JCR: What’s fueling the growing appreciation for personalized fragrances?
LH: The more accessible fragrance brands went into supermarkets and became, essentially, too accessible and, to an extent, they took away the glamour, mystique, and pleasure from the fragrance industry which led the way for brands like ourselves to flourish.
JCR: And how did this change the way consumers want to smell?
LH: Now consumers want to smell individual, not like everyone else, and they don’t want their fragrance to be too accessible. It’s not about buying fragrances like you buy a bag of sugar. That’s not how the fragrance world was created all those years ago. It should be something very individual.
JCR: A response to a time when everyone wore Gucci Envy and Calvin Klein Obsession?
LH: I think what Calvin Klein did for the fragrance industry was phenomenal. He really got everyday people to start wearing scents. He was on a roll, but after CK One it didn’t work anymore. It was hard for him to get any better than it was. All the American fragrances, the Estée Lauder ones, were phenomenal, the problem is they just went too far with the amount of money to be made. It was made far too accessible.
JCR: For Miller Harris, is the main aim to represent scents in their purest concentration or to create unusual fragrances?
LH: We create fragrances that are real and alive for our customers to feel glamorous. The industry in some ways is trying to be too clever. But I think that cleverness is being exhausted. As a perfumer you can see that consumers are nervous about breaking free, so nervous to try something different. While at the same time a segment of the industry is saying, maybe if we make up a new material, they’re going to try it.
JCR: There’s a certain amount of truth to that.
LH: Yes, there’s some truth and skill to that. If you look at a fantastic line like Comme des Garcons, they successfully fulfill that. They come up with some fantastic ideas. Very unusual.
JCR: But is this movement for personalized scents only about introducing new scents?
LH: For Comme des Garcons and Demeter (who did unusual fragrances early on) it’s interesting, explorative and should be credited. But that’s not what Miller Harris is about.
JCR: Tell us about the personalization process that you offer to customers.
LH: In addition to selling Miller Harris products to different outlets across the world, there are two levels of personalized service that we offer. At Bruton Street, for example, we’re a destination store. 8 out of 10 customers seek us out and usually leave with a purchase. And we never want our customers to go out the door with the wrong fragrance so we encourage them to spend the time with us — up to an hour, sometimes more — where we lead them through or they can feel their way through the store, settle into our tranquil environment and ask as many questions they want to personalize a fragrance best for them. With 14 fragrances to choose from, our staff is trained to work with customers’ skin type, hair coloring, and other factors in recommending a fragrance.
And I have my private clients. My private clients spend the day with me at the start of the consultation process and the whole process can take up to three months. This is a very different service where for the client there are no limitations. They want to have a fragrance that they’ve helped to create, that’s their own. And they can have the body cream, candles, shower wash, etc. The service is very detailed and tailored to a client’s needs and their lifestyle. It’s a very special thing and an investment. And there’s a waiting list.
JCR: Do you consider your services part of the quiet luxury trend where only the wearer knows about the personalization of their fragrance? Is it about discretion?
LH: It’s very quiet. I get the most amazing letters from customers saying “you’ve changed my whole perception of fragrance.” They find it amazing, the knowledge that they get.
JCR: Is it men and women using both of your services?
LH: Certainly women, but we get a lot of men. They are not intimidated by our store. They’ll come in by themselves without needing their wives or girlfriends with them. And that’s been so refreshing for us.
JCR: And why are people taking the time now? To invest in getting the right scent can take some time whereas buying into the image of a hot fragrance doesn’t…
LH: People would rather put money into a quality and luxurious thing…It’s not about being stuck up. With the political situation in the world people want to spend their money well and get fulfillment.
JCR: It’s a new era in shopping for fragrances.
LH: Actually, it’s like going back in time. People are picking up traditional values.
People like to find shops that no one else has found. Department stores are places with everything under their roof, which is great, but now people want to find this little jewel of a shop offering some level of personalized service.
Photos: Miller Harris Bruton Street store