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  • Nick Gilbert – Perfume Consultant

    "I like to visit The Sexby Gardens in Peckham Rye Park in late spring. There are wisteria, which trail overhead on trellises, as well as roses and other fragrant flowers dotted around the gardens. When the sun is shining and there’s a gentle breeze, I love to sit on the benches beneath the fig tree in the southwest corner and enjoy the scent of the gardens in bloom. I once saw two squirrels fighting there, like something out of a nature documentary. I was so engrossed, when it finally dawned on me to get my phone out to record it, they ran away!"


  • Miller Harris has formed a partnership with The May Fair Hotel in the last year.


    Our favourite time of year has arrived bringing the most fabulous fashionistas from all around the globe with it. This year marks the 10th year anniversary, as The Official Hotel of London Fashion Week.


    Over the years we have become home to numerous fashion icons gracing the front rows and have worked with designers such as Anya Hindmarch, Julien Macdonald, Manolo Blahnik  and Roland Mouret, who have taken over our iconic May Fair windows creating a show-stopping façade to our Stratton Street home.


    To celebrate a decade of fashion, renowned fashion designer and our Designer in Residence, Emilia Wickstead, has curated bespoke window installations which will be visible from 12th – 23rd September 2018.


    Alongside the windows, Wickstead, who is known for her demure style and dressing both the Duchess of Cambridge and Duchess of Sussex, has curated 'The Emilia Collection,' an exclusive range of cocktails that have been inspired by Emilia Wickstead's most celebrated dresses and will be available at May Fair Bar between 8th – 23rd September 2018. Limited edition Emilia Wickstead key cards will also be in use throughout the hotel during London Fashion Week.


    Why not pop down to see our beautiful windows and make a stop off at May Fair Bar to experience ‘The Emilia Collection’? It is London Fashion Week after all.


    #HotelOfFashion



  • Emma Weaver, Founder of Palais Flowers

    "I love visiting the greenhouses at Kew which smell of warm tropical rain and mossy musk. It takes me out of London, back to tropical holidays, and it reminds me of all the amazing plants that exist in sunnier climes. I used to visit regularly whilst at art school. I'd just sit and draw plants, flowers and the greenhouse structures."


  • The skin we’re in is sixteen percent of our overall body weight and the largest organ we possess; calibrating a vast array of stimuli that can raise us to ecstasy or bring us to our knees, supplicant in agony. We pierce, ink and cut our surfaces but also soothe, salve and ritualise. Without skin, perfume is nothing but molecules hanging in time; complex blended accords, intricate structures waiting for the heat of throat, thigh, wrist and collarbone. It is this delicious legerdemain of perfume expanding and projecting from the body that makes the wearing of scent so utterly compelling.

     

    Miller Harris is besotted with flowers; they explode through their stores, social media and of their gorgeous library of perfumes such as Tuberosa, Rose Silence, Coeur De Jardin and Le Jasmin among others. The House has been innovating in recent years, things are shifting; there is neon and painted petals amid the flora. Poetry, painting, botany, photography and disruptive beauty are flourishing amid the dazzling flora. Graffiti flowers and dazzling sci-fi boulders are part of the dream, perfumes inspired by jazz age novels and the satisfying chill of city foraging…pockets of wild London, hidden away amid looming blocks and old architectural byways.

     

    For their latest launches, Peau Santal and Powdered Veil, Miller Harris has laid flora gently to one side for an imagining of dream skin, how perfumes diffuse and adore our surfaces. I have been wearing them for a while now, on their own and even more deliciously layered together, creating a mix of vanillic woodiness dusted with butterfly wing delicacy. They are private scents, a genuine comfort amid the cacophony of modern perfumery.

     

    Peau Santal is a laying down of sandalwood with green violet leaf, vanilla and the unfurling of a cool metallic frankincense note.  I like its kindness and addictive dry papery mood. Sandalwood scents are often described as creamy, it is the nature of the natural wood, however due to prohibitive costs of natural sandalwood, there are a veritable forest of synth-tree substitutes out there for perfumers to utilise in compositions. These add their own deeply satisfying artificial edge to an imagined wood accord and in Peau Santal it is almost like peeling the bark off an aromatic tree to find the glint of metal below.

    To my senses Powdered Veil is a very specific shade of pink, something muted and bandage-like, a piece of faded circus poster cached behind tracing paper that has been used over and over.  I’m quite obsessed by it. Pink is a strange hue, ranging from eye bright neon and princess tones to the unsettling camouflage Mountbatten Pink used in the 1940s and Baker-Miller Pink used experimentally on moods and emotions in the late 70s. This doesn’t mean that Powdered Veil is sweet or gourmand, the powder is ghostly and transparent, touches of fruit and lush white orchid add form to shadow. There is a smell of childhood doll skin, plastic and malleable and just enough patchouli and labdanum to halt any potential boudoir overdosing.  


    On its own Powdered Veil is like a second skin, it melds effortlessly with your own; perhaps not the most persistent of perfumes, but then one of the great pleasure of quiet odours is the reapplication of the experience. I am looking forward to the decent into autumn when Powdered Veil and Peau Santal will be beautiful not just on skin but also on cashmere scarves, tweed jackets and folded silk pocket squares. A soft autumn in moreish skin-close perfume. Perfect.

    Alex Musgrave


  • Mathieu Nardin – Perfumer

    “Last March, I had an amazing experience foraging with Miller Harris CEO Sarah Rotherham in lovely place in London - Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, an abandoned cemetery. I was blown away by a plant called Sweet Woodruff, whose leaves emit an amazing aroma. It’s a bit like tonka - an ingredient we use often in perfumery: sweet, with vanilla and almond accents. It’s delicious and highly addictive.”


  • Sniffing Around

    Can you describe your city’s ‘smellscape’? Viola Levy talks to Kate McLean about her unique project, which aims to do just that.

     

    For those familiar with her work, artist and designer Kate McLean’s passion for sniffing out the city’s less palatable elements makes perfect sense. (“I’ve just stuck my nose in a litter sweeper’s truck! The poor guy looked at me with complete confusion and sorrow … and pity! It smelled of an ice cream wrapper!”)

     

    For the past few years Kate has made her name mapping the smells of different cities, such as Paris, Amsterdam, Singapore and parts of London. Smells are conveyed on the maps via coloured dots and concentric lines, similar to maps of the night sky. There’s something mesmerising and magical about them – even if they only provide “olfactory snapshots” as opposed to the permanent and definitive nature of a conventional map. It makes you wonder why such an endeavour hasn’t been previously thought of. Having listened to her talk about this project at the 2017 IFRA Fragrance Forum, I was keen to meet up with her and find out more.

    Each map involves a ‘smellwalk’ where Kate and a group of volunteer ‘sniffers’ head out to document a city’s different smells.

     

    “People I take out are quite sceptical at first, as it feels like transgressive behaviour - we’re not expected to go around sticking our noses into things! Getting people to put their noses in litterbins probably the most difficult task.

    “My smell map of Amsterdam was commissioned by the major fragrance house IFF. I took a group of their perfumers out on a smell walk - they stuck their noses into all sorts of things. But I could tell it was outside of their comfort zone. Possibly more so that an average person, as they’re almost protective over their noses, whereas ordinary people will just sniff anything. It’s like taking a chef into McDonalds!”

     

    How does you decide on what scents are worthy of mapping?

    “It depends on the scale of the city, I tend to do a block at a time for each neighbourhood. I haven’t really tackled inner London yet. The smellwalks might take place over a period of a week, ten days or a single day. The maps are all impressionist paintings, trying to capture that moment in time.”

    Can one forage for odours in the same way as physical objects?

    “Yes, absolutely. What’s interesting in the process of foraging as you’re actually touching, picking and interacting with different things – and they’re going to release odours as a result of that. Some smells are ‘long distance’ i.e. you encounter them just by breathing. Others much more proximal, which involves you taking something, crushing it, smelling it and seeing if anything comes out of it.” *Suddenly sniffs the flowers on the table* “Curious! Here, have a sniff!”

     

    She puts down the vase and continues. “In a similar way to how standard foraging works - in terms of knowing the likely terrains where different plants will grow - you can forage for smells in the city in a similar way. For example, if you go to a parade of restaurants along a street and find a back alley, you can get some brilliant smells, as that’s where all their kitchens are.

     

    “A good game to play is crossing over thresholds of shops and noting the difference in smells. As soon as you enter an enclosed space that’s potentially a different temperature, then you’ll inhabit a completely different ‘smellscape’. If we went into that wine merchant’s across the road, you might get a bit of barrel and wood floor - which has that caramel scent. If there’s some spilt alcohol on the floor there might be a whiff of that too, etc. The route we did in Greenwich included a sausage café, which emitted a wonderfully intense, greasy, bacon-sausage smell that came out of a doorway in a side-street.”

     

    People tend to associate cities with unpleasant smells, such exhaust fumes and dog mess. With the smellmaps, did she set out to try and change that perception? “That wasn’t my initial intention, but I felt like they’ve helped in that respect. People I take on these walks mostly like what I make them smell, which tends to take them by surprise. If you just analyse what’s there with an open mind, you do end up with a different sense of how many smells you like in a city - as opposed to how many you dislike. I didn’t shy away from the city’s grimier aspects, as that’s where the more unusual smells come from.

     

    “There are times when I’ve asked people to find four litterbins to smell. They can end up smelling four completely fragrant ones, which challenges the expectation is about smelling a litterbin. It might smell of orange peel or peppermint chewing gum. It usually smells of the thing closest to the top – very rare that it has that ‘bin juice’ smell!

     

    “Equally, the smell of leaves isn’t just the smell of leaves. Some are like wet laundry; others smell like decay, while others are more resinous and pine-like in odour. It’s a complete mix and quite often it’s the unexpected ‘green’ smells that people don’t like, more than the artificial ones.

    Does she gravitate to more unpleasant smells?

    “They’re almost like a car crash, you’re drawn to things that aren’t altogether pleasant but you can’t stop sniffing. Like cheese, cheese is awesome!

     

    “The role ‘unpleasant’ smells have in a city is closely related to perfumery,” she explains. “Perfumers use intense faecal or animalic smells that are very overpowering and quite disgusting when smelt alone, but when used as a base, they hold the other odours in place. The city has something similar going on. You’ve got the base less palatable layer to it and you’ve got the background smells as well. That base is incredibly important and it does hold everything together. There’s a difference between a strong smell and a disgusting one.”

     

    Are there any smells that are off limits?

    “For me, a smell that conjures up negative childhood memories is public toilets – cold tiles, a whiff of urine, bleach etc. I wouldn’t necessarily be drawn to try and smell round a toilet, but I’m happy to stick my noses into bins and other things that people might find disgusting, and encourage other people to do so as well.”

     

    Which smells sum up London?

    “Sadly a lot of exhaust fumes. It’s a big issue here. Otherwise, I’d say very much London’s green spaces. Hyde Park’s cherry blossom when it’s out is completely intense and very beautiful. Food smells are another London specialty, thanks to the amazing variety of restaurants and food stalls we have. You walk along the back roads here and the restaurants start pumping out smells around 5pm. You get that hum and the buzz, it’s incredible. There’s a real sense of food and drink being brought out onto the street for a small period of time. But generally in terms of smell, London’s more zoned, a bit like Singapore. There are lots of different scents depending on where you go - you can’t summarise it in one main description.”

    Historically, as with most cities, London’s smells reflected its socio-economic structure. “Globally winds are westerly, which is why east ends of cities like London are notoriously poorer and west ends richer. Factories existed in the city’s centre, and the winds blew their smells east. People didn’t want to live in the smells of their own factories, so west ends became posh and east ends became poor. Obviously times change and now the east ends of cities reflect gentrification – now they smell of coffee beans and beard oil (!)”

    “But my favourite London smell? It’s the Underground, when the train’s coming through and pushes the air in front of it - there’s a really distinctive, rusty, ozonic smell of dry heat. It’s totally different to the Paris Metro. I’ve got no way of describing it particularly well, but different cities’ underground transport networks all have incredibly distinctive smells. The smell of the Clockwork Orange in Glasgow has been written about for years. When I’ve been away travelling, and come back to London and get on the underground, that scent is reassuringly familiar - I know where I am.”

    If someone wanted to go on their own smellwalk, what pointers would she give them? “You can download a smell walking guide on my website, called a Smellfie Kit – it breaks down the different types of smell you can focus on, from curious or unexpected smells (books and paper, perfume on a passer-by); to the episodic smells that reveal specific areas of town (wet fish, flowers, fried food, medicine); as well as background smells that are seen as a constant (canal dampness and humidity). There’s also a grid template to print out, where you can write down 12 different smells that you notice.”

     

    When’s the best time of day to go?

    “When it’s warm and humid. If it’s winter, choose the middle of the day. If it’s summer, go when it’s about 70 degrees as it’s more comfortable to walk then. Windy days can get problematic, once you smell something it’s disappeared - unless you’re picking something up, crushing it and sticking your nose in it.”

     

    Our sense of smell often gets overlooked in this day and age, being bombarded as we are by sights and sounds from digital devices. Does she hope that through smellwalks and smellmaps, people will be more encouraged to sniff out their surroundings? “Definitely. We’ve got five senses and tend to only use one. We believe our eyes and don’t tend to think about what our smell tells us. The world’s a much more interesting place if you momentarily pay attention to what you’re smelling, as well as what you’re seeing. If you’re in a place you really like, questioning its smell can help you understand why you actually like it.”

     

    Learn more about Kate and her work at sensorymaps.com


  • For the first in the "My Favourite London Scent Haunts" series we sat together with the two perfumers behind our latest Forage launch.

     

    Bertrand Duchaufour – Perfumer

    “I was really surprised by the huge number of parks, squares and other green spaces you can find in the capital and the different scents you can find there. I recently discovered the herb cow parsley. It grows everywhere in the city and could seem so insignificant, but as soon as you scratch the leaf, it releases a stunning odour – reminiscent of the citrusy floral effect of bergamot and the green spicy note of parsley, mixed with a green, earthy touch of galbanum. And there’s the Thames of course, with its dirty petrol-like notes and smoky, rubber accents, all mixed with an ineffable aqueous note.”


  • Nature is everywhere. Even in the unlikeliest of places. We just need to know where to look. We also have to trust our instincts. And it’s this sense of discovery – of going beyond the expected – that makes urban foraging so alluring.

    Image by Rakesprogress Magazine

    To celebrate our commitment to nature and our respect for those who constantly source the best ingredients, Miller Harris have launched a new range. Forage presents three perfumes inspired by the botanical treasures around us. These are Hidden, Lost and Wander. The brief to our perfumiers was to create fragrances using only ingredients which can be discovered wild in London.

    This did I feel, in London's vast domain

    The Spirit of Nature was upon me there

    William Wordsworth

    An Experience

    Rather fittingly, for a range inspired by London’s natural splendour, the fragrances were launched in sunshine on the rooftop of Brick Lane’s Truman Brewery. A unique venue for a unique approach to the perfumier’s art.

    Architects Al-Jawad Pike provided a multi-sensory journey of discovery which was enhanced by vibrant floral sculptures from Palais Flowers. Renowned sound artist Claudia Molitor debuted bespoke compositions to add to the ambience. Everything was about engaging the senses and sharing the experience of foraging.

    An Opportunity

    To continue to foster inspiration and connect people with the heart of foraging, we are launching a competition with the aim of finding the country’s best foraged bouquet. This could consist of wildflowers, berries, stems, fronds or leaves – the important thing is to be creative. Let nature be your guide and don’t be afraid to see where it takes you. The key criterion is beauty. And the prize is the set of the three Forage by Miller Harris perfumes.

    Post your photos between the 20th and 3rd June, using the hashtag #MHForagedBouquet and providing a description of what foraged findings were used in the bouquet. Good luck and we look forward to sharing the natural joy of your floral creations.

     

    TERMS AND CONDITIONS

    The #MHForagedBouquet competition terms and conditions

    1.The Promoter of this prize draw is Miller Harris of 116 Commercial Street, London, E1 6NF

    3.Entries can be submitted via Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook where entrants can use the hashtag #MHForagedBouquet and submit a short description of what they used in the bouquet.

    4.Multiple entries per person are permitted.

    5.Entrants warrant that the work they submit is original and that they are the sole owner of the copyright in it. By entering, you give the Promoter the permission to use your name and photos of receiving the price for any promotional material once the competition is closed.

    6.The opening date for entries is the 20th May 2018. The closing date for entries is 6pm 3rd June.  Entries received after this time will not be accepted.

    7.The winners will be selected by the promoter and notified by email on or before the 31st May 2018.

    8.Acknowledgement of the prize by the winners must be received by 6pm 7th June. Should the Promoter not receive confirmation from the winner by this time, the Promoter reserves the right to select another winner at random.

    9.The winners will receive: the 3 new perfumes ‘Lost’ ‘Hidden’ and ‘Wander’.

    10.The prize cannot be passed onto someone else. If the prize is not accepted, another winner will be selected at random. You can also not request a cash prize.

    11.The Promoter reserves the right to check validity and reject entries with reasonable cause.

    12.The Promoter is compliant with the data protection act. Our policy is such that we will not pass on your details to any third party without your prior consent.

    13.The Promoter reserves the right to replace the prize with an alternative prize of equal or higher value if circumstances beyond the Promoter’s control make it necessary to do so.

    14.The decision of the Promoter regarding any aspect of the competition is final and binding and no correspondence will be entered into about it.

    15.Participants are deemed to have accepted and agreed to be bound by these terms and conditions upon entry. The Promoter reserves the right to refuse entry or refuse to award the prize to anyone in breach of these terms and conditions.

    16.The Promoter reserves the right to hold void, cancel, suspend, or amend the promotion where it becomes necessary to do so.


  • Writer Viola Levy enlists her nature-loving dad to help her on her first foraging quest…

    On the surface, my dad and I don’t have heaps in common. I spend my days writing about beauty products – he’s spent his career working with mental health patients for the increasingly underfunded NHS. He’s grown up in the countryside, I’ve lived mostly in the city and rarely venture beyond the M25 if I can help it.

    Saying that, I’m not a complete “nature-phobe”. I find short walks in the park a great way to relieve stress (never having been a fan of meditation or any form of sitting still). But not having a good working knowledge of plants and trees, I’ve never taken much interest in green surroundings – aside from the perfume ingredients I write about as part of my job. But the idea of foraging caught my attention - allowing you to explore and engage with nature on a rather primitive level, and hopefully feeling “at one with Mother Earth” in the process. And I was relieved to discover I didn’t need to leave my beloved Zone 2 to do it.

    Reading about urban foraging made me realise that the city and countryside aren’t as binary as everyone thinks. In his book The Edible City – A Year Of Wild Food, John Rensten highlights many edible wild plants to be found in among the crowded concrete cityscape. In this spirit, I decide to head out on an urban forage myself, enlisting my long-suffering father for guidance and a way of reassuring him that his efforts to get me interested in nature weren’t completely in vain.

    Since as long as I can remember, dad has been trying to instil in me a love of the great outdoors. My parents were separated, but every other weekend that I’d stay with him, Dad would take me on long walks in London’s Alexandra Park, encouraging me to identify different flora and fauna we found there, despite my many protestations that I’d rather be indoors watching Live and Kicking.

    I remember my mother’s horror on discovering that he’d taken 8-year-old me bathing in Hampstead Heath pond - and spent the ensuing months convinced that my swimming costume smelled of duck shit. And Dad’s one failed attempt at inviting me blackberry picking, resulted in my having a bout of nausea (after I was unwisely entrusted to keep the bowl of berries safe on my lap for the car journey home).

    Visiting my paternal grandmother in rural Winchester, walking was our main way of passing the time. To my mind, “going on a walk” should include an eventual destination otherwise what was the point? So sadly, while my granny was alive, she knew me as a predominantly sullen and uncooperative grandchild. Hopefully, with my newfound interest in foraging 25 years on, dad wouldn’t be left with the same impression.

    Before we head off, I phone up John for some final words of advice. He tells me he initially started foraging as a way to de-stress from his job as a commercial photographer. “It’s nice finding the city where you live is actually a lot more green than grey. In fact in terms of plant life, there’s more diversity in any London park than you have in any half of square mile of countryside.”

    “As London’s a micro-climate, everything has extended growing seasons, with lot of wild plants that aren’t bothered that it’s a city,” he continues. “It’s warmer here, that’s all they care about. You also have a lot more feral plants that have escaped people’s gardens. You throw all that together and London is actually 47% open and green spaces. We tend to think it’s a big blob of grey surrounded by green, but it’s more like inter-locking tendrils of green and grey.”

    In terms of location, we’ve earmarked Hampstead Heath and Kenwood, but John also recommends checking out places closer to home, such as Islington Nature Reserve. “The lemon balm there smells extraordinary.” He also recommends Clissold Park, a place where I grew up and still live nearby. “Behind the big house to the rear is a twisted, gnarly old mulberry tree – it’s even got a label on it. Around August it produces fruit looks like blackberries that are gobsmackingly delicious…”

    He also advises taking care when foraging for mushrooms, as obviously there are many poisonous varieties. And to avoid places like Victorian cemeteries, where the ground is likely to contain high amounts of lead and arsenic. In The Edible City he offers a few further safety tips which include no nibbling as you go along and always washing what you collect. However, as a side-note John is at pains to point out, “There is so much rubbish in the foods we eat, harmful oestrogens in more packaging, pollution in the air, and a huge culture of drink, drugs and general stress in our cities that I see no harm in eating a few plants from one’s local park.” I can see his point. However, he also suggests that it’s advisable for beginners to go foraging with someone experienced in the practise, or a good guidebook, but to not eat anything you find to start with. So for this first expedition, Dad and I have decided we’re looking and sniffing but not taking handfuls of freshly picked loot home to toss in a salad just yet.

    I meet dad in Kentish Town just after rush hour, struggling to find him among the throng of commuters, road workers and the odd punk rocker walking his dogs. Amid the din, I spot my father raring to go, armed with his A-Level Botany book from 1964 and printouts of various wild mushrooms we might encounter. Dad asks if I’ve done any homework myself (“preparation is 90% of success” he reminds me). I hastily get my phone out to look up the The Woodland Trust’s foraging guide (woodlandtrust.org.uk) as dad drives us up to the ‘Heath and we begin our foraging excursion.

    It’s incredibly peaceful walking through the forest, listening to birds chatter and inhaling smells of leaf litter, earth and bark. I’m reminded of the Japanese practise of Shinrin-yoku or "forest bathing" which champions the healing benefits of simply taking in the sights and sounds of the forest, which is apparently good for reducing stress and blood pressure.

    I’ve been walking through here before, but never interacted with my surroundings on such a close up level – which makes the walk all the more interesting. Rather than sticking to the footpaths as we normally would, dad and I peer into hedgerows, sift through long blades of grass and nose around fallen tree stumps, investigating the many plants and creatures that have set up home there.

    The notorious hurricane that struck The Heath in 1987 caused a lot of debris, which had a knock-on effect where wildlife was concerned. “The fallen trees allowed a lot more light to come in,” Dad explains, “which means more plant-life could thrive, while insects set up home in the nooks and crannies of these tree trunks and branches. And then the birds could snack on them.”

    It’s interesting to see which plants and fungi prefer which terrains. A patch of lusciously yellow marsh marigolds pop up from a boggy ditch, while a birch polypore mushroom appears happily snuggled to the trunk of a tree. We’re careful to avoid picking anything from the base of trees; a common spot for animals to relieve themselves, the plants there tend to thrive on the nitrogen levels in the urine. But John had advised me that anything high up (basically, beyond an animal’s peeing radius) should be more or less ok.

    We come across many common plants the Woodland Trust guide lists for April to look out for. Bramble leaves are a common one – its spicy leaves can be used for garnishing a salad, Dad explains that they can be also steamed in hot water and used for a sore throat.

    “Have a sniff at this!” he exclaims, clearly in his element, crushing a leaf of Wild Garlic (another common April plant) under my nose, which emits a wonderfully pungent aroma. The Woodland Trust advises these leaves taste great blended with lemon juice and toasted pine nuts as a pesto sauce. They have also long been treasured in folklore for their ability to ward off vampires and evil spirits. (Good to know.) We also share enthusiasm for the scent of horse parsley, which is slightly smoky and bitter – their stems are said to taste similar to actual parsley and can be sautéd and seasoned with black pepper to bring out the flavour.

    When we’re not foraging, we’re having fun exploring the park’s many historical artefacts. The pair of us peek through a musty window of an old locked bath house, and read with amusement an information plaque about The Dairy at Kenwood. The building was originally built in the 1700s as a pet project for The 2nd Earl’s wife Louisa, ‘hobby dairies’ and other pastoral activities being a fashionable way for Georgian aristocrats to pass the time (one might even draw parallels with today’s well-heeled “wellness gurus” of Instagram).

    Just when I’ve decided this father-daughter bonding experiment has been a success, there are are a few hiccups. Particularly when my lack of woodland knowledge becomes all too apparent. My main blunder is momentarily equating soil humus with the chickpea dip commonly enjoyed with carrot sticks (Dad is not amused).

    “Are these magnolia buds?” I tentatively ask inspecting a tree, about to rattle off a recipe for magnolia petal cocktails…

    “No!” comes the abrupt reply, as if the mere suggestion was an offense to humanity.

    But by and large it’s a successful afternoon and a nice chance for us to spend time together. I hate to admit to having adopted an attitude of being “very busy and important” when the prospect of hanging out with parents presents itself. But spending time with them is what’s important, especially when I think back to visiting my granny, wishing I could have appreciated those weekends with her a bit more.

    As enlightening these musing are, as the hours press on, I revert from enthusiastic nature-lover, back to being a grumpy 8 year old, getting dragged by her well-meaning father on never-ending walks. I collapse on a nearby bench in a huff, while dad is forging on ahead, inspecting foxgloves growing on a nearby wall and

    showing no signs of slowing down. “Tired already?” he asks, clearly the same not being true of himself.  “I take it this route leads us back to the car?” I enquire, in-between puffs of breath as I catch up to him. Clearly, I need to up my fitness levels for next time.


  • Mathieu Nardin started working at Miller Harris after Lynn Harris departed in 2014 to establish the Vermeeresque Perfumer H in Marylebone.  I love the creamy insouciance of Rose Silence he composed for Miller Harris; now one of the brand’s best-selling fragrances and his Vetiver Insolent is a perceptive and succulent interpretation of an often-overworked material.

    It is a daunting task to succeed a revered perfumer; ask Christine Nagel at Hermès or Fredrik Dalman at Maison Mona Di Orio. But Mathieu has created elegantly different work with a signature of his own, focusing less on the mutability of life and painted romances of the mind and more on the properties and personalities of the materials themselves.

    His perfumery credentials are impeccable, a Grasse native whose childhood is fragranced with the odour of jasmine and rose harvests. After a BA in chemistry at Nice University and directional immersion in olfaction at the ISIPCA in Paris he returned to Grasse to work at Robertet.  I like Mathieu’s work; it has that Robertet polish and soft glow and demonstrates a beautiful awareness of natural materials.

    Now with the launch of Scherzo a scent Mathieu has created for Miller Harris, alongside Tender by Bertrand Duchaufour I sense a bold artistic surge in his artistic direction, reflected in the vibrant snapped green vs. gentle gourmand dynamic interpretation of a literary brief.

    Both perfumes are inspired by a passage from Tender Is The Night by Jazz Age melancholic F. Scott Fitzgerald. The recently appointed CEO of Miller Harris Sarah Rotheram is a voracious reader and whilst on holiday in summer 2016 was struck by a particular passage and it’s potential to enthuse and inspire perfumers. I was delighted to be given this opportunity to speak to Mathieu in New York where he is based with Robertet USA and ask him some questions about his work on Scherzo and Miller Harris.

    Q: Hello Mathieu.. you are a perfumer for Robertet, a Grasse-based company, but you are now working in their creative centre in New York. Can you tell me a little bit about what a typical working day might be like for you at Robertet? 

    A: Hello Alex.. yes I moved to New York to work with Robertet five years ago but I spend time travelling back and forth to France and Grasse in the south.  I am always working on a number of different projects so a typical day for me would be coming in early morning and smelling the samples I have prepared the night before. It is important to bring a fresh perspective to the process, like clean air. The nose overnight to morning will smell things differently. Before I leave, at the end of the day I allow myself some personal time, like creative playtime if you like, to explore new ideas. It is a way exercising my brain and senses.

    Q: You have perfume running through your veins. What was it like growing up in Grasse, breathing the floral air in the acknowledged historical heart of French perfumery?

    A: My grandmother is a producer of rose and jasmine in Grasse and this I think had an influence on my interest in becoming a perfumer. I find natural ingredients always captivating and inspiring. Growing up in Grasse you live in harmony with the world of fragrance and of the rhythm of nature: the blooming of the flowers, their harvest, and their extraction. I became fascinated by the journey of a material: from harvest to bottle. Flower harvests are back breaking work; huge quantities of flowers are needed to produce the oils and concrètes. Take the jasmine, it is more than the flower itself, it is the story and the work of so many people and expertise.

    Q: You have a chemistry degree and further training at the ISIPCA in Paris. When you are working on briefs, how aware are you of balancing creativity with immaculate technical skills?

    A: It’s all about the creativity for sure. The technical side must be invisible. You must be able be to adjust the technical aspects to achieve artistic effects but at the beginning, the idea, the concept; this must be focussed on the creativity. It is like a being a writer, having a huge palette of words, a complex lexicography to work with, but knowing how to translate ideas you have with the right words. It must appear effortless and flow with the creative style.

    Q: As a rose obsessive I am a huge fan of Rose Silence that you made for Miller Harris. It smells so creamy and white, somehow abandoned, like a tribute, damp with rain. And Vetiver Insolent is one of most refreshingly different takes on the iconic rooty grass. How would you describe the perfumes you have created for Miller Harris?

    A: My idea for Rose Silence was to create a different kind of rose scent for the market. A modern rose perfume that was sort of artisanal and very contemporary. As far as Vetiver Insolent is concerned, I wanted to create a textured wood with plenty of facets and touches of spice.

    Q: In an interview with the Perfume Society you said ‘…as a perfumer, when I read a book I can smell what I am reading – the sense of what the writer is describing.’ Now this is a very intriguing quote in light of your most recent work for Miller Harris, Scherzo, inspired by a specific passage from Tender Is The Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. What did you think of being handed this passage as a perfume brief?

    A: This was very unique, this brief, the passage from Tender Is The Night. Normally I might be given images, words maybe some music etc. But this passage was very vividly described; the tulips, pink clouds of peonies, sugar flowers and mauve roses. I was already familiar with the book and it was very important to imprint on the fragrance the mood of the entire novel. Tender Is The Night is set in the south of France, on the French Riviera; there are incredible descriptions of the sea, sun and heat. In my mind I created my own colours and palette for this book and for its characters in order to fill in the background for Scherzo.

    Q: I must admit to a sweet tooth in scent, it’s a guilty pleasure, a throwback to my obsession with Mugler’s Angel when it first appeared.  Scherzo, for me has an odour of empty cake boxes with traces of sugar, shattered sugar roses, pollen and petals. How did you balance sweetness in Scherzo and still maintain a sense of floral bouquet and fresh greenery?

    A: Indeed, there is a gourmand aspect to Scherzo, which plays in contrast to the green floralcy of the composition.  Something to make it pop. Like a painter playing with colours, laying down contrasting tones side by side on a canvas.

    Q: I’m intrigued by your use of Pittosporum in Scherzo; it is not exactly a common perfumery material. Can you tell me a little bit more about it and why you chose to use it?

    A: Yes of course…it is a little unusual.  Pittosporum is a super-strong, spicy sweet bloom that can be found as hedges in the south of France. The scent as you pass by is hypnotic, an intoxicating mix of orange flower and jasmine.  In my reading of Tender Is The Night I could smell this in the air, in night scenes, dinner parties outside. It was very vivid for me.

    Q: As we are discussing a literary work, do you find time to read Mathieu amid your schedule?

    A: I like to read; I try to read a book a week if I can, even if finding time is sometimes difficult.  My favourite time for reading is actually in the morning; I like to wake up and read for an hour, this is a good quiet time before I start my day.

    Q: And connected to the above, is there a book you think you would be an amazing inspiration for a scent?

    A: Hmm. This is a difficult question. Perhaps À Rebours*, the book by Huysmans. It is full of decadent and sensual descriptive passages, including some on perfume.

     

    Mathieu, thank you so much for talking to me today, I really appreciate you taking time out from a busy day to sharing some inside perfume thoughts and inspirations on fragrance creation.

    Foxy.

     

    *Sometimes translated as Against Nature in English

    Miller Harris Interview Intro & Questions, February 2018

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