In the corner of Perfumer H’s new Mayfair, London flagship there is a roomy, welcoming antique chair next to a small, austere black stool. The chair is from the Georgian era and the stool was recently made by designer Bobby Mills. But, despite their distance in time and aesthetic, the pieces somehow complement each other perfectly. In this way, they are emblematic of the ethos behind the Perfumer H store, and Perfumer H itself, which marries an old-world approach to handicraft (objects that are painstakingly and patiently executed because they are going to be treasured for generations) with a modern aesthetic sensibility (pared back, photographable, chic).
Lyn Harris on the new Perfumer H Mayfair store
Lyn Harris, the Perfumer H founder, launched the brand in 2015. It coincided with a time when people were beginning to look for slow and considered alternatives to commercial perfumery. As she tells me from inside the Clifford Street store, a few days before it officially opens: ‘I think people really appreciate having this level of craft and detail in a commercial brand, because I think brands so easily lose that. This is an era when people are much more patient and much more willing to seek out the less obvious options, because they want something special.’
Creating ‘something special’ has always been at the heart of Harris’ craft. One of the most respected noses working today, she classically trained in Grasse but grew up in Yorkshire and Scotland. With Perfumer H, she combines the expertise of her education with a touch of British eccentricity to create exceptional and peculiar fragrances. Take ‘Ink,’ an iconic Perfumer H fragrance that recreates the smell of ink on parchment paper by blending the dry, woody notes of Haitian vetiver and cedarwood with the watery, slightly metallic notes of ambroxan and isobutyl quinoline. Or ‘Smoke’, which blends Russian coriander seed with Moroccan cedar wood and birch tar to conjure the smell of charred wood, cool air and damp earth.
At Perfumer H stores, those scents and others can be purchased in handblown glass bottles and candle holders by south London glassblower Michael Ruh, and come bundled in grey felt carrier cases that you’ll want to keep forever too. The same meticulousness is applied to Perfumer H’s pantry products, which range from salt that blends Provençal wild herbs, flowers and spices with delicate Fleur de Sel; to Welsh raspberry jam made with rose water and geranium leaf; and pickled cucumber flavoured with lemon and juniper.
At the Clifford Street store, which opened today (29 November 2023), fragrances can be tested using an ingenious system Harris developed of suspending glass stoppers, also made by Ruh, in hanging glass vials that are filled with a few droplets of perfume. The scent clings to the glass and gives customers a strong and accurate preview of the fragrance. Lined up alongside each other, the glass vials could be something from a bygone apothecary but the sleek grey shelves they’re suspended from ground them in the present.
That blending of past and present runs throughout the Clifford Street store. People can look into the shop through large, rounded windows that date from the Georgian era. Inside they see an antique display case next to a custom-built contemporary one. There is a long wooden table in the entranceway where customers can pay for items using a card machine that rests on a wooden base once used to display an antique clock.
The back area of the store is painted in a deep charcoal grey with an arresting oil painting of an orange (a common feature of Perfumer H fragrances) by the Kent-based artist Will Calver above the fireplace. When I visit Clifford Street on an overcast London afternoon, there is a Perfumer H candle burning on the fireplace sill, and the dark walls, antique furniture and rows of candles combine to create a romantic and solemn mise en scène that could be either a Dickens set or a cosy, modern apartment.
Downstairs, there is an exhibition space that will play host to a rotating roster of artists, including, for the opening, work by Michael Ruh and ceramicist Ed Hill. There is also an in-store refilling station where customers can bring their candles to get topped up (a staggering 80 per cent of customers do so) or take part in one of many in-store workshops on candle making, tea, the art of perfumery and more.
The Clifford Street store marks the seventh Perfumer H retail space, with a new Taipei shop set to open next week. For Harris, retail is an important aspect of the Perfumer H project and one she will continue to develop because ‘it just works well. People want to come and they want to have an experience. And I just love getting those details in.’
The Perfumer H flagship is located at 15A Clifford Street, London, W1S 4JZ.