ERIS Barbara Herman

Barbara Herman (Eris Parfums): “Whether consciously or not, with each new creation I tend to explore a very different path from the previous one”

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Launched in 2016 by Barbara Herman, American writer and creator of the blog Yesterdaysperfume.com, Eris Parfums offers contemporary sillages with a bold style inspired by vintage fragrances, all created by independent perfumer Antoine Lie. Interview with the brand’s founder.

How did the Eris Parfums brand come about? 

I’ve always been around and loved perfume, mainly thanks to my mother and grandmother. But it wasn’t until 2008 that I took a more active interest in it, when I discovered a whole online subculture I found absolutely fascinating. I began collecting vintage fragrances and their ads. As a professional blogger for PopSugar, a popular culture online media network, I decided that I needed to write about perfume. I created my own blog, YesterdaysPerfume.com, which in turn inspired me to write a book: Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume (Lyons Press, 2013) When I was writing a chapter of the book on perfume visionaries, I interviewed the perfumer Antoine Lie. I admire his creations, they’re beautiful or more experimental, and sometimes both. We became friends. After falling in love with vintage perfumes, launching the blog and writing a book, I asked myself: “what’s the craziest thing I could do now?” And the answer was: launch a fragrance brand! I wasn’t looking to offer retro compositions as such: I wanted a sort of post-modern collection which paid tribute to vintage creations, the intense florals and animal notes of the past, but for a modern-day audience. 

How did you come up with your first creations?

I wanted the fragrances to be bold and always have a twist. I had in mind this quote by Edgar Allan Poe: “There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportion.” And it was very clear to me that I needed to have at least one with animalic notes.

You work exclusively with Antoine Lie. Why? 

When I had the idea of creating a brand, I asked him if he was ready to follow me on this adventure. And he was. In the beginning I thought I would ask him to create the animalic composition I just mentioned and turn to other perfumers for the two other fragrances I wanted, a floral and a chypre. But I was so smitten with the first trials he proposed – animalic florals – that I decided to base my first collection on them. Working with him always made perfect sense. We’ve always shared the same vision, right from the start, and over the years we’ve developed a way of communicating that works incredibly well. Since my background isn’t in the industry, I don’t always have the vocabulary usually used in it, but I have smelled a vast number of perfumes and we have a lot of shared references. 

What does your development process typically look like? 

It’s often the name that comes first. And I have an olfactory vision of the perfume in mind. Then I create a moodboard with fashion images, stills from movies, photos of objects, and so on. I give it all to Antoine and also tell him which fragrances inspire me, the notes I’d like him to use, and the effect I’d like his proposed creation to have on the person smelling it. This emotional intention is very important. With all that, I can express what I want pretty clearly. Even so, it’s always a surprise when I receive Antoine’s trials. Until now, the development process spreads over a year on average. 

How do you decide which direction your collection should take?

I don’t really decide on a direction, things just fall into place by themselves. As I said, what I wanted to do initially was to develop three fragrances: a floral with indole notes, a chypre and an animalic perfume. Antoine started working on the third one, and when he submitted his trials to me I was stunned. It was the first time I’d briefed a perfumer, and everything was so gorgeous. How could I turn down one of his concepts? It was impossible to choose. Since then I’ve got a bit better at it! But back then I decided to keep all of them. Ma Bête is the most literal expression of the animal theme – the most extreme, you could say – with its interpretation of the famous Animalis base, combined with other animalic notes like castoreum, civet and musk. Night Flower is a leathery floral that’s something like a modern-day Shalimar, while Belle de Jour is a floral with a saltiness provided by a seaweed note, which I found really appealing the first time I smelled it. 

What came next?

I was still working as a journalist in 2015 when the term “Mx” entered the dictionary, as a gender-neutral honorific.  It’s a word that takes a modern approach to gender. I took an interest in it and even wrote about it. It then became the starting point and name of my fourth perfume, launched in 2017, a woody fragrance that plays with notes traditionally considered as masculine and feminine. Then I felt like coming up with a more sombre, extreme version. In the meantime I stopped working as an editor and started working full-time on Eris. Antoine devised a more animalic composition based on the use of ambergris, with cocoa and vanilla supplying more gourmand facets. This darker fragrance, available as an extrait de parfum, became Mxxx. Then came Green Spell, an extremely green, joyous creation, and, very recently, Scorpio Rising, an explosion of spices. So even though no particular strategy is in place, it’s true that, whether consciously or not, with each new creation I tend to explore a very different path from the previous one.

Eris is sold in the USA as well as France, Germany and, soon, the UK. Does your presence in these different markets influence your creations? 

Not at all. I keep up to date with the latest perfumery news, but I don’t do any market research for my launches. The only thing that matters is going somewhere Eris has never been before. 

Why are you taking part in Esxence this year?

Every week people get in touch with me to know when Eris will be available for delivery in their country. I try to answer their requests, but it would obviously be much better if they could test my fragrances and buy them close to where they live! So for my first appearance at the fair, my goal is to introduce myself to European and international distributors. To get them to smell the compositions, tell them about Eris and its history so they can see it’s not “just” a vintage perfume brand, or based only on animalic notes. And because there’s a lot of instability at the moment, I also want to reassure them that I’m here to stay: after two difficult years, Eris is still going strong. In fact it’s actually doing better than ever right now, since I have a much better idea of what I want, and working with Antoine just keeps getting easier. The best is yet to come. 

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