By Nisha Lilia Diu November 03, 2014 11:55
There’s a handful of fragrances that everyone seems to like: Chanel No 5, Jo Malone’s Lime Basil and Mandarin, Diptyque's Fig. I’m pretty sure Timothy Han’s She Came to Stay is about become one of them. Han gave the first bottle – a one-off, made in his East London flat – to his friend, the chef Olia Hercules. “She came back a week later,” Han tells me, “and said, ‘This is amazing. I’ve had three strangers stop me in the street and ask me what I’m wearing.’”
It’s now on sale in Browns boutique, in London, and it’s fair to say the response has taken everyone by surprise. Its first two orders sold out within 24 hours. It’s already the fastest-selling fragrance Browns has ever stocked. “I thought it would have a small niche appeal,” says Han. “But virtually everybody has really liked it.”
I only got to wear mine for a day. As soon as my husband discovered the source of the warm, woody scent with its deliciously fresh notes of basil and lemon, he pilfered it for himself.
“Well, it is meant to be unisex,” laughs Han. “In fact, the whole idea of the sexes having different perfumes is just marketing. Things like rose, which is very much sold as a women’s fragrance now, was historically worn by men as much as women. A lot of the old English perfume houses still have a men’s rose fragrance.”
It’s true: Floris has Bouquet de la Reine, a men’s fragrance with a tuberose heart. And Penhaligon’s has Vaara, made with Moroccan and Bulgarian rose, as well as men’s fragrances with lavender and iris hearts.
In a reversal of the usual order of things, Han came to perfume via scented candles. And he came to scented candles via John Galliano. He spent a year working as Galliano’s assistant in Paris and, he says, “John used to always burn scented candles”. (He has some less glamorous memories of his time with Galliano, too. The two of them once spent hours panic-washing the grubby entrance of Galliano’s atelier the night before an investor’s visit.)
When Han discovered what most of the candles were made of – namely, petroleum – he decided he could do better. So he launched a line of all-natural, luxury candles exquisitely scented with unusual notes like oakmoss and vetiver or orange, grapefruit and clove.
He had just got them into Barneys and Space NK in America when he met Caroline Burstein, the co-founder of Molton Brown and creative director of Browns boutique. Browns became one his first UK stockists, along with the Conran Shops, and, says Han, “Caroline’s just been an amazing support for me ever since”.
Each bottle of She Came to Stay is still blended by hand in Han’s Dalston home and, like the candles, is made from the purest natural ingredients, with no artificial preservatives or chemical boosters. It’s named after Simone de Beauvoir’s 1943 novel, a fictionalised account of her often difficult open relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre. It felt right, Han says, because this is “a volatile fragrance. You put it on and the woody notes evolve into something lighter and more enigmatic on the skin. It's in an ever-changing relationship with the body”.
Despite his love of perfume, Han rarely wears any himself. “I find it distracts me,” he says. He shrugs at my surprise and mentions his friend, the celebrated mixologist Paul Tvaroh (he owns the cocktail bar Lounge Bohemia, in Shoreditch). “Paul is world famous for his drinks. He gets flown everywhere to make cocktails at these lavish parties, but he doesn’t touch alcohol. He doesn’t even taste it. He does it all by smell.”
For the perfume’s launch event at London’s Lazarides art gallery, Tvaroh created a cocktail infused with the fragrance’s notes: clove, nutmeg and so on. So Han could drink Tvaroh’s cocktail and Tvaroh could wear Han’s perfume. That way, they were both happy. She Came to Stay is available at Browns Fashion, £100 for 50ml
Photo of Timothy Han by Agnieszka Trzoch ©2015