The Menswear Style Podcast

Jon Graham, CEO at Miller Harris

June 02, 2021 Menswear Style Episode 128
The Menswear Style Podcast
Jon Graham, CEO at Miller Harris
Show Notes Transcript

Miller Harris is a couture British fragrance house, founded in 2000, with a spirit of bespoke fragrance creation at its heart. The brand is committed to using beautiful natural materials whilst pushing creative boundaries. The brand was founded by ground-breaking perfumer Lyn Harris who worked with world-renowned fragrance house Robertet in France in her early career, and was one of the first female master perfumers. The aesthetic of her perfumes was inspired by stories, memories and the very finest natural ingredients. When creating fragrances, they start with nature, framing precious botanicals in complex ways and finding richness in simplicity. They strive to use natural ingredients (which are all ethically and sustainably sourced), rather than synthetics, which they will only use where there is no raw alternative.  Miller Harris breathes colour and life into the classic perfumer’s art, with couture fragrances that combine Parisian elegance with London’s eclectic street styles. They start with nature – with distinct greens and woods, with carefully sourced floral notes – but they frame these precious botanicals in complex and unconventional ways, harmonising them to create striking contemporary urban stories.

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Jon Graham, CEO at Miller Harris about his background working for British brands such as Floris, Molton Brown, and Whittard of Chelsea. 12 months ago, he started his latest role at the modern heritage brand, Miller Harris London Perfumer, which has two stores in central London.  Our host Peter Brooker and Jon also talk about the emotional connection of fragrance, how the brand has adapted through Covid-19, how picking a scent is a personal choice, how to choose fragrances for occasions, and how their latest release aims to capture optimism in a bottle.

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Hello and welcome to another episode of the men's wear style podcast. I'm your host Pete Brooker. On this episode I'm going to talk to john Graham, CEO of Miller Harris. Now Miller Harris, they breathe life and colour into the classic perfumers art with couture fragrances that combine Parisian elegance with London's eclectic street styles. They start with nature with distinct greens and woods with carefully sourced floor notes. But they framed these precious botanicals in complex and unconventional ways. harmonising them to create striking contemporary urban stories. And you can familiarise yourself with the collections over at Miller harris.com. And here is john, in his own words, telling me how it all began for him. So, I mean, I joined Mila Harris, about a year ago, I have a long history of working with British brands in a few categories, so I mean way back way back when I started. And I don't know if you're old enough to remember this retailer Pete by started in our price records and records. You bet your kid You bet I bet. And I worked on the shop floor and that had a business culture whereby if you worked on the shop floor, you could become a director and I found it completely inspiring. And it's sort of started this 30 odd year career and, and so anyway, I joined Matt Harris and the 12 months ago previously, I'd spent nearly seven years heritage brand called florists, florists, London, the only perfumer to her majesty, the queen is their chief executive there for seven years. And prior to that molten Brown, we're tired of Chelsea, you can see a theme running through my career, it's their beautiful set of brands. And really what attracted me to to it is is the aspect of travelling it was getting paid to travel fundamentally It's why I got into that kind of business and and I get to travel all over the world and and position brand Britain and all the major retailers and markets everywhere. From from the USA to Asia to me, it's it's, it's the whole world is global. And Miller Harris is a brand has been what we refer to as a modern heritage brand. But it's been around by for around 20 years, just over 20 years. And we started by master perfumer Lynn Harris, and and we continue that legacy. And we have a couple of stores in the UK. We have a generic online business. And we sell via third party retailers such as Selfridges and both on the shop floor and online. And then we have a an international business. So we operate in Germany and in Japan and wherever, wherever you want. Yeah, so I mean, if you were to take a look on the website, you can find stockists all over the UK so you can just punch in your address and if you're in London, and you'll be able to find you guys down Covent Garden and and Monmouth Street. You guys still Yeah, yeah, yeah, we have two stores. And it's unusual because they're so close together. I mean, they're they're five minutes different but but the way the environment couldn't be more different. Actually. Covent Garden is, is primarily tourists driven families out for a day out coming to the Big Smoke. Mama street is more local, actually is people buying coffee hanging about everyone knows everyone in the street. It's a lovely environment. And a lovely set of brands on one the street actually is a sort of enclave of of independent, independent brands, and you're gonna see some really nice things there. Yeah, say the coffeehouse is very famous and I know that I don't think I've ever got a coffee in there because there's always a queue around the block you know, just need to wait in line or book ahead. I think sometimes, but it's a very simple very, very serious business in there as well. They take it very seriously. So no tea is sold. Right and, and they there is theatre to to the process of buying a coffee, which is people love that. That's that that's what we do in in fragrance. That's what we used to do in to create that theatre that that means you are no longer a commodity. Yeah. So yeah, we try and try and do what they do to know if That's a great place to be. And just dialling back to our price. I remember I bought my very first record from our price. It was by candy stat and you've got the love and it was sold to me by a girl called Lucy pike because I was in love with her. I was in love. I was only about 10 and I was just like, I was so scared to buy this record of this beautiful girl behind the counter. And I said you've got the love thank you very much and I just blushed Well, it's it's interesting I mean you talk about I've always worked so music has has this emotional connection to for me and to me when I worked at wit it also had that connection and then then I moved into fragrance which I always wanted to do and the emotion there that is involved in the purchasing smelling of memory of fragrance is it's it blows candy stand out of the water it's and and but also in maybe a bit darker way. So if I if I smell poisoned by Dior, it takes me right back to being 13 and fail failing miserably with it with a with a young woman. I won't I won't mention on here. But then it has that power to transport you back inside like music. Yeah, but it's more powerful. So it's really, really quite an incredible thing. That's so interesting. Yeah, there's so much emotional nostalgia that you can be enmeshed with with certain fragrances. And you know, some of the some of the heritage fragrances if you're dealing with different different brands, they've they've been producing fragrances for hundreds of years. So you can smell like they smell back then I mean, the ingredients will have changed because we've got a bit more conscious in the way that we manufacture fragrances. But essentially, they're the same fragrances or the same fragrances that historical characters walk. I mean, that's quite a quite a thing. Right? Can you talk a little bit about some of the fragrances with Mila Harris and how you you guys distinguish yourself from other perfume houses? Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we like I mentioned earlier, we refer to ourselves as a modern heritage brand. And we look for the natural beauty in an urban landscape. We're very much a London brand. I mean, this is where we were born, it's where we're inspired. It's where we where we build our stories from. And whilst we are inspired by the concrete environment, our need to be natural to see the green in the city. I think 47% of London is green, to be inspired by that as well. is absolutely how we differentiate ourselves. So we we were pioneering naturals before naturals became cool. And we work with our with our fragrance houses, to to source natural ingredients. They're all ethically sourced and sustainably sourced where we can and where there's no rural tentative so that's a key part of Miller Harris. I think we also we take a single fragrance say a say a rose, which is a traditional fragrance in, in, in in perfume world and we frame that in a complex way or we we twist in some ways so so so maybe it has rows with a with some Kashmir and some some black currents and Mandarin and sandalwood and musk to add to add more complexity to it. So rose on the surface of it sounds Yeah, that's that's, that's interesting, but actually, no, it's not. But when you add in that complexity of of the city of the green of the city of the inspiration that the perfumers take from the space, then becomes interesting. And I think we are whilst we we position ourselves as a luxury brand, we're completely accessible. Luxury has, can have bad PR think things are changing. But we we refer to our brand as being accessible luxury, you don't have to be an aficionado to you. You don't have to walk into the store and be embarrassed by your, by your lack of knowledge. So glad you said that because I think that actually is quite a bridge for people to get over. If if they don't really know what they're smelling and the and it could be basic notes. I'll give you an example of when I went to the aisle of IRA and a gentleman there was giving me a tour of all the botanicals on the island for the for the gin that they were producing and he just picks jumping off the ground and goes right now. tasis. Got it? It's pretty familiar guys. Yeah, what is it? Jesus? I don't know, basil. Lemon, it was just simple lemon. And I didn't, I couldn't even I couldn't even nail it. But you have this if you if you get it wrong, there's always this kind of embarrassment that someone feels. So yeah, I'm pleased you said that. Yeah, and I think the luxury business, whatever it is, has to get away what we certainly feel like we have to go, I'm happy to sell my product to anyone. And I think that that confidence when a customer comes in, is very appealing. They're not going to they're not going to get laughed out of the building. And I think it's I think it's just about being confident about who your brand is, you you become cool by not being cool. If you know, I mean, I think sometimes brands can try and be too cool when we're not trying to be too cool. We are who we are, and therefore we are cool. So it's it's, it's it's that accessibility that that we strive for. If someone if someone wants to take that step up from what we would call meth stage or premium fragrances to luxury fragrances, we would be a natural step up with. Just because of the way we look, the colours that we have, the ingredients we use. It's a simple decision, I think, for people to move on up. And so that probably gives you an idea about Yeah, it's nicely framed. And yeah, you're cool. Yeah, I like that. You're cool. Because you don't know you're cool. I say that to my girlfriend all the time. I say, Look, I'm hot, I'm hot. Because I don't know I'm hot. You know, I just walk around generally being like, good looking, and bashing. But I don't know. And that's what makes me and then she tells me to go out and get the career. seen as you try to force something. It becomes challenging for the people that you're targeting. So we try not to do that we are accessible luxury, and we we welcome anyone into our boutiques, and we are happy to as I was at as our price, I am happy to talk to you about the things that I'm interested in for our and educate you about fragrance and what it is and how you wear it and why you would wear it and what it tells you and I'm curious for heritage brand. Do you release regular new lines or regular fragrances? I mean, you mentioned flora, sir, I know that they rarely produce. And I hope I've got this right, but they rarely produce new fragrances. They rarely put new releases out there. Because they're mainly heritage brand. Are you kind of on the same fret of that. Is that? Is that what you guys did? No, we're not actually I mean, and that that brand relies on its heritage said there there are a couple of fragrances that people have worn over over hundreds of years. No, we we like to Pathfinder a little bit. We're working with some of the greatest performers in the world and and whilst we're a commercial business, there has to be a balance of creativity as well. Some of its trends driven, we tend not to follow trends, I don't like to follow trends. I like timeless classics if I can. But no, we are just about to launch a new fragrance in on June the third. And so we are looking for opportunities within our fragrance career, we may find there's a there's a key fragrance that's missing from there. We may think that it's a trend and there's an opportunity. Or we may want to do something completely different. I know in certain brands that have worked in the past they've launched product that's completely controversial in terms of fragrance because it generates PR is there Marmite products and maybe we would produce a fragrance like that? I think we have a responsibility to move fragrance forward? I think naturally you do because the way that ingredients are harvested is changing customer. The customer wants something different. And there's there's there's a huge move to clean beauty obviously, that's happening so that that gives you an opportunity to change or or to learn something new. So no, we don't rely on our heritage. Our heritage is very, very important to us. But we have to move forward. So we're forward thinking brand and no more so than the time that we are currently living in actually. I mean we've changed everything that we do. The way we work and how we communicate, you know, imagine trying to sign off a fragrance sell on a zoom call, right? I mean, maybe you can touch upon that just quickly how, how is it been in the last year with all the obstacles that have been thrown in front of you and every other business? admittedly, but how have you guys dealt and adapted to it? Well, we we are because we're small, we're nimble. We have we have this attitude. Anyway, we have this attitude pre pandemic, which is, is is nimble, entrepreneurial, move fast, be flexible. But also be online. We are very focused on our digital strategy. So a lot of our customers, we had to shut our stores. And the government told us we had to shut the store. So we had to find other ways of, of generating income. Online became very important. How sales of hand wash became, and hard soaps actually. Yeah, I've been getting glasses, I answer those. Yeah, yeah. renascence of the hard side one, one because of the pandemic to because of the ethics of packaging and plastic, single use plastics, etc. so that that's changed the way that we communicate. I mean, how we hold meetings, we just have to think differently. And who's involved in a meeting? And there have been some real positives, actually, I found certainly, with our international partners, we've probably spoken more with them than any time in history, but better than networking and connecting and relationships. Yeah. Yeah. And it's just a different way of humans are beautifully adaptable, and to adapt is to survive. So we've just had to adapt. We've had to be very conscious actually, of, you know, some, some people aren't as old and as and as boring as if they want to, they want to be in offices going out for lunch with their buddies and drinking until the early hours after work. So we've had to be very aware of that. It's been very difficult to manage that but even just just checking in occasionally, just an email to everyone or a phone call or maybe a social event. Online. It's it's been about it's not just about the trading piece of the business. It's about keeping everyone engaged keeping everyone laughs keeping everyone healthy. Yeah. That's probably been the biggest challenge I would say the trading but we've just we've just moved everything online. But yeah, keeping keeping people motivated incentivized and just nurturing those relationships where where you can't do a close quarters that's that's the key right? Yeah, you know that in an office you you you pick up things you just naturally hearing things that that's disappeared. So you've he got to adapt it to that I think as well. Things can get missed easily. JOHN Papp said you can school me and a couple of things that I I wanted to know maybe along the broader subjects of fragrances that you could cater for say office wear black tie you know first date maybe perhaps you can give us a couple of pointers on what to look for in a fragrance for these and even suggest some from obviously from Mila Harris. Yeah. What is there is a really interesting question because I mean, I'm I'm thinking about that from my perspective, as a as a 50 something year old man. But actually, it's an art and I can go into into what I would what I would choose for, for things like that badly. It's all it's very much personal choice. And fragrance has changed over the past 20 years or so. I mean, my mum would wear Chanel number five and on a Monday and she'd wear on a Tuesday and a Wednesday and for the next 4050 6070 years it would never change that was her her scent that was her fragrance. The modern way of buying fragrances using buying and wardrobes. So going back to music, you wouldn't listen to the same music every day you you wouldn't eat the same food every day. Well, you wouldn't wear I wouldn't wear the same fragrance every day and I pick pick fragrances for occasion. They're they're the jewellery that the cherry on the top, they're just the final piece of your outfit. And they should complement your mood, where you're going, what you're wearing, who you want to impress. It should be part of your personality. So it's very difficult for me to say you should be doing this slide happy. You need to come and talk talk to us and we will create a fragrance wardrobe for you whether we do that online. Whether or not you do that in the store, that's, that's, that's possible but something for me. I mean, if I was going into the office, I don't want to, I don't want to stink the place out. So I'll do something subtle. But but but oozes quiet confidence is something like a tea tonic from our range. And that's, that's a sort of tea inspired Earl Grey esque floral. But with a little bit of earth to it. And a little bit of birch to it, maybe a bit of spice of nutmeg. There's not going to be overpowering. You don't want to be sitting in a meeting room with with me and an ood fragrance. Did he just come back from Dubai showing off now. Someone opened the windows. And I think I mean, I haven't been on a on a on a first date for for many years I've been in a relationship. Maybe maybe a business lunch perhaps I would wear something like a better there. We have the beautiful better, they're better insolent, which is greens in woods and peppers. And that just suit that suits my personality really. And that would absolutely compliment my my, my outfit, my date who I am that that that reeks of me. reeks is probably not the right word to use. So put that on the poster. Yeah. And then for a black tie when something super stylish, right? I mean, you you want to feel like James Bond or, or, or the belle of the ball and, and for me as a as a man of a while some of fragrances a unisex pleaded her back is is a tobacco fragrance that's got the Cerulean spice in it. And I am very much channelling my my inner James Bond, if I'm wearing that, I think it just gives you a little more spring in your step it's, it's, I wouldn't go out in one shoe. So I also wouldn't go out without a fragrance. Yeah, is is an essential part of it. The key is, like I say, fit the fragrance to your personality. be be be confident about who you are, don't try and be then try and be someone else. Again, going back to the philosophy of the effortless piece of of what we try to do as a brand, you know, be be confident about you. And so when we have a we have a huge range of fragrances, but I would suggest if people wanted to learn a bit more, get into one of the boutiques, and the guys, they're absolutely fantastic experts in their field. And you can just go through the whole range, you'll come out with two or three. Sometimes I'm wearing a fragrance in the morning and a different fragrance in the afternoon. Is that is that you can really easy. Yeah, you can really get into it once you know it's a I hate to say this, but I've never watched Star Trek because I feel like if I had to watch a couple of episodes, and that's it, I'll have to watch the whole thing. go to conventions, you know, I don't want to kind of cross over into that world. Although I do love fragrances, I would just kind of go as soon as I have a sniff a couple of bowls. That's it. I'm now into that world. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And that is very, that's a very male trait in our world is less so in, in, in, in the female world, but men like collecting things, whether or not is train numbers, or records, or fragrances and we like to really delve into the into the stories and, and the ingredients and, and what it is and want to know a lot more about it. It's it's something that that that I like to do and makes what I do. Very enjoyable. So yeah, I've got ridiculous amounts of fragrance in my water, as I've got ridiculous amounts of tea and ridiculous records. Fantastic. That sounds like a wonderful place to have a tour of like through the keyhole. Yeah, let's say this smell of vinyl. Yeah, if you take a record out of a sleeve that's going to transport I think that's the that's the this medium of memory and emotion is really interesting to me. And it can change you. It can change your mood, wearing a fragrance that that that you love can shake and make everything good. Which is what we need now, right. So yeah, I thoroughly encourage people to have at least at least three fragrances on the go. Definitely. How would you How would you create a James Bond fragrance? I know, florists had the Fleming fragrance I forget the number was at 14 At night, thank you. Thank you. I'll admit that in post, so how would you go about doing something for around that sort of genre? Well, I mean, in terms of in terms of briefing, I can talk about the new fragrance that we've released something, we have a fundamental reason for releasing it. It's about optimism. We want to capture optimism in a bottle, we think we felt like the past 18 months has been pretty dull. very traumatic for for a lot of people. And there wasn't a huge amount of joy in the world. So. So I mean, that was the fundamental reasons for starting to create the framings. And then we started to look at music had become quite important to people. And there were a lot of playlist sharing. And I don't know if you were involved in those kinds of things. So so there was a playlist that was Yeah, that was a playlist that was was shared with the with the perfumers and the writing that kind of brief, and then allowing them to put that, that joy and optimism into a bottle for us to make a commercial product is is is down to them. They've got to recreate those, those those things. And that's the same, whether or not you want to create that that optimistic fragrance or whether or not you want to create a dark and stormy autumnal fragrance. We need to we need to give the perfumers as much inspiration as possible. They knew they know our brand, we wanted it to be natural. We wanted it to be London focused. So the music was London based. Yeah, and they come up with a bunch of options, and we will smell them. I pretend I know what I'm smelling. I'm not very well known in our business for being the one that can pick out the winner. And I leave that to the experts, frankly. But But yes, is that's how you would that's how you would create fragrance. But it was all driven by him by by wanting to throw a bit of sunshine into the world. Nice. Yeah, no, it's interesting. I didn't really factor in how you can capture emotions and it has to start with mood boards, but also everything else sensory, like your hit what you hear what you feel, you know, kind of appealing to your customer base. I mean take taking ingredients, you know, you can see on the television, if, if if there's a an advert that's aimed at 50 somethings, they will have music from my era of the 80s. to just add that more dimension to me want to purchase that product, we will do the same in free as we would if we wanted a target audience we will add a note in the hits that audience it could be candy floss, maybe we want a younger audience, maybe we want a younger female audience. It could be anything like that. So yeah, there's there's a huge amount of complexity into I'm skipping over 90% of what happens but but there's method behind the madness fragrance, we that we certainly don't i don't know what other brands do. But we don't produce fragrances because they're a nice to do. And there's always a reason. Because we you build the story around that. And the story is really important because the customer needs to trust that you have created something that they will like, and the trim off the trust comes authenticity. So when you've got when you've got all of those things, and you're talking to your customer and your customer trusts you then that's a good thing, right? Yeah. We're not gonna we're not going to make you purchase something that you don't like. Or you're or you feel like you're forced to buy, there's a reason to buy and the reasons are carefully thought through. Wonderful. Well done, congratulations on the on the product on the new release. By the time this comes out, then people can rush to either the online shop or come see you guys in person and and sample it in person up to you. When it's absolutely fantastic. Yeah. And yeah, I look very much look forward to getting down to one of the stores getting a coffee while I'm there and, and having an experienced it. Pleased to give you the grand tour. Yeah, no, that sounds terrific. And well, in the meantime, thanks, john. And enjoy the rest of your day. And it was a pleasure speaking to you. My pleasure. Thanks very much. Thanks. Thanks. Thank you. Thank you, john. Once more, you can check out the collections over at Miller harris.com and we'll leave all the details and links on the show. notes over at WWW dot menswear. style.co.uk and we're on the social at menswear style. Do give us a follow let us know you're listening and you want to be a guest on the show. Maybe Tell us about your brand and your journey. You can email us here at info at menswear style.co Uk until next time