Timothy Han is disrupting the perfume market. He is challenging a lot of the traditional notions around what a fragrance is and is interested in perfume beyond the bottle. Timothy Han/Edition perfumes are manufactured in the UK and are now into their second “editions”. After working for fashion designer John Galliano, Timothy made the somewhat accidental move into the entrepreneurial perfume space and we sat down with Timothy to find out more.
Please tell us about Timothy Han/Edition perfumes and how the idea for the business started?
The company is a complete accident. I never meant to start a perfume company. My background is in fashion. I used to work for John Galliano as an assistant and I have always been fascinated in the luxury space. When I worked with Galliano he used to always burn scented candles. Fast forward a couple of years and no one was creating luxury candles, so about 15 years ago I started a candle company making completely sustainable candles. I stocked them from LA to Hong Kong and everywhere in- between but I wasn’t terribly happy doing it and so one day I quit.
About seven years ago I was having a drink with a friend who was a bar tender and he had recently risen to fame through making drinkable perfumes. I was totally fascinated that he could even do such a thing. When I mentioned this to him, he said to me “what is a cocktail but alcohol and flavour, what’s perfume, alcohol and fragrance. Fragrance and flavour are essentially the same thing, you made candles it will be easy for you to make a perfume, go and try it”. So I went home and played around with the candle fragrances and made my first perfume. I showed it to a friend and she really liked it so I gave her a small vile of it and she came back a week later saying three people had stopped her on the street to ask her what she was wearing.
I had a friend who owned a store so I called her up and asked for her opinion. She showed her staff and asked them if they would wear it and they all said yes so she told me, if you produce it we will sell it. The shop was Browns on South Molton Street which is known for establishing a lot of brands so I thought if Browns is going to help me launch this, I have to do it.
What is the significance of Edition in the name?
When I was first considering creating a perfume, I wanted to make it as natural as possible. If you look at wine for example, you can get the same wine made by the same grape, by the same vineyard, by the same venter, but year after year there will be subtle differences in taste. That will be due to the fact wine is made from a natural ingredient and there are inevitably going to be seasonal variations which will ultimately have an impact on the taste. The same is true for fragrance, but a lot of the big fragrance houses try to hide that fact. Perfumes are constantly changing. You get perfume fanatics who want the Miss Dior from before 2005 because it has subtleties and ultimately a different scent. I don’t think there is anything wrong with these changes, perfume will change, but this should be acknowledged, so we decided every time we make a perfume batch it would be named an edition, like a painting or a book, first edition, second edition. On top of that, all the fragrances I create are based on stories, so I liked that idea of an edition.
Who are your customers?
My perfumes tend to be quite unique and quite polarising in the way they are created, so I find they are not for the average person. The people who are buying my perfumes tend to be either creative or they are doing something slightly different from the norm. My customers are making their own path, they don’t tend to be doing the standard 9-5 so they don’t mind putting on a perfume that is provocative. Anyone from artists to fashion journalists, designers to musicians.
Who has been the most important person to your business?
My angel investor. Not necessarily from a financial support point of view but the thing which is really quite brilliant about him is that he made his money in the financial markets and he knows nothing about the perfume industry. Over time I have had some pretty heavy hitting advisers and board members within the industry and I find that the advice my angel investor gives is better because he has got one of those minds that you can present any problem, even something he knows nothing about, and he is able to break it down in a very logical and rational way as to how you should deal with it. I know a lot of very smart and successful entrepreneurs and none of them have the ability to do this like he can.
What is the worst or best business advice you have ever received?
It is kind of tied to the previous question. I think sometimes the worst and best business advice is very subjective. I have a lot of good advisers who provide interesting and varied advice. I had an adviser who was the former Chairman of a really large health and beauty company and I thought it would be the perfect fit as he was in the perfume space, but the problem was his knowledge wasn’t specialised enough, so although he had a lot of great advice it was different. I had a different adviser from a niche beauty space who was a CEO, and whilst they were familiar with the industry and did give great advice for me, it was in retrospect only applicable for a company that was turning tens of millions of pounds. So I guess the thing I’ve learned is you have to take every piece of advice with a grain of salt because no matter how knowledgeable or successful that person is, what worked for them may not work for you.
Are you more emotional or rational?
It depends on my mood, I am a bit of both. Sometimes I can be either extreme to be honest. If I had to choose one I would probably say that I was more emotional.
Who has influenced you the most professionally?
That would be my angel investor again and I guess everyone who has been along the journey with me. My friend who first suggested I make a perfume, my friend who wore the perfume originally. My friends full stop. They have really influenced me as they are behind the whole concept of what I am doing so I guess I always think – would my friends wear this?
How many times have you been told no?
Lots of times. People have such different experiences and these colour their opinions. I remember speaking to two different investors, one of them thought my plan was foolish because they believed my sales projections were off in regards to what he thought sales vs expenses should be. The other one said sales numbers can constantly change and what was interesting to him was that my cost of goods were solid and the rest could be adjusted.
I am still told no today. I am working in an industry that is very ephemeral and intangible and a lot of people just don’t get it. When you tell some investors what your costs are and they tell you, no you can’t have costs like that, you can’t always accept that as they don’t all know the industry or the way you are doing this.
What is it like to work for you?
I’m probably not the easiest person to work for. I’m pretty easy going which I think is sometimes difficult for people because I expect people to have a lot of autonomy and quite often people get confused by that. I often prefer if people run with their ideas and show me something rather than me having to tell them exactly how I would do it. From that perspective I guess some people could find it challenging to work for me. If you are the kind of person who thrives in those kinds of autonomous environments then I think I would be great to work for.
Tea or coffee?
Coffee. An East London, flat white.
How do you stay inspired?
How do I stop being inspired I think can be the bigger issue! I find it quite easy to stay inspired because I find everything around me quite fascinating. I am one of those people who can be fascinated by the most silly, banal things like how a piece of paper is lying on the table or the shape of a room. Looking at things and noticing the smaller details provides constant inspiration.
What do you never leave home without?
My phone. Email, diary, notes, pictures, everything I need is on there. I have three different note taking apps on there that I will use depending on my mood but everything is on there.
What superpower would you most like to have?
Not needing sleep. Don’t get me wrong, I do like to sleep, so perhaps it would be more about having a power that could slow time down. And that is not purely from a work perspective, but having fun as well.