Stepping into Douglas Little’s Upper East Side apartment-slash-Heretic Parfum HQ is like entering a darkly alluring world of wonder, where everything from the hypnotic scent in the air to the curiosities that abound engage all five senses. It’s not surprising to learn that the mastermind behind the newly launched line of fragrance has a background in visual communication—his rock ‘n roll, artisanal twist on decadence is apparent in every corner of the space. But despite a knack for curating visually extraordinary vignettes, it’s the power of scent that has always appealed to him most.
“I’ve always been fascinated with this invisible world that has the instant ability to transform the mundane into the extraordinary,” explains Little. “Fragrance is wildly subjective and communicates with our conscious and subconscious in a mysterious and seductive way.” With that in mind, this past March he launched Heretic, a nonconformist line of fragrances for both men and woman that uses only natural materials like oils and plant extracts.
Below, Little explains in his own words the journey of his startup.
Fragrance and scent development have been an integral part of my career and artwork since the beginning. Many years ago, I discovered natural perfuming and became obsessed. Up to that point, I had previously been developing synthetic fragrances for cosmetic and home use. While there is nothing wrong with synthetic fragrances, I felt that the materials were not authentic and wanted to pursue the idea of a line of fine fragrances composed from 100% natural materials. I wanted to showcase natural fragrances in a new way, without the usual hippy/granola connotations.
For me, nature is both incredibly beautiful and dangerous. It’s a balance of light and dark, the masculine and feminine, the wild and sacred, erotic and seductive. I wanted to develop a brand that allowed me to explore the sexy, feral, and mysterious aspects of what grows all around us.
I made the decision to launch the brand three years ago. I had been working on fragrances for the line for many years and decided that it was time to manifest my vision and bring the ideas to reality. The name for the company happened almost by accident—I was speaking at a trending conference for cosmetics and fragrance, and I spoke passionately about the future of natural perfumes. Another person speaking debated my point, saying natural perfuming was not serious and the work of heresy due to the material cost and availability. I was enamored with the fact that this person referred to natural perfuming as heresy—the word conveying an opinion profoundly at odds with what is generally accepted. The name and meaning could not have been a more perfect fit for my brand. In the world of fragrance, 100% natural perfume is at odds with what is generally accepted in the industry. The materials are expensive, challenging to obtain, and do not appeal to every nose. I’m not looking to appeal to the masses; I’m looking to appeal to the individual that is looking for something special.
The turning point for Heretic was securing production and financing. I had met with many potential partners, but nothing felt like the right fit. The unique brand required a partner that would allow me to spread my wings yet keep the business on track. After much searching, I found a partner that has allowed me to stay true to my vision and is able to manage the production. The day I showed Heretic to Barneys was both incredibly nerve-wracking and exciting. I had no idea what the reaction would be! The meeting was a fever pitch of excitement, and thankfully, the buyers were thrilled to see a line of natural fine fragrances and loved the aesthetic and ideas behind the brand.
I run Heretic from my home office on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The building I live in was built in the late 1800s and has tremendous character and charm. I set up my perfumery in my living room and use this space to custom-blend all of my pilot batches. I also do custom blending, fragrance workshops, and the creative development for the brand from this space. My apartment is a direct reflection of both me and the brand: romantic, eccentric, historically inspired, and irreverent. It is the perfect place to be seduced by the world of natural perfume.
The most major thing for me is how exciting it is to see press and figureheads within the fragrance industry have positive reactions to the brand and fragrances. It’s so rewarding to receive emails from people expressing how thrilled they are that Barneys now carries a collection of natural fragrances. Beyond that, another major moment was when my girlfriend abandoned her signature fragrance and started wearing Heretic—this made me a very happy man!
I have to bring it back to my perfume mentor, Mandy Aftel. I’ve studied with Mandy for many years, and she has been a great friend, teacher, and inspiration along my path. She’s been a pioneer in the natural fragrance world and paved the way for many of us to go out on our own and pursue careers within this alchemical art form.
THE BEST PART
I love turning people on to this captivating, intoxicating, and immersive world. I’d say that 99% of the population pays little attention to their sense of smell, let alone to the world of natural fragrance. Fragrance is mysterious and elusive. When I’m showing a fragrance to a person, they often struggle to find adjectives to describe what they’re smelling. That’s when the magic happens. As humans, we connect on a different level and engage in dialog that we rarely have with one another. In essence, we are connecting on a more visceral and real level. Smell is the one sense that is directly connected to the brain. It is the reason that odors can trigger vivid memories and unlock hidden worlds. I feel lucky to get the incredible opportunity to engage with people in this capacity.
My goal with this brand is to explore fragrance in new ways with new ideas and provocative product development. This coming fall, I’ll be conducting fragrance workshops and traveling to Barneys locations across the U.S. to do custom blending seminars and meet shoppers. Also this fall, I begin a campaign called I AM HERETIC that spotlights and celebrates individuals and eccentricity.