Uzbek diplomat and philanthropist Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva also happens to be the founder of the Harmonist, a fragrance house centered around harmony and well-being. This is no ordinary parfumerie. Founded in 2013, it’s the unintended result of Karimova-Tillyaeva’s own journey of self-discovery, during which she delved deep into ancient philosophies and discovered the power of feng shui, one of the Harmonist’s guiding principles. We chatted with her about the inspiration behind the brand, how fragrance positively affects our well-being, and how we can use scents to promote creativity, romance and more.
What prompted you to create this maison de parfum?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been curious, continually searching for answers to life’s big questions: Who am I? What am I doing here? In my pursuit for knowledge, I delved deep into many ancient philosophies, but it was feng shui and its ancient understanding of how everything around us is interconnected that later struck a chord with me. Feng shui sees the universe as the interplay of energies and seeks to find harmony by balancing these fundamental energies. This inspired me to create fragrances that could bring harmony to our life. And so the Harmonist was born. Essentially, the mission of the Harmonist is to enable our clients to learn more about who they are and bring harmony and well-being into their lives.
How did the ancient Chinese practice of feng shui influence the Harmonist fragrances?
It’s one of our guiding principles. We are the first brand to translate the five elements of feng shui into the language of modern fragrances. Our olfactory system is a powerful gateway to our well-being. The Harmonist offers a range of perfumes designed to help people tune into their own inherent energies and balance them by creating a subtle yet powerful aura around themselves. We developed an app that’s available on our website as well as in store. It’s very simple: You take a short quiz based on where and when you were born, and the app identifies your dominant element. Then it explains the particular characteristics of your element while also identifying what is missing for harmony and balance.
How do the five elements — fire, water, wood, earth and metal — come together in the signature collection?
We launched the signature Yin Yang collection consisting of 10 fragrances in 2016. With the help of renowned French perfumer Guillaume Flavigny, we transposed the characteristics of these five elements into the established practices of French haute parfumerie.
We looked for premium natural raw ingredients that embody the essence of each element. For example, musky woody scents of birch wood, tonka bean and oak for the Wood fragrances and the bright ozonic of watermelon, seaweed and certain algae for the Water perfumes. The natural elements are mutually dependent, and when they are fine-tuned, harmony flourishes.
This may sound a bit esoteric, but actually we can see it in our lives every day. Flowers need sunshine and rain; they grow from fertile soil. If one element is missing or overbearing, then the plant withers. The same applies to all aspects of our life. By working with the elements, we can highlight and nurture certain areas, like watering a dry plant. So, for instance, if you want to encourage your creative side or add more romance to your life, you can consult our app to discover which elements you need to enhance, depending on your own dominant birth element, and use the fragrance that will reinforce that particular aspect.
What are your favorite scents in the collection?
That’s a really difficult question. Each of the scents holds a special place in my heart. The ingredients have being carefully selected then lovingly blended to bring out the best in each component, just as the different voices in a choir or orchestra have to join harmoniously. In both music and parfumerie, the individual notes are important but so are the chords as well as the lasting resonance. I can’t name my favorite Harmonist scent, but I can share what I love about our fragrances and what sets this brand apart from other perfume houses: our devotion to harmony. We really think about the composition and how the scent will play out on your skin hours after you initially put it on.
Each of our fragrances is inspired by a particular element and acts in a subtle yet powerful way, and because they are all developed by world-class experts with premium natural ingredients, they are all really special to wear. So I can’t pick an all-time favorite; it depends on the mood I want to create, on which aspect of my life I want to nurture. That’s what informs my choice of perfume.
Philanthropy is very important to you. Can you tell us more about the Harmonist’s philanthropic element?
As you know, the Harmonist is a brand inspired by the five fundamental elements that compose the building blocks for the whole universe and for each one of us individually. So logically, we want to support these elements and do our bit to safeguard the natural balance needed to protect all life on Earth.
With this in mind, in 2017, we embarked on our first charitable venture, an interactive art installation called the Droplet. This visionary multisensory installation aimed to spark discussions about one of our planet’s vital elements: water. The primary objective of this innovative project was to raise awareness worldwide around water issues, such as conservation, scarcity and clean water supplies and to highlight water’s fundamental importance for all life forms on Earth.
I am a firm believer in the power of art to build bridges and speak to people on a level beyond words. Art can inspire, unite and challenge people, so we wanted to create a multisensory experience that would act as a springboard for conversations about how to best protect and use one of our most precious resources. We chose a single drop of water as the main visual image — and indeed the overall structure — of our installation because a droplet is so simple yet so exquisitely formed. It’s a poignant symbol of water’s apparent fragility. By using this as our central motif, we hope to highlight the vital role water plays in all of our ecosystems.
What is it like working with famed perfumer Guillaume Flavigny?
Creating perfumes provides us with the wonderful opportunity to work alongside bright personalities like Guillaume Flavigny. It makes things easy when you are on the same wavelength, so I’m delighted to partner with Guillaume. He quickly grasped the concept behind the Harmonist. I am always learning something new from him. When we are working on our fragrances, we employ a special language, a shared vocabulary that we have developed over the years. Guillaume has an unerring sense of style and balance. I enjoy working with him and appreciate the opportunity to learn from his expert experience in the world of perfume.
How can fragrances influence our well-being and our lives?
We navigate the world through our senses, and our sense of smell has a significant role to play here. We know that when the molecules of scent reach the sensors in our nose, it sends messages to the brain, which govern our emotions, memory and feelings. So of course smells directly impact our well-being.
It transcends time and even space to a certain extent because just one sniff of an old forgotten perfume can instantly whisk us to another time and place. Smells are associated with taste, too: the smell of homemade cookies and the anticipation of cozy family time together. The fragrances we choose can influence our mood and therefore our well-being.
Since time immemorial, people have used aromatherapy to restore a sense of balance and well-being. Spiritual traditions all over the world use herbs and aromatic oils as part of their sacred rituals and celebrations, and scent has become part of humanity’s shared culture. So when we wear a scent on our skin, we are unconsciously connecting to our ancient roots.
What can Harmonist fans expect next?
We’ve recently launched our new Prequel Collection, and I’m very excited about it. The collection comprises two twin scents: Sun Force and Moon Glory.
We talked about the importance of the five elements in feng shui and mentioned yin and yang, the two opposing forces that require each other to thrive. Yin and yang are often described as feminine and masculine energies, dark and light, or giving and receiving. In ancient Chinese cosmology, the sun and moon represent yang and yin, respectively. So our new Prequel Collection is an ode to these two heavenly bodies, our sun and moon, the forces or energies responsible for all life as we know it.
Moon Glory is a beautiful fragrance that channels the yin energy of the moon. Together with Guillaume, we created this perfume using floral and resinous notes that appeal to the passionate aspects of its masculine counterpart while retaining the mysterious mystique associated with the moon, the feminine aspect. We wanted to capture the magic of that in-between moment when the sun has just set but night has not yet fallen and the night flowers slowly open. So we used heady sweet jasmine from Hawaii, sensual ylang-ylang and lychee for the top notes. Then as the night deepens and the perfume matures, the beautiful queen of the night blossoms with its nutty, vanilla aroma. We added organic honey from Laos to give a special warmth to the heart notes, then blended them with base notes derived from sandalwood, Japanese hinoki wood and balsam. I said earlier that I don’t really have a favorite Harmonist scent, but I must admit I’m very fond of Moon Glory.
The second scent in the collection, Sun Force, launches this fall and is infused with citrus, exotic woods and rose. It’s an uplifting, optimistic scent inspired by the power and majesty of the bright sun. So by invoking a sense of yang energy, this new fragrance can tune us to the positive, active side and infuse us with energy. We used fresh citrusy bouquets for the top notes: pomelo from Hawaii, saffron from Iran and a hint of alluring Bulgarian rose. Then the perfume moves on to intriguing heart notes with Guatemalan cardamom and incense from Somalia before intensifying like the midday sun into mesmerizing base notes of Australian sandalwood, caramel-y benzoin resin and smoky vetiver.
These are two new fragrances our fans can look forward to exploring. We’re also looking forward to collaborating with more artists like Dr. Woo to develop the visual expression of the brand.