The Future of Fragrance

Perfumer Yosh Han appeals to the public’s sense of smell.

September 7, 2010

“PEOPLE DON'T USE THEIR SMELLER,” Yosh Han says. She’s trying hard to change that with an eponymous collection of luxury fragrances available at department stores, such as Barneys New York, as well as holding perfuming workshops and creating custom scents. Han has blended fragrances for a novel, the opera and even time travel (she blended a series of scents inspired by everything from “Cavemen” to “Dystopia” for youth writing workshop 826LA’s Time Travel Mart). What does this scent maverick think about the future of fragrance?

What do you lose when you are less attuned to your sense of smell?
On a spiritual level, your sense of smell is most closely linked with your intuition. You can’t always rely on GPS [fakes British accent] "turn left at the road." [Laughs] Let’s think about it: I smell a rat; I smell a winner; I smell something fishy. If you’re out of touch with your smeller, you’re out of touch with yourself.

Do you think scents have the power to transform?
Of course. One of my fragrances, Ginger Ciao, is my alter ego, synonymous with your potential in every moment. Ginger Ciao is daring, invigorating and so full of life. When other people smell or wear Ginger Ciao, you see it in their body.

What surprises you most about the way people want to smell?
People wear their fragrances really loud. Part of that is that people can’t smell themselves after 15 minutes. It’s called olfactory fatigue. [Even if] they can’t smell themselves, that doesn’t mean that other people can’t smell them. Another thing that surprises me in my fragrance workshops is that we think that men want that caveman smell, but men want to smell like 16-year-old girls.

You mean men want to smell like a 16-year-old girl or they want to connect with their inner 16-year-old girl?
Maybe it’s both. But when they put [perfume] on their skin, it doesn’t smell like a 16-year-old girl. It smells good on them. These men don’t identify with manly man fragrances and that’s why they find me. You have more men wearing women’s fragrances and way more women wearing men’s fragrances.

Do you think this is a sign that gender roles are shifting?
What really surprises me is that a significant portion of women give their power away to their significant other: “I won’t know how I smell until my husband smells me.” Really? Of course, it’s programming. If you ask a 10-year-old if something smells, they’ll tell you. They’re not going to wait to ask their dad if it smells good.

How has your sense of smell changed since you’ve been a professional perfumer?

I can smell what people eat. During one workshop, I could tell that this man had eaten a burger a few days before. It’s really disturbing. OK, can I tell you something?

When people find out I’m a perfumer, this is what happens [pulls shirt collar back and lunges towards me]. [Laughs] Can you imagine a complete stranger sticking their neck in your nose and then having to sit next to them on a plane all day?

Wow. I never thought of that as an occupational hazard!
It’s terrible!

So what do you think is the new legacy of fragrance?
The young ones are so much more sophisticated. I did a workshop for sixth graders and they loved earth, coconut and chocolate. Sixth graders! All loving the base notes! True, a lot of young ones like sweet. But as far as forecasting for the future, it’s not about the Froot Loops. That’s what they’re getting in fragrance ... this nasty, sweet horribleness. Stuff that smells like cherry cough syrup.

But what kids consider luxury is very different from adults. For my clients who have “been there, done that,” coming to do a custom fragrance is less about the actual perfume than the experience. I can say to them, "Here’s seven different lavenders for you to smell," and they can travel the world in lavender. My idea of luxury is the experience.

Sita K. Bhaumik is Hyphen’s Artwell editor.

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