Interviews Structure and Nuance: An Interview with Hans Hendley of Hendley Perfumes

Structure and Nuance: An Interview with Hans Hendley of Hendley Perfumes

08/19/16 07:34:04 (6 comments)

by: Jodi Battershell

When I attended the Euphorium Brooklyn event at Twisted Lily in February this year, a handsome, smiling man approached me and said, "You look familiar."

A portrait of perfumer Hans HendleyHans Hendley at Twisted Lily, February 2016

He looked familiar to me, too, but as it happens, we had actually only seen tiny internet photos of each other and this was our first meeting in person, a chance encounter when we both were there to celebrate the works of another perfumer. The handsome, smiling man was none other than perfumer Hans Hendley, with whom I had been corresponding via email about adding Hendley Perfumes to Fragrantica. (Hans is also from Brooklyn and his presence at the event is further proof of how the artists of that community, including those from the perfume industry, come out to support one another there. It's a beautiful thing.) We chatted at the event, and I knew very quickly that I wanted to learn more about Hans and have a chance to try the fragrances from this very interesting man.

The six bottles of the Hendley Perfume collection laid end-to-end

Hendley Perfumes was launched in 2014, and it's a one-man show. Hans creates and bottles each scent (and even creates some of his own fragrance ingredients). Packaged in beautifully spare bottles with black caps, the fragrances within are remarkably rich, complex and evocative. I loved all six, and in case you're wondering how good they are, know that Hendley fans include Luca Turin, who loves smoky Fume and (as Hans best describes it) the "incense, lipstick and fur" aroma of Gia. Bourbon is perhaps the finest example of a whiskey perfume that I have smelled and lots of folks appear to agree with me—the first batch has sold out completely! Jade is a refreshing scent for warm weather, juxtaposing spearmint and star anise with geraniums. My husband gravitated to Auric, with its warm sandalwood and tropical jasmine entwined with classic oriental notes. My personal favorite is Rosenthal, a 70s-inspired rose and incense aroma that brings to mind classic scents like Intimate or Jontue, from the heyday of quality drugstore fragrances (and before those two fragrances were ruined by cheap reformulations).

A bottle of Rosenthal perfume laid over a black and white photo of roses

Smelling this collection of fragrances only made me more curious about the person who created such interesting, varied and truly stand-out scents. Let's meet the man behind them, Hans Hendley.

Jodi: Please tell us about your background. Where are you from? What did you study in school? When we met in February you mentioned you had a day job, too.  

Hans: I was born in Dallas, Texas and when I was still a kid my folks decided to leave the city for for country life and move to an acreage in the thick, piney woods of East Texas to build a home and a life. My father is a professional artist and my mother is an artist and educator so that definitely shaped my perspective and instilled the value of creativity. Rather than attend rural public schools or religious private schools, my folks decided to homeschool my younger sister and I while allowing us much freedom to explore and develop our interests. I eventually went away to art school where I studied photography and graphic design. I’ve done quite a few things professionally over the years, but usually centered around photography and specialty retail.

I’m glad you asked about the “day job” as I think it’s important to understanding the way I operate my perfume brand. I invest everything back in order to keep things going and growing. I don’t pay myself from my little perfume company. Of course I’d love to work on Hendley Perfumes full-time and maybe someday I will, but I also enjoy the freedom that comes without the pressure of taking on debt or partners. I can make and sell a quality product in a self-sustaining way without worrying so much about the margins and contrived marketing plans, etc.

Jodi: I love your Instagram! I grew up in a little town in Nebraska and your photos remind me of cornfields, meadows, abandoned buildings in small towns, etc. from back home.  I'm amazed at your ability to find such rural and natural landscapes in the urban environment of Brooklyn. Tell us about your part of Brooklyn and what it looks like to you.

Hans: Thank you, I enjoy using Instagram quite a bit and it’s proven to be a great way to connect with friends and clients and help create a context for products. I kind of use it as my mood board. I’m quite interested in the interaction between controlled, human-made things and the seemingly relentless unpredictability of nature. I’m attracted to overgrown lots and vacant buildings, construction sites, subtle architectural layers, details obscured, ironic interactions of form. I like to wander and take photographs, explore parts of the city I’ve never been to before and look out for new details to reveal themselves. This kind of satisfying push/pull balance of manufactured and organic works for an approach to making perfumes also—the interaction of synthetic and natural materials becoming something more intriguing than the separate parts. Synthetic materials to create structure, boundary, control. And then naturals to bring flesh, complexity and nuance.

A photo of a field in Brooklyn, shot through a hole in a fenceOne of Hendley Perfumes' amazing urban scenes from Instagram

I live in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, a historic and vibrant neighborhood filled with a lot of beautiful old brownstones and thriving rose bushes, but it has also had some severe ups and downs over the years so of course it’s full of juxtapositions and contradictions. But I can guarantee you some of the nicest and most positive people in all of NYC live around me. Most of Brooklyn has experienced explosive growth and gentrification in the past decade, making some parts of it almost unrecognizable (and unaffordable) compared to just a couple of years ago. Brooklyn has been very good to me, though and it feels very much like “home.” I feel like I can have a certain way of life here that doesn’t really exist anywhere else in the world.

Jodi: What was your experience of scents growing up and how has it influenced the scents you create for Hendley Perfumes?

Hans: The best example is actually something I didn’t think about for many years until I started seriously making perfumes. When I was a boy of maybe around eight years old, I would notice my dad using cologne sometimes or getting it as a gift so I decided I wanted some also, but this then gave way to my natural tendency to deconstruct things and do them myself. I decided I wanted to make my own colognes. I made these tinctures of citrus, cloves, cinnamon, etc. in rubbing alcohol. Growing up close to nature I think has influenced my enjoyment of certain natural and environmental smells like pine, cedar, oak, honeysuckle, sage, tomatoes from the garden, fresh bread, sawdust and wood smoke. My fragrance Fume probably taps into these memories the most—it’s the smell of a day in the forest and a night by the fire lingering on skin and hair.

A stylized image of Fume perfume that appears to be spraying out a forest

Jodi: How did you learn perfumery?

Hans: I don’t want to oversimplify this—I still think making a good perfume is super difficult, but mostly, I’ve learned to make perfume by actually just doing it and keeping lots of notes. I’ve never had any formal training, just a lot of obsessive reading, collecting materials, mixing and thoughtful smelling. Years of late nights and isolated weekends. I studied the classic natural materials first but quickly learned they were only the tip of the iceberg and and began to think about things on a molecular level. I also tried to smell as many perfumes as possible from the bottom to the top of the market—in NYC it’s easy to go try everything at the best shops in the world, and also just as easy to get a fake around the corner. Seeking vintage formulations of perfumes and comparing them to the current version was eye opening.

Jodi: I know some artists still mix their own oil paints despite the wide availability of commercial paints. I have seen on your Instagram that you're doing an enfleurage of honeysuckle—how did that turn out?and you do some of your own tinctures and macerations as well.  Why have you chosen to create some of your own materials? What role does ingredient creation play in the crafting of a scent?

Hans: I use a a lot of house-made materialstinctures of things like vanilla and tonka beans, incense resins, teas and herbs. I do this mostly because I enjoy the process but also these are great tools to add finish and polish a perfume, lending subtlety and detail.

Hans in the perfume lab

The honeysuckle enfleurage came out pretty well! I’ve ended up with a small amount of a very beautiful and hyper-natural honeysuckle material. It’s delicate and softdefinitely not something that can carry a perfume alone but might find it’s way into something as a nuance.

Jodi: Where do you find inspiration for your scents? Are they named for people or places you've known? 

Hans:  Inspiration to complete a perfume comes from the synergy between concepts, materials and process. Sometimes an idea will make me think of particular materials to work with, while other times it’s the working with the materials that evokes the concept. I try not to be too rigid in this area and just follow the instinct—make the work I feel motivated to make. The making can reveal the meaning.

Naming perfumes is difficult for me because it holds so much power. A good name for me is multilayered with meaning but also should reference to what the fragrance might actually smell like.

a bottle of Auric perfume laid atop sparkly gold glitter

For instance, Auric smells kind of gold-toned to me and it’s also kind of like liquid gold as it’s generously filled with crazy expensive floral absolutes and natural sandalwood, etc. So we have Au as the symbol for gold in the periodic table, and this lead me to the word "Auric" which means relating to, or derived from gold—which also makes me think of something possessing an aura.

Jodi: Your descriptions of each scent begin with three brief phrases that set the mood more than describing the notes of a given fragrance.  (Gia: "Silk road. Manifest destiny. Opulent plume." Rosenthal: "Flower child. Color of love. clinging to a scheme.")  They read like spare little poems about each scent. Can you tell us what's going on there?

Hans:  All of those things are very intentional. I’ve become so exasperated with the way most perfumes are presented with ridiculously overblown descriptions & concepts. Reading marketing copy that holds nothing back and lacks mystery makes my eyes roll back into my skull sometimes. So the visual and written aesthetic I’ve tried to build for is a study in economy—an effort to remove all of the elements that aren’t necessary to effectively communicate what’s going on. I work on each phrase to be as effective as possible with the fewest characters. I do kind of think of the three step theme as little poems in a way. It’s hard to get the feeling with just two parts, but four feels like too much. I’ll often caption my photos with a similar three part phrase—it just seems to be the right feel for me. I also don’t want to insult the intelligence of my audience—I trust that people who are going to be interested in a little brand like mine don’t need their hands held through the process of deciding if a fragrance sounds like something they might like.

a bottle of Bourbon perfume on top of a wooden barrel

Jodi: Your beautiful Bourbon scent has sold out! Are you preparing another batch or will you be moving on to new scents?  What's next on the horizon for Hendley Perfumes?

Hans: Bourbon has proven to be something a lot of both men and women really like. The perfume is matured in a toasted oak barrel exactly like the kind used to for whiskey. This process really imparts that authentic boozy vibe and helps to nicely mellow a super complex and rich formula. It takes around three months of aging to smell right. A new batch will be ready in about two weeks.

I’ll release a new perfume called Amora at the end of September—this will be my first new launch in over a year and I’m really pleased with it. It’s a jammy and resinous affair of berries and stone fruits. I think it’s a good representation of where I am as a perfumer right now.

My little perfume company will be two years old in October and I'm so happy with how it's grown.

Thank you to Hans Hendley for the opportunity to try all six Hendley Perfumes. Please visit the official Hendley Perfumes website to purchase samples and full-size fragrances. Hendley Perfumes are also available in Canada and for international shipping via IndieScents.

Hans at Twisted Lily: Jodi Battershell.  All other images:  Hendley Perfumes.

 

Jodi Battershell (NebraskaLovesScent or "NLS") is a lifelong Nebraskan who transplanted herself to Philadelphia after a lifetime on the Great Plains. An appreciator of fine fragrances since childhood, she tried her hand at natural perfumery and fragrance-mixing for a number of years, ultimately concluding she was better suited to appreciating the fragrance creations of others. She is pleased to finally be putting her English degree to use as a writer and editor for Fragrantica.com.

 

MEH 



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Pollyflower
Pollyflower

I wish I knew him personally, he sounds like such an authentic, interesting guy! It's so rare that someone is genuine and not faking it. I would love to smell his perfumes. Great interview!

Aug
24
2016
Q80
Q80

I can't hardly wait to sniff his fragrances. Hans & Anatole Lebreton are 2 faces of the same coin, both artists, both aren't pharmacists or chemists, and both love what they do. I meet Anatole Lebreton in esxence this year and i fell in love with his creations, and i am completely sure that Hans fragrances aren't just another fragrances cause he is an artist. So please please Hans don't disappoint me :)

Thank you Jodi for this amazing discovery.

Aug
24
2016
the big totoro
the big totoro

Thank you Jodi, I loved the article! Also thank you for introducing me to yet another wonderful perfumer. You always have a way of finding some of the best perfumes around and definitely the kind I love. I will certainly be trying these fragrances very soon! They sound amazing and very special. Thanks again.

Aug
19
2016
Islandaromatika
Islandaromatika

Bravo Hans and thank you Jodi for bringing Hedley Perfumes into the spotlight. Hans' work definately deserves attention, and it seems to have been mostly word of mouth that has carried him to this point. I adore Jade and Auric, and can't wait for the new release in September! Great news indeed! Many thanks for this insightful interview. -Robert H.

Aug
19
2016
rickyrebarco
rickyrebarco

I have tried Bourbon and it's very nice, definitely has that oak aged booze vibe. Really liked it.

Aug
19
2016
rp6969
rp6969

I am very intrigued. Thank you, Jodi.

Aug
19
2016

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