Leading British perfumer Lyn Harris is renowned for creating beautiful, unconventional fragrances. Her brand Perfumer H shares with Sunspel a belief in craft, quality and small-scale manufacture, so she was a natural fit to collaborate on our first ever fragrance: Oak Wood.
In a special podcast, Lyn talks to journalist Terry Stiastny about her work, the inspiration behind Oak Wood, and the secrets of scent.
By Terry Stiastny
In the basement of the Perfumer H shop in Marylebone, Lyn Harris shows me an array of tiny bottles. Brown glass bottles are labelled, lined up in alphabetical order, and contain the elements that make up her fragrances. They’re standing on a set of shelves that is decorated with dried flowers. Lyn points out some of her favourite ‘naturals’; some are well-known to most of us, others less so. She recites resonant names like iris beurre, hyssop or gurjun alongside camomile, cypress and cedar.
This rack holds the raw materials that went into creating Oak Wood for Sunspel, as Lyn explains. She says the fragrance ‘is very woody, but at the same time I wanted something happy and light.’
Lyn describes it for me. ‘There’s a cologne note to start with, a beautiful neroli I’ve used, bergamot, and there’s a peppery undertone against the oak, the moss and the wood. There’s lots of different woods but cedar is important, there’s a little bit of papyrus, sandalwood is quite dominating as well and there’s a little bit of frankincense, myrrh and a touch of camomile, which I thought was quite English, and rests quite beautifully against the woods.’
In designing Oak Wood for Sunspel, Lyn says, she ‘wanted to create something that represented the beauty of the English countryside, because for me that’s what really represents the brand, Sunspel’. Sunspel are ‘so proud of where everything is made,’ she adds.
“I wanted to create something that represented the beauty of the English countryside, because for me that’s what really represents the brand…Sunspel are so proud of where everything is made.”
Lyn is very eloquent on her natural materials and their aromas — I ask her whether it’s hard to translate what her trained nose tells her into words. On the contrary, she says, ‘I find it really easy — it’s hand in hand for me. It’s my poetry, my olfactory language.’ As with poetry, Lyn says the rhythm of the creative process is really important to her. ‘When I have a rhythm and it’s all coming together, the materials, choosing my subjects and then working around my subjects to bring my picture alive.’
Although we’re meeting in the heart of London, where traffic rumbles overhead, Lyn says she takes inspiration from both the urban and the rural. Being in the city inspires her deeply, but she also says that, being from Yorkshire, the countryside is part of who she is.
Lyn’s classical training is another part of who she is today: she studied first in Paris, then in Grasse in the south of France. She learnt her art from the masters at Robertet, whose world-leading materials she uses to this day. Lyn is lyrical about the family-owned fragrance house, surrounded by its own fields of flowers and herbs that she first got to know over twenty years ago.
As a young British woman in that environment, Lyn said she was ‘a bit of a novelty, I wasn’t a threat because I was a tomboy.’ Lyn describes herself as having been a rebel at school, but she learnt the value of the traditional framework.
Looking back, Lyn says that she has realised the importance of time and maturity in her creative process. ‘With time,’ she says, ‘you gather so much wisdom and knowledge. Every day you learn something new about your materials and that’s what inspires and feeds you.’
‘It’s knowing your materials inside out,’ she observes, which is something that you can’t rush.
Lyn finds new inspiration in her work every day — it can come from places she goes, the people she meets, or simply from sitting in her laboratory among her materials. And then there’s the moment that every artist hopes for.
‘There’s a process, but then there’s a magic that I can’t explain,’ Lyn says of the moment when ‘everything starts working’. ‘The smell comes alive and you think, “oh yes, this is just exactly what I was wanting.’
Oak Wood is a new cologne for both men and women: modern and clean yet evocative of English heritage. Top notes of bergamot and neroli, fused with English camomile and angelica seed, sit on a base of cedar wood, sandalwood and oak moss, sealed with amber and frankincense. It can be worn at any time as a relaxed staple, and is the perfect timeless gift.