Parisian Niche House The Harmonist Opens Doors in Feng Shui-Compliant Los Angeles
It was with some trepidation—and excitement—that I entered the beautiful Los Angeles boutique of The Harmonist, a Paris-based niche perfume house using the ancient Asian concept of Feng Shui as its creative brief. I mean, I am a middle-aged Aries with a penchant for powerhouse masculines and an inability to tolerate Bikram yoga—just how harmonious am I going to get?
The boutique is in trendy Melrose Place (the only other location besides their Avenue George V flagship) and is truly beautiful. Sleek, pared down luxury completely realized in black and white (the Yin and Yang about which much more is to come) only relieved by the green of counter tops in precious malachite and plants growing in hanging glass terraria. The Paris-trained staff, led by the amiable and knowledgeable Erasmo and Bobbi (also in pared down, luxurious black and white attire), patiently take you through the complex, yet simple, inspiring world that is The Harmonist.
The Harmonist philosophy is to offer a scent for each of the elements—earth, water, fire, wood and metal—and serve it up two ways. One version speaks to the Yin in us (nurturing and sensitive, represented by the color black) and one version for our Yang side (powerful and assertive, embodied in the color white). The first collection consists of ten fragrances in all, to cover the whole spectrum of humanity, allowing everyone to find a harmonious scent (or two, three, etc.). As a first time customer, you are invited to enter the details of your birth (date, time and place) which allocates to you your position in the cosmos. You can do this online before you enter the store and don’t forget to look up your birth certificate or ask your mom for that all important time of day data point.
My cosmic element is Yang Water, which made me immediately suspicious. While I love the beach, I generally do not like aquatic and oceanic scents and usually gravitate towards warmer woods and leather. But wait—when they plug your “essence” into an astrological wheel chart (sort of like playing a cosmic, olfactory version of Twister), it turns out that for me to fully realize my potential and personal success, I should be gravitating towards the fire scents which, when I blind tested the fragrances, I did!
This flight towards spiritualism is not new, per se, and it may even be right on trend; Helene Rochas’ granddaughter recently launched a brand a perfumes called Coolife, designed to work with and activate your chakra points. It, too, is a luxury, niche brand from France. Indie perfume house Ava Luxe gave the world—albeit briefly—a perfume called Tao. On the designer side, perfumes like Jacques Fath’s Yin and Yang (1999), Guerlain’s Samsara (1989) and Shiseido’s Zen (1964/2000/2007) all played with the theme of Eastern spiritualism.
So, what about The Harmonist’s fragrances? The ten scents come in eau de parfum strength and candles and that’s it, for now anyway. Harmonist CEO and founder Virginie Amourelle has spared no expense in the development of the concept and the quality shows. Perfumer Guillaume Flavigny, who has created fragrances for Azzaro, Balmain and Charriol—often partnering with other noses like Antoine Lie–was given a wide open brief: find the finest natural materials and do not consider the cost, a “unique privilege,” according to Flavigny. The Harmonist fragrances utilize May Rose from Grasse, Vetiver from Haiti, Neroli from Tunisia and Tonka from Venezuela, to name a few.
When required to help create an elemental feeling, like the tempering of steel, synthetics like aldehydes are used, but sparingly. Even ultra-trendy oud makes a brief appearance. These notes are nothing new to fine perfumery, but in Flavigny’s Zen-inspired hands, they take on new and subtle differences. Despite successful collaborations in the past, “for the Harmonist it makes sense for me to work alone, it’s more personal to create perfumes with depth translating the five elements into fragrances,” says Flavigny. “It was not just driven by emotion, but by harmony, well-being and the centuries-old wisdom of elements.”
The ten scents are: Velvet Fire (Fire Yang), Hypnotizing Fire (Fire Yin), Sacred Water (Water Yang), Guiding Water (Water Yin), Golden Wood (Wood Yang), Magnetic Wood (Wood Yin), Desired Earth (Earth Yang), Royal Earth (Earth Yin), Matrix Metal (Metal Yang) and Metal Flower (Metal Yin). The scents are unisex and while a few skew more feminine or masculine, they all can easily be worn by either side.
It seems to me that the Holy Grail for most fragrance fans is this notion of a “signature scent,” a lifetime fragrance that completely represents the essence of your being. We may be going about it the wrong way, trying to fit in with the marketing profile of a scent (“Are you the Aramis type? Are you the Chanel type?”) and the Harmonist approach may be a solution.
My element scent—remember, I am a Yang Water–is Sacred Water, an interesting aquatic (described as “Captivating, Essential and Mystical”) that evokes waves crashing against a rocky shore. Mineral notes along with aquatic mosses, woods and grey amber bring this to life. Like all good oceanic scents, there is a note of decay as the ocean constantly renews itself and this decay reminds me strongly of the mustiness associated with a beach house that is being opened for the first time in the summer; not especially nice, but comforting nonetheless.
Hypnotizing Fire (“Attractive, Warm and Mysterious”), which is my “road to success” scent in the Feng Shui world, is my favorite. It has warm patchouli and vanilla with a rose heart with pimento top notes and opoponax in the base that really speaks to me. I am not alone—it is a best seller in the Los Angeles market. Warm and seductive, this is sure to be a hit with niche perfumistas with a yen for high quality patchouli, rose and vanilla. But just like the note of decay in Sacred Water, there is a slight off note, a dirty/sweaty note that adds depth and—while not quite nice—adds to the seduction.
My other destination scent on the yang side is Velvet Fire (“Charismatic, Radiant and Sensual”) which has top notes of lavender, coriander and one of my favorite notes in perfumery, clary sage. The heart notes are tobacco and cypress with a base of oud (seemingly ubiquitous in modern perfumery) and tonka. The herbal opening gives this a freshness that never quite leaves even when the tobacco and oud take over. This is oud done right, a bit of skank in a supporting role that never dominates.
Golden Wood (“Comfortable, Majestic and Powerful”) is the other real standout for me—elemi and malted barley give way to oak and black pepper with a leathery birch and tonka base. This is beautiful stuff—sweet with an almost nutty pipe tobacco note that reminds me, in some ways, of Naomi Goodsir’s Cuir Velours. This feels totally masculine to me but could be devastating on a woman. Golden Wood is a cashmere sweater and tweed sort of scent that is sure to be a favorite.
Musty beach house? Maybe not. Seductive cashmere? Sign me up!
These fragrances, with their quality natural ingredients, project well and have good longevity. That said, they do not create too much sillage and the subtlety of their projection speaks to our being in harmony with others. These are scents you lean into. At $270.00-300.00 for a 1.7 oz. flask, however, harmony does not come cheap. Nor is it always a pretty world, with notes of decay and humanity complementing the elemental essences of wood, water, fire, metal and earth.
The Harmonist is the inner sanctum of niche, the Dao of luxury retail, a fascinating new world for enlightened perfumistas to visit; a smart way to find—if not your “signature scent”—your inner fragrance harmony and a path to scented success.