Barbara Herman


Photo credit:  Caroline Voagen Nelson


      Growing up was scent a large part of your life? In a way I wasn't aware until I was an adult, and remembered my mother's various perfumes, my grandmother's signature scent, perfumes I loved, and my first perfume gift at age 5 from my father. (Gift store perfumes from Hawaii in small bottles with plastic caps shaped like flowers.)

      How do you think that smell in general, affects the growth of a child into a adult? The memory part of perfume is over-stated perhaps, but I do think that significant times in one's life, if punctuated with perfume, can bring back intense memories of that time. As if that memory were in a time capsule.

      What is your background and how did you begin working within the fragrance world? I'm a former academic (graduate student of literature, film and Rhetoric) and I'm a writer. I became interested in perfume and began blogging about vintage perfume in 2008 after stumbling upon blogs and fragrance forums online. And reading books about perfume, like Chandler Burr's "The Secret of Scent." I wanted a place to put my thoughts, but realized that people began to ask me questions about vintage scents. So the researcher/writer in me found a new, fascinating subject. It revived my earlier love for perfume.

      Tell us about your work and your brand? By day, I write for a Madison Avenue ad agency. The rest of the time, I work on Eris Parfums. The name comes from the Greek goddess of chaos and strife, which I've rebranded as trouble-making and rebellion. (She's the daughter of Nyx.) I discovered her when I learned that an anarchist group that parades during Mardi Gras in New Orleans — without licenses to do so — call themselves the Krewe of Eris. So I love the connotation of this Greek goddess of subversion, of playing by her own rules, being mischievous and fun. It seemed like a direct link to the things I care about, that I wrote about in "Scent and Subversion." Plus, the perfumes from the first "La Belle et la Bête" collection, and hopefully the perfumes that come after, will have something slightly different about them, something rebellious from the prevailing styles. And for this first collection, the focus on animalic, bodily, erotic base notes contrasted with florals was the focus. 

      What are your thoughts on how the fragrance industry is changing? I think post-80s, the fragrance industry began to get bigger and more diluted. Aside from the niche luxury market, brands that were once avant garde and bold began to play it safe. So that one perfume smells like the next, based on market research. There were very little risks being taken, little artistry or weirdness. (With a few exceptions, of course.) Add to that the continued IFRA regulations that are taking out gorgeous perfume ingredients for some fear that I still don't entirely understand (of allergies?), and the perfume palette is shrinking. So perfumers have less to work with ingredient-wise (especially with natural ingredients), and they have more pressure to do commercially safe scents. But then the niche perfumers are threatening their market share, and bigger heritage brands are realizing, we need to go back to our roots if we want to compete. That seems to be what a few of the big names are doing, but the fact is, and I'm not helping here, there are too many brands! Too many perfumes out there.

      How does background or culture play a large role in your work? I was born in Vietnam, and lived in a household with a grandmother who cooked delicious, and often stinky things. I have a bold palate, I'm accustomed to strong flavors and scents (for example, I don't mind the scent of Durian fruit and I love the flavor). So generally, I am very comfortable around and prefer intense and unusual, even difficult, scents and flavors. I like basic stuff as much as the next person, but I need my palate and nose challenged. Plus, re: the arts, I like experimental, avant garde films, art, music, etc. 

      What would be your favourite smell? It's hard to pick a favorite, but among them: tropical flowers, especially a gardenia right in my nose; the scent of bread baking; civet and musk (the real stuff, but ethically sourced); cut palms and ferns; cucumber; and recently, pink peppercorns steeping in milk and heavy cream for a base of ice cream I made.

      Where can we purchase your scents?,, and in Portland, Oregon. The list will soon expand!

      At the moment fragrance is a artform, how do you feel about arts in all forms importance in the life of a person.I can't imagine not having art in my life. Seeing the world in new ways thanks to someone's unique perspective enriches your life and helps you imagine different ways of being. Art is as important as food and sleep to someone's well-being.

      How would you describe your work? My "work work," the work I get paid to do, is combing through culture and providing insights on it. Not a bad job!

      Is there anything else that you would like to say? Long live perfume!


A collection of fragrances as daring and erotic as fragrances of the past...