Timothy Han’s New Fragrance Is A Bottled-Up Political Statement
Who knew even fragrance can get political? It is 2019, after all. One of London’s leading niche perfumers, Timothy Han is releasing his fifth fragrance in the collection of curious scents, sustainably handcrafted using natural ingredients. With each of the perfumes inspired and named after a literary achievement, the sense of smell expands into the poeticism of its experience. Wearing one of Timothy Han/ Edition fragrances takes you on a trip, through deep valleys and high mountains of unordinary notes. And the best part is – there’s no comedown after this trip. Just a couple of sprays, and you’re back on it.
The latest eau de parfum to be released is Heart of Darkness, inspired and telling the story of the seminal 1899 novella by Joseph Conrad. Set in colonial Congo (then known as Congo Free State), the narrative follows a journey of wanderer Charles Marlow up the Congo River, experiencing the culture through ivory trading and its effects on the native inhabitants of the Congo, the land and on the colonialist themselves. This important piece of modernist writing directly addresses and questions the topics of imperialism and racism, criticising the societal dangers of a Westernised world. Possibly the most politically charged of Han’s five literary choices, Heart of Darkness stands for more than just fragrance. “It’s important to choose stories which have had an impact on society,” Timothy Han tells us. “Aside from being an incredibly haunting piece of writing, it serves as a kind of warning.” Making the world not only a better smelling, but also a better place in general, Han has teamed up with International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on this occasion. Working together, they are identifying grassroots communities and elephant conservation projects in the Congo to which they will donate a portion of sales from the sales of the fragrance.
‘Men of war’ by Nicola Hicks (2015)
But what about the notes hidden in Heart of Darkness? “There are a lot of references to smell within the novella and Conrad’s descriptions are very evocative too. This was the start of the fragrance. The writing is merely a starting point and with each fragrance I choose a manner of interpretation which I feel best suits the story,” Han explains his process. Continuing from his last scent, there’s a contrast between the natural and the artificial harmoniously battling it out inside the 60ml flacon. Watery green floral notes flow into the scent of dark woods and damp moss, infused with punchy hints of burning coal and amber. “I wanted to try and capture the redolent imagery that Conrad conjures through his words, starting with the smell of damp earth and jungle. I then want a smell of cleanliness to both contrast the smell of jungle and coal but also as a kind of satirical commentary on the colonialists and their perceptions of themselves as being better or ‘purer’ than the locals.” As the protagonist of Conrad’s novella takes a trip into the unknown, so does the scent’s wearer. The notes develop unexpectedly, making each experience totally different from the previous one. Are there any notes Han would never use? “Nope. Perfumery plays upon minutiae and perceptions. One of my favourite scents, not for the smell itself but for the whole game it plays on your sense of perception, is indole. The scent is present in numerous flowers and almost every floral perfume uses it. Yet conversely it is also prevalent in human faeces.”
Accompanying each of The Edition scents are custom artworks imagined by different artists. For Heart of Darkness, Han found the perfect fit in the renowned English sculptor Nicola Hicks. There are five box designs, each fronting a signature piece of her work, turning plaster and clay into visual depictions of the ugly face of colonialism.
Unfortunately, we can’t change history. We can, however, take what happened then and make sure it doesn’t happen ever again. Through words, through art, through fragrance – any which way, as long as people listen.
The Heart of Darkness by Timothy Han is available to buy online.