"Life is the ultimate ingredient" – Loc Dong, Penhaligon's perfumer and Mr. Harrod creator
Where England and the East meet
L oc Dong is one of the industry's most iconic perfumers, known as the nose behind scents including Yves Saint Laurent's Manifesto, Calvin Klein's Euphoria, Michael Kors' Island and now Penhaligon's The Remarkable Success of Mr. Harrod. Crafted into the symbolic Harrod's bear, the scent comprises of 111 ingredients, blended to tell the perfect story. Here Dong discusses the story behind the perfume's creation as well as his olfactive journey beginning in his grandfather's botanical garden in Vietnam...
How did you get your start in the fragrance industry?
My olfactory education began in Saigon at the age of six with my grandpa, an herbalist. Years later, while studying for a career in medicine, I took a summer job at a fragrance laboratory which reminded me of my first love and changed my career path. I began my training in perfumery and never regretted my decision.
Your first and best olfactive memory?
My grandfather's botanical garden in Vietnam! As a child I would spend the day with him and help him gather medicinal plants, some aromatic, others floral, with an overall earthy scent surrounding the lush vegetation.
Tell us about the inspiration and construction of Mr. Harrod?
Within the Penhaligon's portrait collection, Mr. Harrod is an English self-made man who brought the best of the world to London's connoisseurs, but he's also Lady Blanche's former friend. It had to be a story about foreign ingredients and sensuality, hence the exotic spices and woods, and the sensuality of Jasmine, ambergris and juicy fruits. The fragrance is masculine, bewildering and precious.
I wouldn't say Mr. Harrod is a Middle Eastern fragrance, it is a blend of many influences making England and the East meet in harmony
What's your ultimate ingredient for a fragrance?
What is the best part of your job?
Newness! As a perfumer you are constantly playing with natural raw materials. Nature is very complex and unpredictable. My job consists of finding the right marriage and balance between the ingredients to create a memorable fragrance.
How do you use moodboards to build a fragrance?
Penhaligon's provided me with a moodbord and a story about Mr. Harrod. So the moodboard displayed iconic views of the Harrod's store as well as elegant early century people. The overall feeling was extremely luxurious. In this moodboard there was a drawing of Mr. Harrod — elegant, refined and mysterious, a key inspiration for his fragrance.
Why is perfume a good vehicle for storytelling?
Because scent is directly linked to memory and emotions, it has an amazing evocative power that can make you travel through time and space immediately.
How long did it take you to design the fragrance?
A few months. The project was very inspiring so I had the idea of what I was looking for quite fast.
How many ingredients did you actually put into the formula to create Mr. Harrod?
Mr. Harrod is a rich fragrance composed of exactly 111 ingredients.
What makes Mr Harrod so unique today?
Like Harrod's, Mr. Harrod is a blend of many influences resulting in a harmonious and luxurious ensemble.
Mr Harrod is very rich. Was this fragrance created for the Middle East market?
Yes I did have Middle Eastern perfumery in mind when creating Mr. Harrod, because it is a big part of Harrod's identity. It's this idea of bringing luxurious influences from all over the world to Londoners.
What does the Harrods store represent to you?
Refinement, luxury and history.
Which perfume do you wear?
I don't wear perfume. I only wear creations that I'm currently working on.
What do you think about oud?
Oud is one of those fragrance ingredients that nearly stands as a fragrance in itself. Full of facets it is sensual, leathery, woody, smoky almost animalic. It is also one of the most precious ingredients in perfumery and is very linked to Middle Eastern high perfumery.
Why is oud is so popular today?
I think it brings preciousness to fragrances at a time when people seek more and more quality in their perfumes.
The Remarkable Success of Mr. Harrod is now available exclusively at Pengalihon's, Harrod's, Knightsbridge, London. Also, don't miss another remarkable scent story, as Kilian Hennessy recounts why "oud is a gorgeous raw material".