International Women’s Month: Yosh Han

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Yosh Han is the independent perfumer success story. Her journey couldn’t be further from the typical path to the perfume industry. Han was born in Taiwan, not Grasse; her mother was an ikebana practitioner, not a third-generation perfumer. No privileges. No shortcuts. She is utterly, awe-inspiringly self-made.

Han’s perfume career began in 1994, when she walked into a fragrance boutique in Colorado. In what she calls a “truth stranger than fiction moment”, Han told the shop’s manager that she felt destined to work there. “After the manager turned me away a few times, the owner came out of the shop and had a good feeling about me and hired me on the spot. I ended up becoming the Assistant Manager right away and worked there for 3 years, creating custom fragrances for people.”

20 years later, Yosh has achieved almost unparalleled success as an independent perfumer. Her fragrance line is carried by Barney’s New York; she created a fragrance collection for Anthropologie in 2013. As far as I’m concerned, no list of pioneering female perfumers would be complete without her on it.

In my research for this post, what I was most impressed by was Yosh’s openness and honesty about the evolution of her process as a perfumer. From an excellent interview with Perfume Polytechnic:

I originally blended everything by hand when I first started my business. I still do the concepting and aromatic sketches by hand. In the last few years, I started working with Robertet and their in-house perfumer, Olivia Jan. For the last three launches, we worked collaboratively and won a Golden Pear award from the Institute of Arts and Olfaction for my men’s fragrance, König, a scent inspired by the Bavarian forest. We worked on three subsequent fragrances that will launch in 2016. I feel like the film director and she, the cinematographer. It is a very close relationship that is really rewarding.

Acknowledging that one of the most acclaimed fragrances of one’s career resulted from a collaboration is highly unusual in an industry that tends towards secrecy and hyperbole. I can think of more than a few “master perfumers” who keep any outside contribution quiet for fear of damaging that Master Perfumer image. Crediting her collaborators rather than taking full credit for herself only deepened my respect for Ms. Han.