The master of fragrances Douglas Little launches a new perfume: Heretic

by Micaela Stanley

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The experiential marketing mastermind talks about the launch of his fragrance, and the invisible allure of perfumes.
Douglas Little, the California native creative genius who has turned marketing into an art form, has made a name for himself by translating a brand’s identity into a tangible work of art.

After studying marketing and product development all over the world, Little returned to the U.S. and founded D.L. & Co.- Modern Alchemists and Purveyors of Curious Goods. The brand is an embodiment of his personal spirit: whimsical and intriguing. His work includes lavish window displays for brands Van Cleef & Arpels, Bergdorf Goodman, Jim Thompson, Harry Winston, and more. Little has also been working in product development, most notably for Lady Gaga’s luxury collection of perfumes and candles.

Little’s attention to detail and penchant for excellence has kept his work fresh and unique, making him one of the most sought after names in the business. His newest fragrance ‘Heretic’ embraces the visionary Little’s signature whimsicality. We were able to talk to him about the launch of his fragrance, and the invisible allure of perfumes.

What drew you to fragrances?

I have been obsessed with fragrance for as long as I can remember, in my youth I would frequent an herb shop called Herb Products, Inc. I loved this place; it was a strange, non-descript, little shop in North Hollywood, CA., blankly painted beige and entirely anonymous apart from the heady, camphor odor that oozed from the brick and mortar of the building. The shop had a weighty catalogue filled with hundreds of bizarre, dried herbs, plants, flowers and oils. I use to comb through the catalogue, familiarizing myself with its contents and researching the oddities. This was where it all began– the more I learned about the art of fragrance the further down the rabbit hole I went. Much like Alice, I had stumbled on an extraordinary world that sparked the imagination and ignited my senses. I began to understand the magic of fragrance, its innate ability to transform the mundane into the sublime and transport the mind to exotic destinations.

As I grew and my career evolved, I incorporated fragrance into anything that I was working on, creating everything from basil laced, grapefruit scented hair care for a company called big sexy hair, to launching my name sake home fragrance/gift company called D.L.& Company. Born from my desire for all things dark and beautiful, D.L.& Co. was my first debut into the fragrance world. In 2009, I left the company to pursue my installation work and to follow my passion for the world of natural fragrance.

There’s an incredible amount of beauty in all of your work. Do you believe that advertising is an under-rated art form? How do you hope to cultivate that medium?

I definitely believe that advertising is a very underrated form of art. The exciting and challenging part of working in marketing and advertising is evolving what we do to be relevant and engaging to the consumer who is bombarded by millions of brand messages on a daily basis. “Boutique” or “niche” advertising / marketing has to be evocative, immersive and consider all of the senses. My work and art are about telling stories with provocative imagery, fragrance, visual installations, sculpture, audio and performance.

I believe there is a new consumer who is looking for more thought provoking and intelligent communication than what we have seen.

Is your work more of a reflection of you or the brand you’re representing? How do you find the balance?

My work is a reflection of me and therefore is the brand I represent. For me, the most important aspect of my brand is authenticity. What interests me is the quirks and idiosyncrasies. It’s the abnormalities that allow a “brand” to stand out in the vast sea of choices available to the consumer.

The Heretic brand is a direct reflection of who I am and what I stand for. I have chosen to approach life and my professional career in a non-traditional way. Using 100% natural materials to create fine fragrance is a very non-traditional approach in the fine fragrance world that appealed to my sensibilities. The word Heretic refers to someone with an opinion that is at odds with that of the masses. The term Heretic felt like the perfect fit for me, my work and my brand. I did not want a distinction between these aspects as they are all part and parcel of the same thing.

How does the sense of smell differ from the other five senses?

Great question. Many consider smell to be one of the oldest and most primitive of our senses. Aside being able to inform us that the milk has gone bad or that there might be a leak in the basement, smell can provide us with untold pleasures. Our sense of smell is the only sense we possess that is directly connected to our brain tissue. All of the other senses have a “filtration” of flesh, eye, eardrum or tongue. Odor is produced by evaporation; everything is in a state of evaporation at all times. Some things evaporate at greater rates than others- for instance, a flower is at a higher rate of decay/evaporation than steel. Both are evaporating/decaying just at very different speeds. Apply heat and you speed up this process.

When we inhale we are breathing in the odor molecules of this evaporation process. The evaporated molecules are traveling in through nostrils, through the sinus cavity and pass directly over the limbic area of the brain and down the esophagus into the lungs. The limbic area of the brain is considered the most mysterious and complex aspects of the brain as it supports a variety of functions including but not limited to: emotion, behavior, motivation, long-term memory and olfaction. It is here where an odor molecule binds to a receptor, it initiates an electrical signal that travels from the sensory neurons to the olfactory bulb, a structure at the base of the forebrain that relays the signal to other brain areas for processing.

You’ve probably experienced that scent can conjure emotions and even specific memories, like the smell of red vines that reminds you of a first kiss in the movie theatre. This happens because the thalamus sends smell information to the hippocampus and amygdala, key brain regions involved in learning and memory.

When deciding what projects to take on, what kinds of things excite you and spark your interest?

I look for projects where there is the ability to engage the senses. Even if the project is purely visual and there is not the opportunity to engage, touch, smell, taste or sound I would gravitate toward a project that would allow the opportunity for lush visualization, where these aspects can be conveyed through the images.

I recently finished working with Bergdorf Goodman on a collaboration with Legendary / Universal films for the premier of Guillermo Del Torro’s gothic film Crimson Peak. I was asked to design and produce all of the 5th avenue windows for the premier. My team and I painstakingly labored to create visual spectacles in the windows that transported the viewer to another place and time. It was imperative for me that the person looking at the windows could smell the rotten, victorian fabrics and decaying wood of the house, hear the creaking floor boards, feel the icy chill from the broken windows and taste poisoned tea brewed by the villain.

What drew you to create your fragrance ‘Heretic’? How is Heretic different from your other projects?

I love fragrance, odor and perfume in all its amalgamations. One of the main contributing factors to creating Heretic was having the ability to connect with other people about fragrance. Fragrance/perfume is an invisible world that most people take for granted. When faced with the challenge of assigning an adjective to a fragrance most people grapple for words as describing a fragrance is like describing a ghost. In essence, I find that fragrance allows people to connect with one another on a very visceral and real level.

Heretic for me was about authenticity of product and concept. I wanted to showcase natural perfume in a new way. For me, the natural world is dangerous, beautiful, dark, light, sacred, provocative, masculine, feminine, feral and tranquil. Natural and organics seem to always be represented by a person in a field picking lavender or someone covered in cucumber slices at a spa or the granola hippie in a head shop slathering on patchouli oil. Why can’t natural be sexy, incredibly chic and a little dangerous. For me, Heretic is a movement and celebration of moving away from the conventional. While fragrance is at the core of the brand I am excited to begin expansion into other product categories and to expose people to fragrance in new and exciting ways.

Where is the ideal place to be when wearing Heretic? Who’s wearing it?

Heretic is designed to be worn everywhere and at all times. Fragrance is like land mines, applied correctly and in the right spots it can have explosive effects. Heretic is for the person looking for something unique, who wants an olfactive signature and is not afraid of straying from the herd.

Image courtesy of Douglas Little

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