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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
people
Life and Style
President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump
science
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
tv
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders were pictured embracing in 2012
people
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

    HSE Manger - Solar

    £40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: HSE Mana...

    Data Governance Manager (Solvency II) – Contract – Up to £450 daily rate, 6 month (may go Permanent)

    £350 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently looking...

    Powertrain Design Engineer

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I hope you are well. My client based in ...

    Java Developer - Banking - London - Up to £560/day

    £500 - £560 per day: Orgtel: Java Developer FX - Banking - London - Up to £560...

    Day In a Page

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried