A British couture fragrance house that reinterprets the true Londoner’s London, Miller Harris’ gender-neutral offerings encapsulate the essence of the city in a bouquet of scents that are oh-so achingly beautiful. They pride themselves on being the exact obverse of mass-produced cookie-cutter fragrances that can be bought off the shelves and that, more often than not, smell similar to one another. Instead, they choose to march to their own beat by framing precious botanicals in complex and unconventional ways. Think scents that have translated the less obvious, unassuming aspects of the London life in unexpected ways.
In order words, expect fragrances that are not of basic sensibilities. After spending the better half of an afternoon indulging in the brand’s luxurious bespoke scents, we can vouch for that. Plus, it also lasts for the whole day on the skin – tried and tested. Ahead, a recap of our conversation with the reigning brain behind Miller Harris, Sarah Rotheram.
What constitutes as a niche fragrance today?
Sarah Rotheram (SR): “People ask me this all the time. Now, I think it means something different because there are lots of niche brands who are just niche because they’re small. But to me, being niche really lies in the juice in the bottle – the commitment to the creativity and the quality of it. You can be a niche brand while still being global and big, but it’s about what goes into the juice and the creative process that the perfumer took to create the product. There are many so-called “niche” brands out there that are just small, copycats or are not doing anything that’s extraordinary. Niche perfumery is always about the discovery of perfumes as an art form and challenging the norm or behaving differently to mass brands. Maybe a new term needs to evolve, like ‘indie’ or ‘artisan’, because there’s really a whole collection of us as brands that have the same commitment to that creative process.”
What do you think is the appeal of niche fragrances today?
SR: “It’s a number of influences that drive the appeal of niche, but I think this comes back to people getting more educated and people being more individualistic. They no longer want to be sold to. People are getting braver in their experimentation of perfumes, and we’ve actually seen less global variation than we used to see. I think because people are experimenting and exploring perfume more, as opposed to (buying in on) the marketing that used to exist. People want to smell like nobody else. They want to have a perfume that reflects their personality. There’s also an increasing genuine appreciation for the artisan and that craftsmanship with the way that people connect socially today. Since we all engage online, there’s a level of transparency around how things are made and (a brand’s) values. This all sits very well with the niche category.”
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Having held key positions at previous perfume houses such as Penhaligon’s, what do you personally love about Miller Harris?
SR: “I love the fact that we can be inspired by all these things around us. It’s so amazing that we can one day be inspired by a book and the next day by a poet and the next day by a person or a plant; that’s what’s so beautiful about the brand. It’s building a strong personality and we can dip into all these things that are all relevant to the modern bohemian. Anything goes, but we always start with stories and we never quite know how the perfume is going to smell. On a personal level, it’s great fun. I’m constantly learning and meeting amazing, creative people. It’s like a melting pot of creative ideas every day.”
What’s the next big thing in perfume?
SR: “I think there’s probably room for a surge in sophisticated gourmand because gourmand (see: synthetic edible notes, such as honey, chocolate, vanilla or candy) hasn’t moved on in a couple of years. The emergence of fruits and berries is also going to be really interesting because they’re used a lot in an accord (see: a balanced blend of notes which lose their individual identity to create a completely new, unified scent) but they’re never really the heart of the fragrance. Rather than an ingredient, I think that there are going to be really interesting new technological developments that revolve around natural extractions. This means that the ingredients that have been smelled for a long time will now smell completely different, and that’s where it gets really exciting. A familiar ingredient now smells totally different and that opens up fresh creative processes. We’re working on a fragrance now that won’t come out till next year and it has pepper with a whole new extraction method, so it’s like nothing you’ve ever smelt. I think there isn’t going to be as much of a trend in a particular ingredient, but you’re going to see a trend in new interpretations of naturals.”
What’s the creative approach behind the making of a Miller Harris perfume?
SR: “For starters, we don’t design in labs. Of course, our perfumers work in a lab, but for the start of our journey, we usually take them out of the lab and give them a story to interpret, so that it’s challenging them to think creatively and differently. We don’t give them any cost restraints, we just allow them to create. We’ve just launched a perfume called Dance Amongst The Lace, which has a weed that grows abundant in the UK. When you smell the plant, it has no scent but as soon as you break the leaves apart, there’s this fizzy bergamot smell. By taking our perfumers out with us, we go on this journey of exploration together. We never ever could’ve breathed that perfume had we not been out on a wet day in the middle of London parks, sniffing this natural ingredient. Everyone that was walking past us thought that we were all completely crazy, but it’s really nice as a CEO to go out there and get your hands dirty in the middle of London City. I think what sets us apart is this exploration of ingredients and trying to stimulate our perfumers.”
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How does the design of the packaging and perfume bottles complete the whole Miller Harris experience?
SR: “We use our bottles and packaging to tell stories. For the Forage series – which is about collecting ingredients from the city we live in – we went out foraging with perfumers, chefs and mixologists to understand the world beneath our feet. The packaging is designed to be reusable and continues the whole story of the fragrance. You can plant something in it or you can grow seeds in it. We try to think of the whole journey when we think of the packaging.”
There’s a huge trend in the beauty realm for clean beauty brands. What does this mean for Miller Harris that positions itself as an environmentally-conscious fragrance brand?
SR: “‘Clean’ is quite a generous word that keeps appearing in beauty at the moment. We use very high levels of naturals but we’re not 100 per cent natural and organic – which is usually what people think of when they think clean. We’re vegan, meaning that we don’t use any animal derivatives in our products. We’re free of phosphates, sulfates, allergens and the nasties. Our commitment is to be passionate about our planet, so our focus is on sustainability. Sometimes, sustainability coming first means that a synthetic is sometimes a better alternative because organic can sometimes use significantly more natural resources such as water. I would never say that we’re a clean brand because, first and foremost, we make choices that are right for the planet. For Christmas last year, we challenged our design agency to give us a more sustainable Christmas solution because Christmas in the beauty industry means lots of packaging, wraps and putting two little things in a massive box. We decided to wrap with a 100 per cent silk scarves because it’s a mantra for us as a brand to recycle and be recyclable and reusable.