A conversation with Yosh Han

October 08, 2013

Yosh Han has always been a creative a spirit, so it's lucky for us that she encountered perfumery in time to make it a career. In 1994, Han walked into a boutique in Aspen and found the walls lined with bottles of oils and essences. She felt an instant pull and asked for a job, but the boutique wasn't hiring. But then—showing the kind of gumption that pushes past obstacles —Han convinced the manager that her destiny was somehow intertwined with this place. And for the next two years, she apprenticed as a perfumer before breaking out on her own.

Today, Han has a robust line of scents and an international following. Her U4EAHH!, a cult favorite, is featured in the Olfactif collection 'Tis Better to Have Loved and represents the first part of our collection's three-part love story. Here, Han tells us about her path to perfumery, the role of energy in her work, and the one notable figure she would love to design a fragrance for.

Olfactif: Tell us about where and how you grew up. 

Yosh Han: I grew up in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in Los Angeles. Having the peaks as the backdrop of my youth gave me a grounded connection to the Earth’s energy. I later went to university in Malibu and lived at the beach. Seeing the Pacific horizon each day gave me the kind of hopefulness that one needs to believe anything and everything is possible. I would sit at the beach every day and make wishes about what I wanted for my life, and I can honestly say that dreams do come true. When I’ve lived faraway from the mountains or the coast, I feel unmoored. So I found myself back in California where the mountains and the ocean are nearby.

O: Were you surrounded by perfume as a child?

YH: Neither parents wore perfume per se, but our household was very fragrant. My mother is an avid gardener and I woke up each day to the scent of yellow roses outside my window. She is also a master of Ikebana, the art of Japanese flower design. She would come home from workshop every Monday with a new seasonal arrangement. So I had flowers around me all the time. We also went to the herbalist for our wellness routine, so we often had strong herbs cooking in the house. My father used a kind of balm for stress and headaches, so when I think of his scent, it’s a particular mix of camphor and herbs.

O: Do you think the presence of flowers in your life helped you to develop a finer appreciation for your sense of smell? 

YH: Seeing my mom do something creative had a tremendous impact on my developing my own artistic talents. She often said that the arrangements were not just about the flowers, but also the leaves, the stems, color, shape, and their relationship to each other and the container. In a way, it’s a metaphor for life. We often think of external beauty but we often forget it’s also about our internal beauty and how we compose ourselves in relation to our communal society. When you move with grace and compassion, everything is always in balance, and yet you can still stand out and represent yourself in a unique way. Having an intentional structure allows individuality to truly stand apart that’s the beauty of Ikebana.

O: What scent can instantly transport you back to your childhood?

YH: We had an altar in the house where my mother would burn incense each morning, so that scent is seared into my memory. When I smell incense burning, I feel calm and collected.

O: If you could make a new perfume for any famous, historical, or literary character, who would it be and what would it smell like?

YH: I’d like to go back in time and meet Mozart as a child. That scent would be so effervescent and light yet extremely complex. I would use orange flower, muguet, cherries, fennel, violets, orris, and a hint of chocolate. 

O: If you weren't doing perfumery, what would you be doing?

YH: I moonlight as a writer, but if I had more time, I would write more often. But I’d also love to learn how to fly a plane. It’s on my bucket list. I already travel a lot for work but I’d love to visit each country on the planet.  

O: Tell us about U4EAHH!—why you created it, what feeling you intended to evoke, and what fans have said about it.

YH: I was in Virginia visiting British Lebanese friends of mine. It was so hot and humid that day. They had an incredible array of savory appetizers, sandwiches, desserts, and this cocktail made from Pimm’s with muddled cucumbers and fruit. I thought this would make such a refreshing fragrance. I wanted to create something really juicy, tart, and vivacious. It's a youthful, flirty fragrance—that perfect combination of cute and sexy. 

O: What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in perfumery but doesn't know where or how to start?

YH: Smell, smell, smell! One can go to France to study. There are a few summer classes in Grasse that are super fun. There are a few perfumers who teach stateside. I teach occasionally, and when I do, I tell all my students not be afraid to make mistakes. Certainly, there are technical aspects to perfumery, but to develop your own creative and unique voice is critical to any artistic expression of who you are as an individual. Most people psych themselves out—they get mental about it and doubt themselves. I create an environment for my students where they feel comfortable to be able to play. Children don’t need permission to have fun and try random and weird combinations. Not everything will work but it’s important to get that creative energy flowing first.

O: What does it mean to attune a fragrance to an energetic frequency? Can you tell us about the role of chakras and numerology in your perfumery work? 

YH: I am a practicing clairvoyant and have also studied reiki and other forms of energy healing. Though my perfumes are not intended to be aromatherapeutic, each fragrance is attuned energetically to a specific frequency—what I call vibrational perfumery. I use both natural and science-based materials. Gardenia is a great example of an aromatic ingredient that doesn’t have a true natural essential oil even though the plant itself is scented. Many people have positive emotions when they smell a science-based gardenia perfume. If you feel good smelling gardenia, then on some level, your frequency changes—energetically speaking.

When I create my perfumes, I consider all the elements of concept design, the structure of a perfume, the energetic vibration of the ingredients, and the effect on the final product. In traditional or classical perfumery, ingredients fall into top, middle, and base notes. Basic chemistry tells us that top notes are small molecules that evaporate quickly, lasting 30 seconds to 3 minutes on the skin. Middle notes are medium-sized molecules that last 3 minutes to 3 hours on the skin. Base notes are large sized molecules lasting upwards of six hours or more. When all the top and middle notes have evaporated, what remains is the dry down. How I differ as a perfumer is that I consider the energetic and spiritual aspects of the person as well as the other materials in relation to the fragrance I want to create. I think of people and plants to be biomorphically similar. In other words, if you look at a tree, top notes tend to live at the tops of the tree, like fruits and leaves. What do you have to do when you look at the tops of trees? Look up. So energetically speaking, top notes tend to be stimulating and uplifting. Middle notes tend to grow waist high. Most of these plants are flowers. These tend to be balancing and harmonizing (which is why so many women love floral perfumes). Base notes like woods, mushrooms, roots, and nuts are found close to the Earth—these all tend to be grounding. When I create a perfume, I take these elements into consideration of the design of the perfume. I developed a system where each fragrance has a literal name but also a vibrational frequency made up of three numbers. The first number refers to the fragrance family. The second number refers to the chakra. And the third relates to numerology. These systems already existed but I overlaid them together with perfumery.

U4EAHH’s frequency is 2.43. It’s a fruity fragrance that resonates with the fourth chakra and the number 3. With U4EAHH, I wanted to create something juicy and effervescent. I chose notes that would embody these emotions energetically. When you smell this fragrance, you can’t help but smile. This particular fragrance resonates with the 4th chakra, which is often known as the heart chakra or affinity with oneself. Sometimes people confuse this with the love chakra as in romantic love, but how I interpret this is to be in love with oneself or love of life. In numerology, the number 3 is associated with creative energy. U4EAHH, with pear, pomegranate, cucumber, aloe vera, and waterlily, evokes a youthful, creative, euphoric love affair with oneself. And when you love yourself, you have room to love and share with others. This is true happiness. 

Learn more about U4EAHH! 

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