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Aqua Velva to Penhaligon’s: Inspiration is varied and personal for the managing director of this Toronto-based shop. His men’s fragrance tips are great too!
When we called Seth Harman to find out more about his MenEssentials store for our article on Toronto perfume shopping, we had no idea we would encounter someone who loves fragrance as much as we do. The result: a full-blown Q&A covering everything from great-smelling shaving cream to his tips on how not to smell like everyone else.
QUESTION: What is your favourite scent memory of childhood?
SETH HARMAN: Pork chops coated in cumin seeds baking in the oven; this was something my maternal grandmother made frequently and has a wonderfully meaty, earthy smell.
HARMAN: Grey Flannel by Geoffrey Beene.
Q: What maternal/paternal figure influenced you the most in your attitude towards perfume?
HARMAN: I’d have to say my maternal grandfather. He always smelled of things like Brylcream, Aqua Velva and Old Spice. From him, I decided early on that adult men always needed to smell like “something”.
Q: What does your favourite fragrance say about your personality?
HARMAN: My current favourite is Beast by CB I Hate Perfume, which is supposed to evoke the scent of roasting meat, and it really does (honestly, it’s pretty weird for a wearable fragrance). I like a good roast and I have a pretty weird sense of humour, so this appeals both to my carnivorous nature as well as my weird streak. I like to think of myself as being cut from a different bolt of cloth as well, and I’ve honestly never smelled anything like that fragrance before. I think it represents how I think of myself pretty well.
Q: What makes you notice a fragrance?
HARMAN: I’m really not a fan of single-note fragrances for the most part and I prefer fragrances that can cause me to immediately make a connection to a memory of something from my past.
HARMAN: Personally, I own around 30.
Q: How many fragrances do you regularly wear?
HARMAN: More than I actually own. Because we have so many testers at our retail store in Toronto, I get to pick ones from our cabinet to wear that I don’t own (and on many occasions it’s caused a customer to get interested in the fragrance since they can smell it on me or one of my staff members). That being said, I regularly wear Extract of Limes and Sartorial from Penhaligon’s, Floris No. 89, Cuba and Vetiver from Czech & Speake, Whitehall from Hugh Parsons, and Le Poire Francaise aftershave balm by Henri et Victoria—it’s a balm but it has pretty notable fragrance.
Penhaligon’s Sartorial, $170 (100 ml), www.menessentials.ca
Q: What do you smell like?
HARMAN: On any given day, I’ll usually smell like whatever products I’ve been sent for our consideration, which is quite a lot.
Q: How do you scent your home?
HARMAN: We purchased one of those wax-melting scent light things from our nephew as part of a school fundraiser and there’s some caramel-scent wax cubes we got with it that we use somewhat regularly. We also cook and bake a lot so usually our house smells like food.
HARMAN: Cognac & Cuban Cigars shaving soap by Henri et Victoria, Le Grand Chypre shaving soap by Barrister & Mann, Lime shaving cream by Castle Forbes, and 1805 shaving cream by Truefitt & Hill.
Henri et Victoria Cognac and Cuban Cigars Shaving Soap, $16, www.menessentials.ca
Q: Who is the best smelling person you’ve ever met, and what did they smell like?
HARMAN: My maternal grandfather: You have to love the smell of Brylcream and a freshly laundered flannel shirt.
Q: If you could bottle the scent of a favourite place/city/memory/moment what would it be?
HARMAN: The best smelling place I’ve ever been was the Christmas market in Dusseldorf, Germany; it was a cacophony of smells that all seemed to actually complement each other. There was spiced wine, coffee, bratwurst, fresh baked pretzels, fir trees, beer, currywurst and mint. Basically, everything I love about Germany in one place all at the same time.
Q: What led you to your current position with MenEssentials?
HARMAN: I have a long professional history of eCommerce and web development which I thought I was tired of (which is why I became a technical consultant in the steel industry for awhile), but when the opportunity to do something in technology that also had a retail component presented itself I jumped at the chance. I’ve found I really love interacting with people and you don’t really get to do much of that in a pure eCommerce job.
Q: How has your POV regarding fragrance changed since working at the store?
HARMAN: Before working at MenEssentials, I mostly just bought department-store fragrance. Now that I’ve been exposed to higher quality fragrances, I understand the difference and can appreciate them much more.
Q: Do you have any tips for men looking to buy a new scent?
HARMAN: Pay no attention to what’s “fashionable”, and buy what you want to smell like or what you feel best represents you. Understand that people will form some type of opinion about you based on how you smell, just like they will based on how you’re dressed, how well groomed you are, etc. And understand that in fragrance, you get what you pay for, i.e. If it’s cheap it’s usually because it smells cheap. Not to say there aren’t some excellent value-priced fragrances—Grey Flannel!
Q: What piece of fragrance advice or wisdom do you want to pass on to the next generation?
HARMAN: Don’t wear the same thing your peers wear. Stand out from the crowd. People will notice!
Q: How important is fragrance to your life, to your sense of style?
HARMAN: It is now an integral component, and I do put conscious thought into what I’m wearing and when.