Do you remember a time around 2005 when only a handful of "niche" perfume brands were available at most department stores? In my recollections of that era, Miller Harris was one such entity that had been granted generous counter space at the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship. I was intrigued by Miller Harris's British identity, its interpretations of various botanical themes, the little strips of gray grosgrain ribbon that were used instead of paper blotters, and the vintage-looking illustrations on the fragrances' bottles and boxes. As much as I admired perfumer Lyn Harris's style however, I never found a scent from that line that quite suited me.
Any number of things can happen over a decade or more: personal tastes shift, brands change ownership (and creative direction) and perfumers keep evolving in their work. On a recent trip to London, I stopped into the Miller Harris boutique at Covent Garden and purchased a sample set. I also visited Lyn Harris's Perfumer H boutique, to smell the work she's been doing since departed from Miller Harris in 2015. More on that latter point next time, but for now, here are a few thoughts on some newish Miller Harris scents I've been trying over the past couple of weeks.
Last year, Miller Harris launched Myrica Muse (not shown), a fruity floral fragrance created by perfumer Emilie Bouge. Myrica is inspired by "the aperitif moment": "A stolen pause, enjoyed alone, quiet, elegant and in reflection for the joy to come. Walking in the early evening sun and stopping to sit outside a café." The list of notes for Myrica Muse sounds fruity and gourmand-leaning: strawberry, bayberry, tangerine, pink pepper, rose, patchouli, rum, vanilla, benzoin, jasmine, lily of the valley, musk, amber and sandalwood. However, in keeping with the "aperitif" theme, the strawberry is more of a dried fruit than a freshly picked one, and the myrica (it's a red variety of bayberry here) is dusky and very slightly boozy. Myrica Muse's dry down is a muted amber. The whole thing reminds me slightly of Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir, with a lighter and more nuanced touch. Myrica Muse doesn't need to be reserved for cocktail hour — it's very versatile, and more all-gender than you might guess from its description.
The current best-seller for Miller Harris is Scherzo (shown at top), developed by perfumer Mathieu Nardin and released in 2018. This floral-amber fragrance includes notes of peony, maltol (a material often used as a caramel-like flavoring) and oud, as well as narcissus, pittosporum, tangerine, davana, olibanum and patchouli. Scherzo was one of two fragrances inspired by a passage in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel Tender is the Night: "...she walked on, between kaleidoscopic peonies massed in pink clouds, black and brown tulips and fragile mauve-stemmed roses, transparent like sugar flowers in a confectioner’s window—until, as if the scherzo of color could reach no further intensity, it broke off suddenly in mid-air..."
Scherzo doesn't feel in any way like a 1920s perfume, if that was what you were initially hoping — it's very present-day in its style — yet it does "illustrate" those written lines very well. When I wear Scherzo, I'm initially struck by its use of a contemporary oud note, one that's initially bitter and slightly astringent and softens into a mineral-woody accord more similar to ambergris. Then, like the pink of peonies and roses distracting our eye from the darker tulips of Fitzgerald's imagined garden, a sweet floral bouquet gradually surges to the forefront and gives us a warm synthetic-sugar hug. Scherzo's confectionery blossoms are more restrained than, say, the ones you'll find in Prada Candy or Viktor & Rolf Bonbon, but if you loved either of those fragrances in the past and you've been looking for a toned-down iteration of the caramelized-flower theme, you should track down some Scherzo.
Lastly, I've been trying Peau Santal (shown below), another Mathieu Nardin composition launched in 2018. The Miller Harris website spotlights Peau Santal's notes of pink pepper, olibanum and sandalwood, and earlier descriptions also mention saffron, papyrus, cashmere woods, amber, moss, vanilla, bergamot and violet leaf. True to its name, this is a sandalwood fragrance that dries down to a skin scent. It has some hints of green and citrus in its introduction, but it's primary a creamy, slightly nutty cedar-sandalwood blend with a soft, sueded-musk base. To my relief, Peau Santal is not another Le Labo Santal 33 knock-off; instead, it feels like the lost grandchild of L'Artisan Parfumeur Bois Farine and Safran Troublant.
Please allow me to go on a semi-tangent here: when it comes to shopping for niche perfume, 2023 is a very different moment from 2005. On one hand, there are plenty of playful D.S. & Durga-descendant perfumes (Snif, Boy Smells, et al.) being marketed to Generation Z; on the other, there are scores of $400 oud-bombs wrapped in black and gold that seem created for the sole purpose of lining the TikTok influencers' shelves. All in all, there's just too much.
What about the person seeking some perfumes that aren't too commonplace yet are broadly pleasing, wearable in various contexts, offered in packaging that's modern yet still pretty, and not being sold at ridiculously high price points? While I continue working my way through my Miller Harris sample set (a tea fragrance named Tea Tonique, a very pretty rose soliflore called Rose Silence, and so on), I'm mentally noting this brand as a good one to recommend for these reasons. Have you tried anything from Miller Harris over the past few years? What did you think?
Miller Harris Myrica Muse, Scherzo and Peau Santal are each available in 50 and 100 ml Eau de Parfum. Some matching body products are also available. For purchasing information, see the listing for Miller Harris under Perfume Houses.
Thank you so much Jessica, I’m in the UK so I have no excuse for the fact that I haven’t tried the newish Miller Harris. Contrary to your experience I found many to love in the older MH offerings, first of all l’Air de Rien which remains so unique to this day, also, Jasmin Vert, La Fumée Maroc and Fleur Oriental, all these I really like and have, those are all discontinued now although l’Air de Rien has at least once made a come-back. More recently acquired, Rose Slilence and Tea Tonique have also entered my collection.
I’ll be curious to read your thoughts on Perfumer H, I admire the classicism of Lyn Harris.
I’m very tempted by Rose Silence…simple yet so pretty. I have a voucher to put towards a full-sized bottle, but I’m taking my time to decide! Violet Ida is another possibility.
“Classicism” is a great word for Lyn Harris’s work. It really doesn’t respond to trends, and although she obviously takes nature as a major inspiration, her work feels so sculpted and balanced.
I quite like Etui Noir, which reminds me of L’Artisan Dzongkha, though not nearly as striking. Lumiere Dore is also pleasant. Some of the new MH scents give me an instead headache, though—must be something in the base I cannot abide. Thanks for your reviews!
I liked Etui Noir when I gave it a quick sniff, so that will be one of my next tries! There’s plenty to sample…there was one that I sniffed in the shop that didn’t quite agree with me (possibly from that “exclusifs”-type collection?) but many of the others feel very easy on my skin. And sometimes, I do just want something that’s a simple pleasure!
I have not had the chance to sample anything from the MH brand but I’m chiming in to say that perfumer Mathieu Nardin is also the nose behind most (if not all) the fragrances of Bastide Aix En Provence (formerly Côte Bastide), including my favorite amber, Ambre Maquis. He’s a talented young man! And quite busy, it seems!
You’re right — -his name does keep popping up these days! and I need to revisit that brand. It’s stocked at a NYC pharmacy that I just don’t pass very often these days, unfortunately.
Thank you for the lovely reviews Jessica..as always on point.
Miller Harris was one of the few real niche brands I came across in the late 90/early 2000, along with Annick Goutal and Diptyque.
They were pretty hard to find anywhere, so I could only get the chance on sniff and buy when I visit Paris or London.
It was a great time to be individual and not feel like everyone smelled the same.
Now niche is basic. It’s everywhere and every brand can slap a label on a clear pharmacy like bottle with some sandalwood/oud perfume that’s been done too many times and charge $400!
Niche use to be fun, interesting and sometimes provocative and daring.
It’s rare to find any good niche that actually care for the perfume craft more than making money,
But I hear good things about Perfumer H and I can’t wait to read your thoughts about it.
I do miss those days of slowly getting to know one brand at a time…Goutal, Diptyque, Rosine, the first wave of Malles, small US-based brands like Regina Harris and Antonia’s Flowers and Aroma M and Beth Terry. Each brand had its own artistic identity. And even the designer perfumes were more appealing to me at the time, because I could learn them one by one and not feel overwhelmed by constant flankers and “exclusive” collections.
I do still come across new brands and releases that I enjoy and want to recommend, fortunately, but the noise-to-signal ratio can be deafening.
I really was impressed by Perfumer H. More about that soon!
Remember even designer perfumes used to be daring and quite amazing? Those were the days before a flankers was a major thing *sigh*
Oh I was a major fan of Beth Terry’s perfumes. I used so many bottles of Té and Mare. I wish that she kept making perfumes but I think the brand was discontinued a long time ago, sadly.
I do as well, it’s not that often but when it happens, I’m very excited.
I’m so pleased you are impressed with Perfumer H
Thank you for reviewing these. I’ve never found a Miller Harris I wanted to wear but recently I fell in love with White Smoke by Perfumer H. And you really made me want to try Myrica Muse!
With both Miller Harris and Perfumer H, it was exciting to walk into a boutique for the first time and try some perfumes I have no way of purchasing in person in NYC and had never smelled before. I’ve been feeling pretty jaded for a while, I guess.
I was able to try a few dabber samples of the older Miller Harris scents before they became “ungettable”. I really liked Fleurs de Sel and L’Air de Rien but did not have the funds for full bottles before they disappeared.
And I forgot Rose En Noir! That one was lovely!
I liked Fleurs de Sel, iirc! just not *on* me. That applied to several of the older MH fragrances.
The idea of time travel just for perfume-shopping is something that appeals to me…
Interesting review! I was just thinking yesterday that I really miss Robin’s reviews, but also grateful to still have your periodic reviews, Jessica. “All in all, there’s just too much” sums up how I feel. I appreciate those brands that slowly and thoughtfully release new scents and surprise me.
May be time for a trip across the pond.
I miss Robin’s reviews, too.