Last year, only a few years after moving from Sweden to New York City, Jan Ahlgren launched Vilhelm Parfumerie—a line of niche fragrances that he developed here in the city working alongside an expert perfumer. Formerly in the fashion world, Ahlgren found the visually geared industry limiting and wanted to incorporate other senses, like smell. He was soon obsessed with the world of perfume. “In the beginning when I was new, it was just about pure passion and learning. The mission came with time. It’s basically to try to think outside the box and come up with new scents of the highest quality,” he explains.
Ahlgren chose the name Vilhelm after grandfather, also his own middle name. His earliest memory associated with fragrance comes from time spent together in the family’s Swedish country home. “It smelled of fresh cut grass. My scent Morning Chess is based on memories of my father playing chess against my grandfather in that house,” he says nostalgicly. “I have such fond memories of this home and my grandfather, who was kind of like a Cary Grant character—always impeccably dressed, extremely handsome, and charismatic.”
And while he describes himself as quintessentially Swedish, Ahlgren says it’s New York City’s energy that consistently keeps him inspired. “You have the best people in every field, including some of the best perfumers—they’re not just in Paris. It’s the toughest, most competitive city, but that creates people at the top of their field here. I’m from a small town in Sweden, so I still feel like I’m in a movie here sometimes. It always provides me inspiration. I love that everyone seems to have a home here, no matter where you’re from.”
He and his wife just bought a townhouse in Harlem, and the neighborhood is already inspiring new fragrances. “I’m launching a scent called Harlem Bloom this spring. It’s inspired by the garden we have there and the neighborhood community gardens. I love the energy of the area, the sense of community, and the diversity,” he explains. And while his adoptive hometown of New York is his greatest source of inspiration, ideas for scents still come from around the globe. His latest scent, Dirty Velvet—with notes of fig, tobacco leaf, sandalwood, and vetiver—is an ode to his favorite Left Bank hotel in Paris. “It’s a small, dimly lit hotel, and I love the atmosphere. It’s dirty in a sexy way—like it has stories.” he says with a twinkle in his eye. There’s no doubt that Ahlgren isn’t running out of stories—or fragrances—anytime soon.