Behind the scenes with perfumer Douglas Little of Heretic.


Douglas Little of Heretic Parfum

Photo of Douglas Little by Lianna Tarantin for E! News.

With the release of three new Heretic fragrances for Fall 2020, we checked in with Los Angeles perfumer Douglas Little to learn more about his path into perfumery and the thoughtful creation of these botanical beauties.

Q. We read that your interest in fragrance began as early as preschool, how did this come about?

A. My Mother was an avid gardener and used to drag me with her to garden centers, to keep me from wandering off she started a game with me — if I could remember the name of a plant by its scent, she'd give me a quarter.

I LOVED this game, (partly because it was fun and partly because I wanted all the quarters) and by the time I was seven I had a language of plants that most adults don't have. Little did she know that this game would turn into a lifelong obsession.

Q. The signature Heretic collection is 100% botanical and integrates "ayurvedic healing and aromatherapeutic properties." Can you tell us a bit more about that?

A. Most of our fragrances are concentrated at twenty percent fragrance to eighty percent organic, non-denatured, sugarcane alcohol. At this high concentration the fragrances go beyond purely cosmetic and venture into the realm of aromatherapy, mysticism and ayurvedic medicine. 

I work with many unusual materials for their olfactive properties, in turn, these materials often have a long history of use that goes beyond their smell. I wanted to create a modern fragrance collection working with 100% naturally derived materials that explored the unexplored and went beyond the traditional expectations of what we know of perfume in its contemporary confines. 

Q. We love the name “Heretic” — is there a relationship between the name and the fact that you’re predominantly a natural perfumer?

A. In 2010, I was asked to speak on a panel about emerging trends in the fragrance industry. On the panel I expressed my love of natural perfumery and expressed how I felt we were being trained by Whole Foods to buy organic, question the ingredients of the food we were buying and to find a growing interest in artisan and small batch production.  

I explained how I felt this would eventually find its way into cosmetics and that consumers would eventually start asking questions about what their favorite beauty products are made from, packaged in, and who made them. I went on to draw a parallel between conscious eating/shopping and natural perfumery. How the consumer would eventually ask what is actually in their perfume and why are the ingredients not disclosed.

In a world where you can have anything at any time and fragrance is meant to define and enhance your identity, the world of 100% natural fragrance felt like an exciting horizon to venture towards.

While on my soapbox about my love of natural perfumery a woman from a very prestigious perfume house interrupted me and said, "...Natural perfumery is nothing more that the work of housewives and heretics." She went on to state that natural perfumery will never be more than a hobby and can not appeal or scale for the masses as natural materials are too expensive, do not appeal to a broad audience, and too difficult to obtain and work with.  

All of those negative aspects of working with naturals were exactly what was driving me to want to work with them. I remember leaving that lecture frustrated and a bit irritated by the discussion and having a light bulb moment. I called my lawyer and asked if the name Heretic was available for trademark and began my journey.

Q. Your fragrance naming and imagery seems to combine an obsession with plants and eroticism, for example Florgasm and Flower Porn. What’s the story?

A. I wanted to show Nature and Natural in a different way than we have seen before. Most brands tend to show "natural" in very specific colors, packaging and imagery. Often we are treated to people in the hills of Provence harvesting herbs with their giant straw hats or perhaps a beautiful face covered in cucumber slices. 

This is not how I see nature. For me nature is provocative, sensual, erotic and spiritual. I love to put plants and flowers in hypothetical human situations- i.e. what would it smell like if a flower had an orgasm = Florgasm    

I believe that plants, trees and flowers have stories to tell and I love being a conduit for telling these olfactive tales. 

Q. The most popular Heretic fragrance in our shop is Scandalwood, your collaboration with the lovely queen of burlesque, Dita Von Teese. This is one of your few scents that is not 100% botanical. Why did you make this choice for Scandalwood?

A. I tried... and tried to do this as a 100% natural fragrance however, the queen of burlesque kept referring back to her collection of 1920's and 30's perfume decants. She loved the animalic, leathery and almost raunchy aspects that were captured in these masterpieces.

Unfortunately, many of these perfumes were created working with civet,  castoreum and deer musk. All of which are illegal to use and incredibly cruel. For Scandalwood I deviated from my 100% natural path and worked with a safe-synthetic musk to achieve the velvety quality of this perfume. 

Q. You’ve engaged in other interesting collaborations — with the glamorous drag queen, Violet Chachki, on Heretic’s Dirty Violet and with actor Gwyneth Paltrow on her much-talked-about GOOP candles and perfumes. What excites you about working collaboratively?

A. I am always on the lookout for my idea of a modern day Heretic.  A person who is marching to the beat of their own drum and kicking up some dust along the way. I love working with these individuals and finding out what fragrance means to them and then helping them manifest those ideas in a bottle. 

Q. We just brought in your latest releases, Dirty Grapefruit, Dirty Vanilla and Flower Porn. Anything you’d like to tell us about any of these three new scents?

A. They are all so important to me, each for different reasons. Flower Porn is one of my most favorite scents that I have created to date. It is also the most expensive formula I have ever made. My obscene use of orange blossom absolute and rose oil makes this fragrance extremely costly. I am not sure how long we will be able to keep in the collection due to its insane cost to manufacture so GET IT WHILE YOU CAN!      

With Dirty Grapefruit, I have been messing with this formula since 2017! Who knew grapefruit could be so perplexing! It's exactly what I had envisioned- its tart, fresh, sweet but not too sweet and just a little bitter. I wanted to capture the pure essence of a freshly squeezed grapefruit with the rind et all. 

And finally, Dirty Vanilla — it's pure magic. This fragrance is for those who love "amber" type fragrances. It works with a healthy dose of pure vanilla absolute that is blended with benzoin and labdanum. It's very vanilla forward but the labdanum and cedar keep it from vearing into cake batter or a cookie factory. It's the not-so-vanilla, vanilla and its sex in a bottle. 

Q. You're an impressive entrepreneur and the Heretic brand that has really grown over the past few years, congratulations! What’s up next?

A. Thank you for your kind words — I am so grateful to you and your team for all of the love and support. Very excited to announce that in 2021 we will be venturing into personal care but not how you might expect ;)  stay tuned...

 Explore the Heretic Collection