Natural perfumer Douglas Little of Heretic Parfum Collection

Natural perfumer Douglas Little of Heretic Parfum Collection

We spoke to Douglas Little the owner/founder of Heretic Parfum Collection about working with Gwyneth Paltrow, his commitment to natural ingredients and his latest fragrance, Dirty Ginger.

Heretic Parfum Collection was founded by perfume aficionado Douglas Little as a way to explore natural perfumery. He’s worked with brands (like Goop), personalities (like Dita Von Teese) and has cultivated his love of perfume over the years. But his real commitment is to creating unforgettable scents using raw and natural materials. We had the chance to catch up with the New York and L.A.-based Little about his newest scent, Dirty Ginger, and his own personal relationship with fragrance.

What is your favourite scent memory of childhood?

Growing up my parents owned a photography studio and my earliest scent memories were formed in that studio. I can still recall being in one of those baby slings around my Dad’s neck as he developed photos in the dark room. The smell of the photo developers still brings on a flood of memories. While the odour of developer chemicals are not the most pleasant, they have a nostalgic place in my heart.

What was the first fragrance you bought yourself and why did you buy it?

I have been obsessed with fragrance for as long as I can remember. There was a wonderful herb shop near my house that I used to frequent as a kid. I would save up my allowance to go and buy something new every chance I had. One of the first purchases I made was frankincense essential oil and use to douse myself in it liberally. Not many 5th graders were traipsing around soaked in frankincense. I suppose the reason that it was one of my first purchases, was that I grew up in a religious household and I was familiar with frankincense from stories in the Bible.

My first commercial fragrance purchase was Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male. I was obsessed with Elsa Schiaparelli and recognized that Gaultier had adapted her shocking (at the time) bottle and packaging to his concept. I loved the elements of humour, surrealism and sex appeal that the product possessed and wanted to be a part of it. I never did like the fragrance much but loved the creativity in the packaging.

What maternal figure influenced your attitude towards perfume?

My mother was a driving force for my love of fragrance. She was an avid gardener and we would spend hours at nurseries and would often dig in the garden. She was the one who opened my eyes to fragrant herbs and flowers and their extraordinary beauty.

How and why did you decide to start making perfume?

Perfume to me is liquid art. It is created for pure pleasure and has the instantaneous ability to transport the mind into the extraordinary. It is the perfect balance of art and commerce and is only limited by the imagination.

For years I was fearful of stepping into the world of fine fragrance as the perfume industry is intimidating, to say the least. I danced around my love for fragrance with a collection of perfumed candles only to realize that I would not be satisfied until I had my very own collection of fine fragrances. I grew tired of asking—why is no one pushing the envelope? So I created Heretic Parfum Collection.

Where do you find inspiration for your scents?

Much of my inspiration comes from nature. For me, nature is much more than the tranquil respite typically conveyed. For me, nature is wild, feral, fierce, seductive, sexual and spiritual. Nature is also wildly modern and provocative—it’s just all how you see it.

Can you tell me a bit about your latest fragrance, Dirty Ginger?

Dirty Ginger is a great example of nature being seen as modern and provocative. It started off with my love of ginger and wanting to build a fragrance around this spicy rhizome that did not fall into the gourmand category of perfume. So many ginger-centric fragrances lean toward a spicy-holiday chord and I wanted to focus in on the fresh-spicy and green aspects of ginger while developing something that was fun, feisty, bright, optimistic and perfect for warm weather.

The fragrance has top notes of black pepper, lime, cumin, cedar and timour berries. The heart of the fragrance is built around ginger and shiso and the base is a seductive chord of Palo Santo, vetiver and hints of patchouli and the dry down falls into the mystical, soft woody notes of palo santo and vetiver while maintaining the spicy citrus from the ginger, pepper and lime. The result is an uplifting, effervescent, tart, spicy treasure.

What was it like working with Gwyneth Paltrow on her first GOOP fragrance?

It’s hard for me to convey my love for Gwyneth Paltrow. She is a trailblazer, a visionary and a dream to work and collaborate with. When we first met, I was fearful that my deep, earthy, smoky and sacred fragrance tangents would scare her off. It was quite the opposite—it was our mutual love of these unusual scents that catapulted the first Goop fragrance and has led to a collection of four extraordinary scents that will roll out this year.

What is the different for you between working with someone like Gwyneth and being able to create solo?

I deeply enjoy working with others on the development of a fragrance. The collaborative aspects are always informative and educational. Gwyneth Paltrow has wonderful concepts and descriptive notes that inspired the fragrances. For example, in our first collaboration for Edition 1 / Winter, she wanted to convey aspects of a cozy cabin, quiet, snow and smoke. Theseparameterss helped me shape and develop the fragrance in careful and considerate ways. On my own I might have pushed the smoke notes further making it not as cozy and warm. This is where the magic happens in a collaboration.

Can you talk about your commitment to natural ingredients?

I have chosen to work with 100% natural ingredients due to their inherent raw and earthy qualities. I also love the fact that I am not producing a product that is laden with chemicals. Natural perfume is not for everyone and that’s fine with me. 99.9% of all commercial fragrances are comprised of synthetic materials and I chose to do something different and out of the ordinary.

Much like wine making, the natural ingredients can slightly fluctuate in fragrance profile from harvest to harvest making each batch unique and “one of a kind”. This is what I was looking for, something that was truly artisanal. I number my batches and speak to the fact that this is what makes the product special. There is a connection to the place that these ingredients came from that can not be achieved by working with their synthetic replicas.

What makes you notice a fragrance?

How a fragrance makes me feel is what gets me to notice it. I feel that fragrance should be visceral and should resonate deeply within.

How many fragrances do you regularly wear?

I love to layer. I have been wearing my Coeur Noir with Jasmine Smoke as of late. Coeur Noir is an ambery rich chord of labdanum, benzoin and vanilla absolute, while Jasmine Smoke is combination of grandiflorium jasmine and blonde tobacco. The result is hypnotic and addictive.

What do you smell like?

I am like a giant perfume blotter. I am always dousing myself in some new perfume idea so I do not have a good answer for this.

How do you scent your home?

I have a wonderful little space on the upper west side of New York City in a pre-war building with floor-to-ceiling walnut paneling. I love burning sacred resins such as dragons blood and copal in my house.

Who is the best smelling person you’ve ever met, and what did they smell like?

When my parents divorced, my Dad started dating this incredible woman named Deborah. She had porcelain skin, long auburn hair and piercing green eyes. Her smell was completely narcotic—a sort of opiate cloud of gardenias, smoldering woods and incense.

If you could bottle the scent of a favourite place/city/memory/moment what would it be and please describe the smell.

I have been trying to replicate a New Orleans moment for many years and can’t quite capture it—hot-wet air, spanish moss, sweet olive, chicory, coffee, magnolia, vetiver, smoke and bourbon.

What smells are overrated?

For me the smell of baking cookies is overrated.

How do you feel about signature scents? Is it freeing or limiting?

Signature scents are limiting and not modern. No one cares about a signature scent anymore—they want to smell like a fireplace or old lipstick and want to have the option to change their mind regularly.

What piece of fragrance advice or wisdom do you want to pass on to the next generation?

Fragrance is the first thing you notice and the last thing you forget.

How important is fragrance to your life, to your sense of style?

Fragrance is the last thing I put on before I walk out the door, it’s my secret weapon and an essential element of style.

How has perfumery changed over the years?

Perfumery and the perfume industry is always a direct reflection of our society. During the economic boom of the 80’s voluptuous oriental fantasies like Opium and Shalimar gained popularity. During the AIDS epidemic, clean, antiseptic and genderless fragrances like CK One took favour. We currently live in a time where endless information is at our fingertips and we have seen celebrity endorsed fragrances fall out of popularity and the rise of niche and boutique perfume houses that offer the unique, different and individual. It’s an exciting time for the perfume industry as we in the beginnings of a fragrance revolution.

Heretic Parfum Collection is available exclusively at Barneys.

PHOTO: Ali Mahdavi
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Alexandra Donaldson is the editorial assistant at The Whale & The Rose and a freelance writer and content creator. Although she recently took up yoga in an effort to be a healthy adult, she still binge-watches cartoons on a regular basis and dreams of running away to a cottage in the woods. She has yet to nail down her favourite perfume, but knows that it smells green, earthy and maybe a little bit spicy, but definitely not sweet.