absolute, smoky cade, birch, cedar and Mysore sandalwood are blended with Guatemalan cardomom, coriander and Egyptian cumin. There are some comparable incenses. Comme Des Garcons’ Dover Street Market and Annick Goutal’s Encens Flamboyant spring to mind. La Fumée has a refined element and natural elegance that would appeal to a more understated clientele.
Another interesting project Lyn has been involved with are a series scented amenities for boutique hotels owned by Firmdale. Dotted around London and New York, the perfumer has customized scents for some of the hotels within the portfolio. Each space has its own bespoke scent. The art of bespoke perfume is another reason why I was interested to learn more about Miller Harris. During my previous visit to Europe I discussed the matter with Guerlain and Florentine perfumer, Lorenzo Villoresi. Bespoke scent is a service Lyn provides clients from her Notting Hill boutique that adjoins her laboratory. The client will spend a day with the perfumer pinpointing the materials that will be balanced and composed in an original perfume. After tea and a cupcake from the Violet bakery Charlotte takes me through the collection.
It has been some time since I last acquainted myself with the range and in some ways it is like meeting old friends. Feuilles de Tabac is one of the Miller Harris scents I have in my collection. Charlotte tells me this is one of their most popular fragrances, a comment that surprises me. Although I consider it to be one of the best tobacco scent on the market I would have imagined Miller Harris clients to be more attracted to the number of lush florals that exist within the range instead of this spicy smoker. One of Lyn’s favourite raw materials is Turkish rose. She almost always pairs this luxurious floral with fresh fruit as if to preserve the flower, delivering it to her client’s nose freshly picked from the bush. Lyn’s collection of Nouvelle Editions offers the perfumer another form of expression. With an even smaller distribution network than her classic range, the Nouvelle Editions are a number of evolving eau de parfums that exist only as long as the perfumer requires. Each one has a specific message that is not created to speak to the masses. Fleurs de Sel is one example. I grew up on a farm and one of my regular chores was to feed our horses electrolyte salts. It was a large slab or brick that I would take into their grazing paddocks. The horses would somehow be attracted and lick the slab in turn replacing salts lost during their workouts. The smell of horses and salt reminded me a lot of this perfume. Vetiver Bourbon is another of the Nouvelles I sampled. Glorifying the beauty of this special grass from the Reunion Islands, the green scent is paired with notes of amber and patchouli inflecting an oriental quality on the overall scent. These special fragrances are limited and perfume fans have begun to realize their scarcity after the recent discontinuation of parts of the range. For today, Charlotte helps me to decide on a bottle of Geranium Bourbon. We discuss the masculinity and femininity of flowers. Charlotte says that Lyn’s approach to perfume is not about gender but more about skin, mood and even season. Geranium Bourbon is a refreshing bouquet of roses and violets. Spiced with pepper and tamed with amber, patchouli and vanilla I decide it is the perfect scent to perfume a man’s pocket square or handkerchief. I leave the boutique with yellow shopping bag in hand having satisfied my curiosity about the brand. The problem I now face is that my perfume wish list has just grown substantially!