First Person: 'I can identify 1,000 different scents'

Lynn Harris, professional perfumer, 41

I am a professional perfumer for Miller Harris. Like many in my field, I can honestly say the foundations of my craft were laid down in childhood. One of my pivotal influences was my grandparents, whose house in Scotland I used to stay in from time to time. They really instilled in me an appreciation for life's interesting smells. They were into organic food, and grew everything themselves. They had a flower garden, too. My grandmother made her own jam and bread; my grandfather was a carpenter. It was all so pure. I yearned for that kind of lifestyle. That's how my journey began. I worked in my school holidays in a fragrance shop in my home town, Halifax; it was one of those beautiful places where all these grand old ladies would come in and sample some of the fragrances. It's very different today – now you can buy these things anywhere.

I moved to London and didn't go to university like all of my friends. Instead, I went to Paris and enrolled on a specialist perfumer course in my early twenties.

After that I went to Grasse, in Provence, to the fragrance house of Robertet; they took me in and made me part of their family. I learnt from a second-generation perfumer: what more can you want from life?

Now, 15 years later, I am here with my own brand – it has become my way of life. Not everyone makes it to do what I do but I always knew I would. It is weird, I woke up one day and I knew I had talent. I set up my own lab while I was at the school in Paris and when I got home I set up a lab in my bedroom. I just immersed myself in the creativity of it and developed my own style quite early on.

To be a good perfumer you need patience and an understanding of the natural world; you need to be able to draw inspiration from raw materials and have sympathy towards the natural, as well as have sensitivity towards people and life. When I was at school I trained my olfactory senses – I smelt a different raw material day in and day out. You get sick and you have migraines but you train your brain, so that when you smell the material again you engage with it. It's interesting. Subconsciously you retain the information.

I have trained my nose to smell 1,000 different raw materials. It gets to the stage where you can smell a complicated fragrance or formula and you can dissect the components.

I used to go off every night to a fragrance store after school. It's a lot of hard work and patience. I have made perfumes, for example, about a little garden in Regent's Park – it was this whole thing about the perfect English garden. I developed the theme then added a hint of birch – I decided to give it a twist.

I am only at peace when I am in my lab. It is a very odd profession for someone in this country. In France it is culturally more acceptable, people are more likely to be drawn to it.

If I smelt a bottle of perfume I could tell you what it contains, I could tell you what all the major notes are and what the theme is. When I walk down the street I can smell everything – the bread wafting out of the streets, the wet earth. I can smell bad drains around Mayfair; I can smell people's breath and people's skin. It can be too much sometimes: I can't cook with garlic because the smell retains on my skin. I used to like Indian food but I can't eat it any more because the smell lingers. Such sensitivity is useful in my work: you can tell from someone's skin type and hair colouring what would suit them.

I do lots of other things apart from perfume – I recently released a brand of tea and I'm working on some china, too. I want to add a new dimension to making fragrance. I am trying to move the whole industry forward.

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

    £12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

    Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

    Day In a Page

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders