By Khanh T.L. Tran. This article originally appeared on Los Angeles Times on March 28, 2019.
Much is said about the light in Los Angeles — from the film industry’s kliegs and red-carpet camera flashes to the pink-inflected sunsets and nighttime glow of downtown. But what about the city’s smells?
For Heretic Parfums founder Douglas Little, the scents he associates with his childhood in the San Fernando Valley — which he now blends at his fragrance lab in another part of L.A. near West Hollywood — include blooming roses, an occult store’s blend of incense and oils, and wild sage thriving in the canyons.
“Especially when the weather is like this, the plants are just burgeoning,” he said on a chilly February morning. “That to me is one of the most inspirational aspects of living and working in fragrance here.”
Since starting Heretic in 2015 in L.A., Little has created a niche for his contemporary and cerebral collection of unisex fragrances ($65 to $210) made with non-synthetic ingredients, including organic, non-GMO sugarcane alcohol.
In a residential garage converted into a tidy, white-tiled space, the 42-year-old artist and perfumer gathered paper, plastic droppers and other supplies for a fragrance-blending session. Each time he opened one of the 200 glass bottles neatly tiered on a wood desk — “an organ” in perfumers’ parlance — the scent of bitter Japanese yuzu, delicate Colombian gardenias and other naturally derived ingredients wafted through the air.
“The way I want to make fragrance is with this radical transparency,” he said. Little’s latest creation is Dirty Grass. Loaded with 150 milligrams of full-spectrum hemp-derived CBD oil in a 15-milliliter bottle, the earthy perfume layers cannabis’ smell over vetiver, lavender, rose and citrus. To be released on April 20 — 4/20 being a celebration of sorts with the cannabis-using crowd — Dirty Grass, priced at $85, is the first in a new fragrance series that Little is designing to be functional with higher concentrations of materials that he claims can affect the mind and body. For instance, spritzed along the neck where the lymph glands are, Dirty Grass “relaxes you,” he said.
“Telling you stories with these fragrances is not only about their cleanliness and their botanical aspects and the odor profiles, but also about the holistic aspects of what these plants can bring to your life,” he added.
Little’s storytelling through scents has garnered an influential audience. Three years ago, following an introduction from Goop beauty director Jean Godfrey-June, Little welcomed actress and Goop brand founder Gwyneth Paltrow to his humble New York apartment to talk about fragrance. “I had anticipated this kind of sunny California celebrity, that she was going to want to talk about jasmine and citrus,” he recalled, emphasizing those ingredients in a high-pitched lilt. Instead, her pitch was: “Let’s do something that smells like church and sex and, you know, all these incredible fragrance notes that, as a perfumer, you dream of working with,” he recalled Paltrow saying.
“He possesses exceptional taste, and that allows him to create beautiful things of all kinds.”
- Dita Von Tesse on L.A. perfumer Douglas Little