My entry into the world of fragrance was very much one of fate pushing me in a direction.
I started my career at a fledgling John Galliano and it was here where my olfactory journey began. His ateliers off the Rue de la Roquette were an exciting place to work in the early nineties - filled with plethora of characters who would go on to define the era. The whole world of fashion was on the edge of change and he was one of the new designers pushing its creative boundaries. This period saw the rise of “les createurs” – designers like Galliano and Jean Paul Gaultier who didn’t want to create boring clothes but wanted to free their imaginations and those of their customers. It was also a period where art and fashion began to merge. Fashion photographers such as Corinne Day and Ellen von Unwerth were no longer interested in just taking glamorous photos but making statements that would define the decade.
I remember John used to always burn candles and his atelier would be filled with fragrance. I suppose it was because of this that I always found it easier to work with a candle burning. This instilled in me a love for fragrance and inspired by this I started my own small company making scented candles. We had some great successes in the early days with many of the important retailers clamouring for our candles and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts choosing to gift them to everyone who won a prestigious BAFTA Film Award.
Timothy Han fragranced candles
It was during this time that I took to selling my candles at a trade show in Paris. On one of the first shows I did, I remember a trio of young men in their twenties coming to look at my candles. They didn’t particularly strike me as the sort who would be interested in what I was doing. But one of them spent a long time smelling each candle and speaking softly to his colleagues. Finally one of them then turned to me to say “Francis loves the smell of your candles.” I of course smiled and thanked him but I guess didn’t seem suitably impressed by this piece of news he had just imparted as he exclaimed that surely I must know who Francis is! Francis just laughed, not at all put off by the fact that I had no idea who he was and went on to speak with me about fragrance at great length. Suggesting that I should consider entering the world of personal fragrance. He gave me his card before leaving which I promptly filed away in a book to be forgotten. It wasn’t till many years later when I was a lot wiser about the world of fine fragrance and I was flipping through the book when I came across his card again. The name on it read Francis Kurkdjian and suddenly I understood his colleague’s disbelief that I wasn’t more excited. After all Francis had just created Le Male for Gaultier and had thus very quickly established himself at the forefront of a new wave of perfumers that continue to shape perfumes to this day.
The candle fragrances continued to draw attention from others as well. Tom Kaledarian of Barneys New York had come to us to negotiate rights to be the first to sell my candles in the US. One of his comments was that he loved the fragrances and how his wish was to be able to wear them. Still in my mind the world of candle fragrances and the world of personal fragrance were so very different. And while I liked the idea of creating a perfume I never quite had the courage to do so.
The candles went on to be a critical success but sadly not a commercial one. The critics loved them and wrote appropriate reviews, the retailers loved them and the industry loved them. And though we had placed them in just about every major department store across the globe, I just couldn’t break the wall of more established candle brands to shift candles off the shelves and into the hands of customers. This combined with an incredibly expensive cost to manufacture and the heart-breaking decision was sadly taken to close the company.
It was some time after this that I was sitting with my friend, the enigmatic Paul Tvaroh of Lounge Bohemia. Paul had firmly established himself as one of the leading mixologists who had become particularly well known for creating drinkable perfumes at a time when mixology was still a myth for many. He was passionate about fragrances and thus many of our conversations were around craft and fragrance. When I commented one day on how difficult it must be to create a drinkable perfume he looked at me and simply said “Why? It’s easy. What is a cocktail but alcohol and flavours? What is a perfume but alcohol and fragrance? Are flavours not fragrance?” He went on to say that if I could make candle fragrances that it should prove equally easy for me to turn my hand to perfume.
Paul Tvaroh and Olia Hercules
Preparing Edition Perfume's sensory feast
So I set out to try and create my first fragrance with the encouragement of Paul and years after the suggestions of both Francis and Tom. I had just finished reading “She Came to Stay” by Simone de Beauvoir and thought that it would be a great starting point. The book, though set in the late 30s, very much seemed to reflect the current moods in East London. From the story I began to take cues and set out to try and translate them into an olfactory journey. I wanted to create a fragrance that not only reflected de Beauvoir’s novel but also my own personal journey. Thus began the process of turning the emotions instilled in me from the novel into a fragrance.
I had made just two tiny vials and only shown them to a small handful of people. One of the first to try it was my friend Olia Hercules. I had chosen her as she had an in-depth knowledge of scents and fragrant ingredients having forged a successful career as a development chef. She had liked the fragrance enough to ask if she could borrow one of the vials on the promise that she would return it. She came back to me after a week to insist I put it into production after telling me that she had had three strangers stop her on the street to ask what she was wearing and where they could buy it.
Caroline Burstein of Browns Fashion
Of course Olia had used up the entire vial so I went with my remaining sample to ask the opinion of Caroline Burstein of Browns Fashion. Browns is a small London fashion boutique that was known for being the purveyors of cool who had discovered such talents as Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Christopher Kane. They also sold a number of niche fragrances and were the first to stock Escentric Molecule. Caroline is the very warm and pragmatic silver haired Creative Director of Browns. After smelling the fragrance her response was simply that she loved it but who was she to say as a woman of her age what was cool for younger people? “Let’s go downstairs,” she said “and see what the boys and girls on the shop floor think.” The staff verdict was fortunately unanimous with many of them saying that they would wear it themselves. “That settles it then,” Caroline said. “Produce the perfume and Browns will launch it.”
Four short months after She Came To Stay launched it was crowned the winner in the Tatler Beauty Awards for the most seductive perfume, thus beginnings our story.