Eris Parfums' Founder Barbara Herman on the Enduring Power of Scented Seduction

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Barbara Herman
Barbara Herman's olfactory aesthetic is unapologetically glamourous. Basenotes last spoke to her in 2012, when she was blogging under Yesterday's Perfume and several months shy of the release of Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume, an ode to fragrance in all its gender-bending, norm-defying glory. Today, she has put her love of all things olfactory into physical form with Eris Parfums. Despite the brand name being derived from the Greek goddess of chaos, each scent is a beautifully blended microcosm of sensuality and depth.

Created with master provocateur Antoine Lie, the brand launched in 2016 with a trio of animalic florals : Belle de Jour, Night Flower and Ma Bête. Not one for the faint of heart, each fragrance offset a floral heart with a daring counterpart: orange flower and jasmine with seaweed; leather and suede with tuberose; and neroli with an animalic accord.The result garnered an Art & Olfaction award nomination in the Best Independent Perfume category.

Herman's exploration of all things seductive continued with Mx. (the gender-neutral title honorific), which recently received a limited edition extrait de parfum counterpart, Mxxx. The former blends saffron, sandalwood, cacao, and castoreum for a delectably rich woody scent, the latter goes even deeper with ambergris, hyraceum, and ultrasound-extracted green vanilla.

ERIS PARFUMS' latest release, Green Spell, is gloriously lush green scent filled with juicy mandarin, fig leaf and tomato leaf accord, boosted with a voluptuous heart of violet leaf and narcissus absolute. Another standout, it smells succulent and full-bodied whilst still maintaining a whiff of transparency and freshness.

Herman sat down with Basenotes to discuss her latest creation, animalic fragrances as a form of human connection, and celebrating eccentricity and boldness through scent.

 

How did your previous work as author of Scent & Subversion inform this line?

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Mx.
I encountered so many beautiful, bold, and creative perfumes when I “sniffed my way through the 20th century” for the book. Some of them had ingredients no longer in use (like animalics). Some commemorated cultural moments (like Charlie's hat-tip to feminism), which inspired me to create Mx. (pronounced “Mix”) to celebrate the non-binary gender revolution. I wanted to bring that boldness I discovered from the past in style, ingredients, and cultural relevance back to modern perfumery.

 

You have a love of vintage fragrances but these perfumes still feel very modern, how did you coincide those two contrasts within your releases?

My love of vintage perfumes is not about their retro-ness per se or anything dated about their styles— it's about their boldness, use of stunning ingredients and their creativity. Those are timeless qualities, but sadly lacking in a lot of mainstream releases. Antoine Lie knew this, and he didn't want to create anything “retro” either, so I relied on his experience to keep things fresh.

 

What makes a well-balanced animalic scent?

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Mxxx.
To me, the best animalic perfumes make the animalic notes known subtly but unmistakably, and they need to blend well with other notes. I love the scent of civet or castoreum, for example, so I don't mind being hit in the face with them, but it's easy to overdo. Some perfumes tack them on the end like an afterthought; the art is in having them insinuate their effect almost subliminally, or teasingly. I think Antoine does that beautifully in Ma Bête, with the huge animalic cocktail he's created woven into the floral notes in such a way that some people don't even consider Ma Bête very animalic, which is crazy to me! I also love his judicious use of natural hyraceum in Mxxx. (“Mix triple x”), where it darts around just long enough to catch your eye / nose, along with the plush and perfectly balanced ambery / smoky / saline / furry ambergris in Mxxx. that majestically spreads itself out in the composition like fairy dust. And those notes aren't just thrown in there. They amplify and echo the dark, smoky qualities of the cacao, incense, woods, and other notes.

 

What defines a modern-day seductress, and how does it differ (if at all) from those of decades past?

First, I almost think more men are looking for seductive scents than women are, at least if you hang out on online-forums and Instagram long enough, so I don't know if I have a lot of thoughts on what a modern-day seductress would look for. In the mainstream world, she's probably looking for a clean-smelling perfume! Or wants to smell like fruit or a cupcake.

What's interesting about vintage “seductress” scents, and what led me on my way down the rabbit hole of vintage perfumery, was that so many perfumes for women in the past were complex and what mainstream perfumery would now describe as masculine: leather, tobacco, and animalic perfumes. I began my book in earnest trying to answer that question: Why were perfumes for women so much bolder in the past and so “masculine”? What accounted for the olfactory arrested development in much of women's mainstream perfumes? I think my book answered that question, or at least posited a few theories.

Ultimately, even though styles change, the primary qualities of seductive perfumes remain the same: they're perfumes that get you noticed and that linger in the mind of the person who takes in your scent. That could be an indolic floral, an animalic leather, a smoky oud, or a bright vetiver scent….on anyone.

 

Your brand is named after a Greek goddess and the La Belle et La Bête range features traditionally feminine” florals, but Green Spell and Mx. are more unisex releases.

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Green Spell
The goddess Eris appealed to me because she's a trouble-maker. In Greek mythology she's blamed for starting the Trojan War, but when you read into her story, she really just pranked some of the Mt. Olympus gods and goddesses in revenge for not getting invited to a wedding, and they took it from there. (Women are always taking the blame! She's like Eve.)

I had never heard of this goddess of Greek mythology before until I lived in New Orleans and learned there was a parade krewe that marched without permits during Mardi Gras, the self-described anarchist Krewe of Eris. The more I read about her and how various groups deployed the spirit of her anti-authoritarian, boundary-busting trouble-making, the more I knew she should be the spiritual and aesthetic icon for the brand.

I consider the entire line unisex. Green Spell and Mx. just seem more unisex, or genderless, because fresher scents tend to be seen as genderless and florals are considered feminine. “La Belle et la Bête” was going for a contrast in each scent with a floral and a more “beastly” or animalic note. So in Belle de Jour, the orange flower is paired with musk and seaweed, in Night Flower, with leather and patchouli, in Ma Bête, with an animalic cocktail overdose of civet, musk, castoreum, costus, and other animalic notes. If you read reviews of Ma Bête and Night Flower in particular, depending on who is smelling them, and how it lands on skin, they seem to be enjoyed by both men and women. Ma Bête, for example, has a YSL Kouros-like overdose of animalics, and Night Flower an overdose of patchouli. But I really think people, especially niche fragrance fans, are increasingly choosing fragrance without consideration of gender.

I hope that just because ERIS is a goddess and some perfumes have prominent floral notes does not suggest that ERIS is only for women. That is definitely not the case. It's for everyone.

 

How do you define glamour in the masculine and non-binary sphere, are there any differences to its feminine representations?

I think glamour in perfume is glamour whether it's considered conventionally masculine, feminine or unisex. “Glamour” originally meant a kind of magic that attracted, dazzled or bewitched you, so I'd say that for a scent to be glamorous, it needs to be catchy, bold (even quietly bold), but it can't be a middling “office scent” (the bane of my existence) that is neither here nor there. So if a scent is surprising on someone (I once had a boyfriend who wore his mother's very mid-century “feminine” perfume!) or reveals something you wouldn't have considered (like a very prim woman in a dark, smoky, leathery perfume), that's super-glamorous to me. Eccentricity and boldness are glamorous, I think, and those qualities have no gender.

 

How much do restrictions on raw materials (specifically naturals) interfere with crafting these olfactory images of seduction?

I don't really keep up with IFRA restrictions as I'm not composing the fragrances, but I do know that many ingredients I've wanted to be featured prominently in their natural form, like oakmoss or costus, have been severely curtailed or prohibited. And natural animal ingredients, if they require the killing or harming an animal are of course are ethically verboten. But a creative perfumer can get around the restrictions.

 

It's interesting how niche releases have spoken to bringing a hint of dirtiness” and primality” to fragrance, whereas modern-day mainstream releases feel a bit more sanitized in order to have mass appeal. Not to mention us becoming farther removed from our analogue selves through technology. How do you see this demand for animalics harkening back to our animalic side developing?

I think more people are becoming acquainted with animalic fragrances — and more niche brands are releasing them — so demand is higher in the niche world. But even then, only a subset of animalic fetishists like myself are into them. I think the appeal is their novelty, their beauty, their edginess and sexiness. Same with “dirty” or “earthy” scents. You can only take so much of “fresh and clean,” after all! So many of us are addicted to our phones and computers, and are spending so much time in the virtual world, so mucking around in dirty and animalic scents is like rooting around in the forest or mud. We're human animals and we want connection to materiality and bodies. Especially during this pandemic.

 

What releases and projects do you have planned for the future?

I'm dreaming up a couple new fragrances, one that will probably be released in the fall. I'm still playing around with the name and the notes and overall effect, and Antoine and I are working on it. I'm excited to finally exhibit at Esxence 2022, the annual perfume fair in Milan. I was all geared up to meet international distributors, retailers, and perfume-lovers at Esxence 2020 but we all know how that turned out! I field emails every day from people all over the globe about how they can purchase ERIS, and it's my hope in the next year or so that will be easier for them.

Eris Parfums website is at http://www.erisparfums.com/
About author
C
As well as reporting for Basenotes, Carla is a Freelance fashion, art and fragrance journalist. Contributor for Twin, A Shaded View on Fashion, Dazed Digital and more.

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