In Conversation with Lyn Harris of Perfumer H

In Conversation with Lyn Harris of Perfumer H

In Conversation With...

The name Lyn Harris is well recognised in the world of perfumery her impressive career, use of naturals, and dedication to crafting scents that sparkle on the skin. After receiving an invitation from us at Dick's, Harris shared her journey into the perfume industry, her love of natural materials, the essence of Perfumer H, and daily rituals with us.

Would you mind telling me about your path into the perfume industry?

I had an upbringing in Yorkshire and Scotland. My grandparents had a small holding in Aberdeenshire, Inverurie, and I spent long summers with them. They were self-sufficient with two-walled gardens side-by-side, one with vegetables and one with flowers. 

Is this the walled garden you reference with your Rhubarb scent?

Yes! The Rhubarb scent comes from those gardens. My grandfather was a carpenter and had his workshop next to the gardens, and my grandmother cooked and baked from the gardens from the moment she woke up. 

What a dream!

It was. It was this sort of homely, idyllic surrounding with these two magical people who just never stopped doing things and creating. There's not a day that goes by when I don't think about that time. It awakened my olfactory being. It was the birth of that, you know? Waking up with the smell of baking, and the smell of my grandfather's tools and the wood he used. Charcoal is his tools and hands. That time plays quite an important role in my creative process. 

Charcoal against a dark background

My parents' friend had a fragrance shop in a small mill town in Yorkshire. I worked there over Christmas wrapping and sweeping the floors. I remember being in awe of these women who would come in and try all the perfumes. I loved how they would be transformed and transported by the fragrances.

I wasn't too good at school, I was a bit of a rebel. I decided I didn't want to finish and go to study something I wasn't passionate about. That's when I told my parents, "I'm really interested in fragrance." Working at the fragrance shop kind of saved me.

And then you went to study perfumery? You're classically trained, would you mind elaborating on that?

Yes, I took myself to Paris and there was a small school that enrolled me. I worked under this amazing perfumer who was a pioneer in her own right by setting up the school. Perfumery had always been dominated by men. Things were changing, but not quite enough. She was a bold mover in this area and I wanted to be taught by her. I spent six months having one-on-one tuition with her. She recognised I had a gift, it was an incredible experience. 

Then I was lucky. I met a gentleman in London who really liked what I produced. He told me he worked with Robertet in Grasse and suggested I send them some of my work. Before I knew it, they invited me there! It's this one-hundred and fifty year old fragrance house, family owned, beautiful, and is one of the top five fragrance houses in the world. It was at the forefront of the natural movement, which was important to me.

When I was at perfumery school I was very strong-minded in my ethos that naturals were very important. My teacher got me to embrace science, but I was still very passionate about naturals. So, Robertet really were the perfect match for me as they owned fields all over the world and were at the forefront of the sustainable movement. 

My master at Robertet was open-minded but I was an emotional perfumer to him and he wanted me to set that aside. I stuck by my guns and said that it was an intuitive way for me to work. And I'm glad I did, as it sort of determined my own style.

Considering the gendered history of perfume, how did you carve out a space for yourself and your vision?

It just happened very organically. I think as time goes on, and this is what's incredible about being an artist and being in this profession, it's only with time that the wisdom kicks in. Only then can people see how your skill set has developed. I think you have to be very patient in perfumery and really work at your style and getting to know your materials.

Moving on to your day to day, do you have any rituals that you carry out in your daily life?

Well, I'm always drinking tea! That's my Northern and Scottish thing. I love running, that helps me process my ideas. I also spend a lot of time with my son and my dog. I guess I always have my materials around me. My life is my work. I'm always the happiest, creatively, when I'm in my space surrounded by my materials. I work day and night at my creativity, constantly striving to achieve things in my work. I love smelling everyday, that's a ritual. My materials always give me something different, something new to learn. To learn something every single day is the best lesson of life, isn't it?

Trees covered in lichen

I agree. Listening to what you've shared so far, it sounds like there is a balance of the training related to perfumery, but there also an inherent gift and passion you have for it. To me, that truly demonstrates how perfumery is an art form.

You've mentioned before that you're not a fan of the commerciality of the perfume industry as a whole, how does that sentiment manifest in your business and work?

I guess I don't like to follow. I like to feel my customer and respond. People are my thing, I like feeling connected to them. The industry can be very mechanical and just about making money. I love to make things that tell a story, but I also love to be honest with what I'm creating and I think my customer responds well to that.

Commerciality can lose things and make a message confusing. There's now this idea that if a perfume doesn't last all day then it's a bad purchase. That shouldn't be the mentality and I think that's a result of what pushing commerciality has done to the industry. That [perfume] must be this strong, impactful force.

I just came back from Japan and in the restaurants there are signs that say you can't come in if you're wearing a strong perfume!

I wish those signs were everywhere!

Yes, I need to live there! I just can't bear people dominating a room with strong fragrance, it's so invasive. Fragrance hasn't always been like that. If you think of Chanel no.5, it's a strong fragrance, but it's also about how it was worn, just a dab behind the ears and on the wrists. Now it seems to be about spraying more and more and selling more and more. It's upsetting.


Perfumer H does seem to differentiate itself in the sense that you are transparent with your materials and the intention of the fragrance. There's no trend following, and there's a clear commitment to your DNA and it feels organic.

Where do you begin with creating a fragrance? Is the journey always the same or does it sometimes change course?

Oh, it changes every time! I'm creating a scent for someone right now. There's this image of a place we were together and we had a precious moment. I'm trying to translate the clouds, the sea, the land, and this hue of pink that tinged the sky. There was a storm at the end of the day and then the light broke through. I'm trying to capture that but also the person who I'm creating it for. I have this beautiful image and memory, and it's a challenge! I love that.

So, I'm selecting the materials that represent the image. Once the subjects are in place, I weave the binding elements to the fragrance. The little nuances I add to nudge at the gentle hues that give it personality. 

But sometimes I just fall in love with a material and want to express it in a way that will be beautiful on the skin. My main aim is that, to create something beautiful for the skin. Ink is an example of that. Something everyday and nostalgic. The idea of ink on paper and in books, how that scent smell conjures an image or a memory. My challenge is to translate that to skin.

Your projects are very collaborative. You worked with the artist Michael Ruh to create the glass bottles that hold your perfumes, and on a special project with Sonya Park of ARTS&SCIENCE. How do these collaborations comes together?

I love working with other likeminded artists, they feed my creativity. Perfumer H is this collaborative unit that I want people to be a part of.

Perfumer H Paper Scented Ink against a dark background

We've been lucky enough to have your collaboration with Choosing Keeping Stationery at Dick's over the festive period. The Paper fragrance works so well with the products, how did you decide what products to include in this project?

I think I was feeling Julia [of Choosing Keeping], her brand, and her space. She's quite extraordinary and has this eclectic mix of contrasting worlds. There's this love of another time gone by. I fused the idea of an older time with cigarette smoke and reading late at night in a dark library. Julia loves ink and paper, so trying to capture that scent alongside the richness of the environment she's created was key.

Product-wise, the idea of a scented ink you could unscrew the lid of and it infuses the space around your desk. The notebooks are incredible! You can use the pages to subtle scent aspects of your life, by placing the papers in a drawer, for example. The scented pencils were quite mad but I liked the idea. We worked with an amazing pencil manufacturer who were very receptive to our ideas. The packaging is all very ornate, very Choosing Keeping. It's been a beautiful collaboration. 

Perfumer H Paper Scented Pencils against a dark background

You mentioned the importance of Julia's space when approaching that collaboration, continuing with that line of thought, how do you approach the architecture of your spaces? You've been opening new stores and they feel different to one another, yet there is a distinct of Perfumer H's identity present in each location.

I have the same person working on them, I'm putting it all together with her. The environment we're in is considered when selecting the materials for the space. Taipei was interesting because it's a 1950s building, the upstairs are these old flats with iron railings. The neighbourhood is a creative one, which I love. Everyone has these little gardens pushing through the railings of the flats because they're living in the centre of Taipei and need a way to express themselves.

It's a 1950s feel, a very modern front. So, we did a light oak in there and it's really pleasing. We also sourced 1950s furniture by working with a local interiors studio who have all these antiques. Bringing together old and new, that eclectic thing that I love.

Clifford Street in London is such a contrast as it's a beautiful Georgian building beside the Royal Academy. We've got an old pine dresser and table in the front there. I had some bespoke pieces made by our carpenter to sit alongside them. But yes, there is a consistent thread. We're also putting a refill lab for our candles in the stores now, reinforcing that element of reusing.

It really does sound like you make an effort to be sympathetic to the local environment and surroundings of each store while still expressing the essence of Perfumer H.

Yeah, working with what's already there. Clifford Street was an old gallery, and so, we commissioned a still life artist, Will Calver, to do this beautiful image of an orange, because I'm nuts about oranges! Well, more the orange tree because I love the fact that you can use every element and it never stops fulfilling perfumery. He did this painting of an orange with its leaf, and that sits over the fireplace in Clifford Street. I wanted to respect the previous owners, as they were a family who ran the gallery and they were sad to leave. So, that was my sort of "thank you" to them.

That's such a thoughtful way to tie everything together, spaces and people. You mentioned earlier that you were all about people and that you really listen to the response of your customer. How would you encourage someone to explore perfume and nurture their confidence with it?

I think the initial reaction that people have to a fragrance is key. So, if it's a positive reaction, they should try it on their skin because there's clearly a connection. The connection is important. You know instantly if it works on your skin.

Perfumer H Paper Scented Pencils against a dark background

Something that I always find is that if I try a fragrance on my skin and then throughout the day I keep raising my wrist to smell it, I'm intrigued by it in some way. Drawn to something that's there, possibly an olfactive memory. Are there any scents that instantly ignite olfactive memories for you?

Orange blossom, always. There was a period when I was visiting Morocco a lot and lying by an orange tree was the best thing I could ever imagine. The late afternoon with the sun going down. The heat of the day had passed but still present enough to let the scent of orange blossom infuse the surrounding air.

I love the smell of rain in different countries and how humidity affects that, that's what Rain Cloud is expressing. I love the smell of smoke, woods, the forest floor. I'm very connected to the seasons, they speak to me.

It sounds like nature is the main theme here. Which is fascinating because that seems to be what is directly reflected in your work, the beauty of nature.

It's been a joy speaking with you, and thank you for being so generous in sharing these thoughts with us.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Copy by Beth James.