Fragrance is an invisible world that connects us to our sensuality and allows us a deeper connection to ourselves and the world around us.
Douglas Little is a perfumer based in Los Angeles, California. Little studied at the University of California Los Angeles, the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, and Nationale des Fabricants de Produits Aromatiques in Grasse, France.
In addition to Little’s career as a perfumer, he is revered for his work that encompasses a wide range of artistic métiers: creative director, product designer, gardener, and for his installation work such as creating eye-popping window displays for iconic brands such as Van Cleef & Arpels, and Bergdorf Goodman amongst others. One of my favorite projects of his was a dress he made out of flowers and moss for a print ad. Little’s ability to tell stories visually extended into perfume: In 2015 when he launched Heretic Parfum.
Little is renowned for his collaborations with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, with eyebrow-raising named scented candles: This Smells Like My Vagina, Florgasm, and This Smells Like My Prenup. Last December he designed a fifty-foot Christmas tree with Swarovski crystals for the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan. One of his next ventures is creating a scented tea, another way to delight the olfactory senses with taste coming into play. This past December, I caught up with Little to learn more about him and Heretic Parfum.
Do you have a favorite scent?
That's like asking if I have a favorite child. I love them all for very different reasons. I fall in and out of love with them constantly.
At the moment, I am having a love affair with “Dirty Lavender.”
What are the advantages of using natural ingredients over synthetic ones? What are the biggest dangers of synthetic ingredients?
I do not use natural ingredients over synthetics because of them being better or worse for you. I choose to work with natural materials because using 100% natural perfume ingredients has a radically different olfactive profile than synthetics. Synthetic-aroma-chemicals allow the perfumer to create an endless spectrum of olfactive effects. Using only natural materials is incredibly challenging because they are wildly expensive, difficult to obtain, can vary from batch to batch, and do not appeal to a broad audience, and this is why I love them. Synthetic materials are soft and round, and natural materials are faceted, often exhibiting sharp edges that are different from what customers are used to smelling. There is also the great unknown of synthetic aroma-chemicals. Many - if not most of them - are petroleum-derived and have been linked with endocrine disruption and carcinogenic effects on the body. Some people may have allergies to natural materials. In the end, I wanted to be able to disclose exactly what the fragrance is made from and where that material came from. It is very difficult to do that with synthetic aroma-chemicals.
Could you please tell me about your education at Syndicat Nationale des Fabricants de Produits Aromatiques en Grasse? What did you learn that was invaluable?
My time there taught me the structure and art of fragrance composition. It gave me an understanding of the chemistry and foundation to build from. More importantly, it gave me great respect for this incredible art form and the confidence to boldly color outside the lines.
What is your favorite movie?
Do you have a favorite artist and or a work of art?
Joseph Cornell is one of my art heroes. He has been an endless source of inspiration to me and my work.
How many scents should a person have in their scent wardrobe?
As many as you want. Gone are the days of one signature fragrance. I think fragrance should be used to accentuate a mood and feeling.
Do you have a favorite destination to go to? Where would you like to go after the pandemic?
My two favorite places on the planet are Big Sur and Scotland. Living in Los Angeles has made it possible for a few road trips to visit Big Sur during the pandemic. Once the dust settles, I hope for an extended trip to visit the Scottish Highlands where my family roots are from.
Do you have a fantasy project?
My dream project would be to design the set for the film adaptation of Joris-Karl Huysmans book À Rebours1.
Whistle while you work
Like many of us, Little listens to music while he works. He pairs the music to reflect the mood of the project he is working on at that moment, and when we spoke his current choice of music was from the Romanian gypsy folk singer Romica Puceanu. His musical tastes can swing greatly depending on his needs, and fortunately, for Little, he can readily draw from his vast record collection at hand rather than relying on a music streaming service.
Typically, Little puts in sixteen-hour workdays and when he does find the time he will probably be found gardening, or he may be visiting one of his favorite museums - the Huntington Library, Art Museum, Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California or, The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City. Or he may grab a bite to eat at Philippe’s The Original or at the Elf Café, both located in Los Angeles. With the Elf having the most delicious vegetarian cooking Little says he has ever experienced, their natural wine selection is alone worth the trip. Philippe’s The Original is a century-plus old restaurant where the French dip sandwich was created.
It is evident that Douglas is gifted and passionate about his work and has a stellar work ethic. He fully immerses himself in what he is working on whether he is creating a new perfume, a window, or event installation. I can’t wait to see what he will create next.
Discovery and resources
I’ve learned that finding a fragrance is something you do for yourself as a part of self-care, and to please yourself. It is also a chance to slow down, to take time for oneself, and it could be a meditative-like experience. It is a refinement - and one that is truly personal.
1 Other books on perfume: Perfume by Patrick Suskind; Jitterbug by Tom Robbins.