My thanks to a loyal reader for sending me a cutting from the Telegraph Magazine (8th September 2012) featuring Vicki Reid's interview with Lyn Harris of Miller Harris. As the article doesn't seem to be online, I thought some of you might appreciate reading a few excerpts here.
Lyn Harris remembers becoming obsessed with smell at a very young age; she recalls her mother being mortified when she talked about why she loved to visit her best friend Susie - because her house smelled of sweets and her hair - "and my mum used to say, 'Oh my God, you can't say that!'"
Childhood summers were spent at her maternal grandparents' farm in Scotland, where she remembers "the smell of my grandfather's workshop where he made all their furniture, the smell of my grandmother's cooking, her jams, the fire that she lit first thing in the morning, their amazing garden; the vegetables, the fruit, the flowers. There's not a day goes by I don't think about that place."
At age 20, she followed her sister to London and got a job with Aromatherapy Associates, which imported essential oils. She worked there for two years, "building up my palate [sic] and olfactories," learning about the naturals, "because I was so obsessed with them, it was who I was." She happened on a book about French perfumery, which mentioned a woman named Monique Chleinger, who ran a small perfume school in Paris. "It changed my world," Harris says. Having made contact with Chleinger she somehow persuaded the perfumer to accept Harris on her course. "She said, 'Yes, but for the science you must have a translator.'" For the next two and a half years Harris paid for a translator to be by her side as she studied - "I was so driven."
Harris cannot eat onion, garlic or curries, "because if I do I can't work the next day, they overwhelm my senses and take over my palate", and wears perfume only at weekends or when she is not working. She cleans using bottles of lavender and lemon water - "I'm a purist."
They [Harris and partner Christophe Michel] returned to London [from France] in 1998, and with a bank loan of £75,000, which matched her savings, opened the first Miller Harris shop in Notting Hill in 2000, with four fragrances. ... Their son, Henri, was born in 2006, and Harris believes having him has given her work a new maturity. "I think I've cut back my palate quite a lot, and I'm confident in the palate I now use." She says Henri is very aware of what it is his parents do, but last year, she admits, "was a nightmare. I couldn't walk anywhere without him saying, 'I hate this smell.' I must have been talking about smells all the time and I hadn't realised how he had picked up on it. We'd be on a plane and he would say, 'No that smell's not good. I can't sit there, Mummy.'"
I wonder if £150,000 and four fragrances would be enough to start up a new perfume business in 2013...