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The Harmonist, a fragrance brand created by Lola Tillyaeva in 2013, was inspired by ancient Asian philosophies and reflective of the five fundamental energy elements—water, wood, fire, earth, and metal. With a modern approach, the line is a balance of yin and yang, creating a certain type of harmony for the encouragement to follow your ambitions. Each fragrance responds to an energy relating to a wearer’s personal element, dependent on their current quest. In 2016, the brand’s first ten fragrances were created, and today, it’s gearing up to launch two more—with graphics by Los Angeles-based tattoo artist Dr. Woo.
Whitewall spoke with Tillyaeva to learn more about The Harmonist and its two latest fragrances, and how being based in Paris and Los Angeles provides ample inspiration.
WHITEWALL: Can you tell us a bit about your background leading up to founding The Harmonist?
LOLA TILLYAEVA: We learn about life and navigate the world around us through our most fundamental senses—our sense of sight, touch, and smell. The ability to discern smells is very important to humans. It can warn us of danger, but it can also transport us back through time to a happy memory. I’ve always been fascinated by our sense of smell, especially because it is connected with our ability to taste, too. So, this one sense governs two aspects—taste and smell.
I was forever searching for the perfect perfume, a scent that really suited to me, and since I lived in France for many years, I tried all kinds of fragrances and even studied perfumery just to learn more about it. But still I couldn’t find a scent I really liked. I decided to experiment, and I created a perfume for myself. The result was quite interesting.
I used notes I had been fond of as a child—musk, jasmine, and ylang ylang flowers. My experiment turned out to be very popular. Wherever I went people kept asking me what perfume I was wearing. My friends encouraged me, and so I created another fragrance for them, and that was a hit, too.
After a while I thought it would be interesting to take it further and create my own perfume brand.
WW: The Harmonist as a brand is inspired by the five elements, and yin and yang, and aims to balance harmony. Tell us a bit about why this was the starting point for the brand.
LT: I didn’t want to just play around with perfumes and call them something like “Lola” after myself. If I was going to create a brand, I wanted it to be unique. I decided to couple it with the knowledge I had been amassing all my life through studying different philosophies and religions in my search for an answer to life’s fundamental questions: “Who am I?” and “What is the purpose of this journey we call life?”
This search led me to the ancient Chinese wisdom of Feng Shui. Thinking about a perfume house, I decided to explore it more deeply. Until now, nobody had transposed the language of the elements found in Feng Shui to the language of perfumery or linked this to each person’s unique personality. We are all very different, and according to Feng Shui, each individual has their own particular birth element, too. We created an application whereby you can enter the time and place of your birth and this generates information about your personal element.
As well as the five fundamental elements that are the building blocks of the world around us, Feng Shui also recognizes two aspects which permeate everything: male and female energy, or Yin and Yang. These two energies complement each other even though they are opposites. Without them, it’s impossible to imagine life or any activity on Earth. They give birth to the five elemental energies—Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal—which are in constant flux.
According to ancient Chinese philosophy, each of us is a composite of these five elements, but one will be predominantly stronger, so it’s important to harmonize all aspects of your energetic make up. When all these elements are balanced, your life will be in harmony; you will be in tune with yourself and with the world around you.
I decided to use this philosophy as the basis for my perfumes. Thanks to the famous French perfumer Guillaume Flavigny we succeeded in transposing the language of the five elements into the language of perfumery.
WW: In your Elements Guide, and the breakdown of notes for each fragrance, there’s a list of top, heart, and base notes, as well as the Yin and Yang details for each element. The chart maps out similarly to that of an astrological reading. What do you feel a chosen fragrance says about its user?
LT: Like music, scents have high notes that sparkle in the chords, and in perfume, these are usually floral, fruity scents. The top notes are generally the ones you smell first. The middle or “heart” notes could be described as the actual body of a fragrance. The base notes reverberate longer, as in music. As you wear the perfume, these layered scents gradually disperse so that the whole fragrance comes alive with each element. The layers in our elixirs vibrate in tune with the five elements, too, and the balance of the elements can affect various spheres of our life. Our Element Guide and charts look a bit like an astrological reading because they map out which elements you need to enhance to nurture a particular aspect of your life, such as love or creativity.
When someone chooses one of our fragrances, their choice actually says as much about who they would like to become as it does about their personality. When you are choosing a Harmonist fragrance you are also choosing which aspect of your personality, which sphere of your life, you’d like to harmonize or enhance. You can harness the power of the elements to balance relationships, increase your productivity in the office or boost your creativity, for example. Here, your choice combines both your birth element and what you desire. And of course, the scent you wear also depends on the occasion.
WW: How would you go about recommending a fragrance to someone who doesn’t know what they’re looking to wear?
LT: When we wear a particular scent, we create a certain atmosphere—a certain dimension around ourselves. Putting on a perfume is a bit like putting on our clothes, and just as our clothes say a lot about our personality, so does our perfume. You could say that a fragrance somehow embodies or is an extension of our individuality, our taste, our temperament, and so first and foremost we should feel comfortable wearing it.
My main advice would be to ask yourself what kind of smells give you a sense of well-being, make you feel good, and to choose a perfume that you feel at home with.
WW: Tell us a bit about your campaign, launched with the French director Bruno Aveillan.
LT: I told him about my idea, about how I envisaged the clip, and together we looked for a girl, a ballerina, who could express this Yin transformation through her grace and suppleness. We wrapped her in a flowing dress the same shade as the perfume bottle, and the result was fantastic. I’m really proud to say that this advert caused quite a stir on the perfume market. Some major brands have borrowed our idea, and that just goes to show that we are making beautiful, quality products.
WW: Tell us a bit about your two new upcoming fragrances—Sun Force and Moon Glory—that make up the “Prequel” collection. The scents embody the twin energies of Yin and Yang and pay tribute to the sun and moon. Can you tell us a bit about these?
LT: The fragrance Moon Glory embodies Yin energy while its partner or twin scent, Sun Force, embodies Yang energy. The [Moon Glory] scent itself is an enigmatic, potent, emotionally charged elixir. For the top notes we used jasmine from the Hawaiian Islands because it has more depth. It’s sweeter and the floral palette is more saturated than in all other types of jasmine. We also used ylang ylang flowers from the Comoros for the top notes. The pearly feel of the fragrance comes from the queen of the night flowers that bloom in Mexico. The new Sun Force fragrance is bursting with citrusy notes as well as exotic wood and rose, all powerfully embodying Yang energy.
The new twin fragrances are packaged in subtle beige boxes while the bottles themselves are silver and gold respectively to symbolize the luster of moonlight and the gleam of sunbeams. Our Prequel Collection is a limited-edition of 2,000 bottles, and each bottle comes with a numbered medallion designed as an artful platform for the perfume bottle.
WW: You also collaborated with Los Angeles-based tattoo artist Dr. Woo on an image for this collection. Can you tell us a bit about this?
LT: We met through his work a couple of years ago. He has a very distinctive style and has collaborated with several major companies. When I had the idea of creating twin perfumes dedicated to the sun and moon, I immediately had a vision of Dr. Woo’s work. I love his unique style, his distinctive depictions of constellations and celestial bodies, so I invited him to collaborate with The Harmonist to create a visual impression of the Sun and Moon. Dr. Woo created a wonderfully feminine image of the moon, a growing crescent moon in demi-profile with pretty charms around it. It’s playful, very reflective and sensitively represents female emotion and the great maternal force.
WW: Your ethos is rooted in a respect for the environment. Tell us a bit about how you’re utilizing recycled materials whenever possible—from the perfume bottles and the packaging, to the wax.
LT: The Harmonist ethos rests on the philosophy of the five elements that make up the world around us, so naturally our brand advocates an environmentally friendly and responsible approach to all aspects of our business, not just packaging. The importance we place on balance and harmony extends to the company’s concern for environmental sustainability, too, and we are very much aware of this when sourcing ingredients for our fragrances, for instance. As well as checking for quality, we also opt for natural essential oils that are sourced sustainably and ethically. The vegetal waxes we use for our candles are a good example.
Our fundamental respect for the environment prompted us to make a conscious choice to use recyclable materials wherever possible. At first glance our packaging may seem too deluxe to be eco-friendly, but it is. And not only can our perfume bottles be recycled, they are refillable, too.
WW: Can you tell us a bit more about this refill program?
LT: Clients can simply buy refill tubes that help keep packaging to a minimum. Since each bottle is opaque that protects the vitality of the precious perfumes, our fragrances last longer.
As a perfume house promoting natural balance, we would like to encourage other companies to invest in the development of a whole range of materials that go into producing environmentally friendly products. It’s time to replace outdated materials with more ecological ones with a shorter breakdown time. I’d love to see major brands paying more attention to this, investing in the development of such materials and promoting them. On a positive note, an increasing number of eco-friendly products are now becoming more economically viable so that will encourage manufacturers to switch their packaging habits, too.
WW: The Harmonist is based in Paris and Los Angeles. What about these two locations provide inspiration to you and the brand?
LT: Both cities mean a lot to me, and I see many similarities between them. I lived and worked in Paris for many years, and now I live in L.A. Our fragrances are made in France so Paris is where our perfumes are born. I think Paris and L.A. have a lot in common. Like Parisians, people from L.A. have a highly developed sense of themselves—they’re aware of their complexities and understand them, but they’re always keen to explore themselves further.
In both Paris and L.A., most people are open-minded individuals who are open to new cultures, too. L.A. has become a modern capital and is gaining popularity among influencers, Instagrammers, and fashionistas who come to the city to see this fabulous world for themselves and get a sense of L.A. style. That’s why these two cities are important for us, for our brand, and that’s why our flagship stores are in Paris and L.A.
WW: Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with art? Does it impact the way you see the world around you?
LT: Art gives us the chance to make this world a more beautiful place. Seeing beauty around us, we are inspired to create something beautiful ourselves. Art awakens in us the function of a creator and we realize we have this capacity of giving life to something wonderful. Art is a way of self-expression. I believe there is a lot of beauty around us and it can be present everywhere, in every second of your life.
Art can make us stop and think about this fleeting life. It encourages us to pause and reflect. Art can also encourage a person to be better. It can inspire us, even heal us. That’s why I see art as one of the highest expressions of human nature. It has a special place in my life.