Yosh Han makes sublime perfumes unlike the kind that make your magazines smell kind of sickly sweet. Her scents can now be found in fancy stores all over the world. Years ago, I was lucky enough to have her design a scent for me to use in my studio as a tool for bringing new perspective to whatever I’m working on. (I still use it to this day, a dab right on my forehead and my brain immediately changes direction.)
The process of visiting her studio and watching her build a scent before my eyes was unlike any creative act I’ve experienced, somewhere between cooking, palm reading, memory mining, and selling flowers. I asked her to share her notebooks with us and was pleasantly surprised to see one of the Sumi Ink Club notebooks fully in use in her photos.
PLUMB: Can you summarize the process of designing and manufacturing perfumes?
YOSH HAN: When I first started, I hand-blended all my fragrances but my distribution now is international and there are many regulatory issues. So now I design the fragrances in-house and work with a French fragrance house on the East Coast. The dry components come from various parts of the world. The boxes are handmade from the Bay Area and the glass, pumps, and caps are French. The bottles get separately decorated and then everything goes to the filler. I still produce limited quantities but more than what I can handle in-house. It’s a lengthy process with many pieces but it’s exciting to have grown that much.
PLUMB: What do you use notebooks for? How do they fit within your process of making your work?
YOSH HAN: I use notebooks for everything. Brain dumps, lists of things to do, creative ideas, math problems, fragrance sketches, vision boarding, etc. I travel with little notebooks in my purse and slightly larger ones in my suitcase so I’m never without something to jot my thoughts on.
PLUMB: What kind do you prefer? With what kind of pen?
YOSH HAN: For my purse, I prefer a little vertical-flip notebook from Wooster & Prince papers. You find it mostly in ladies’ shops. I also like the grid notepad from WritersBlok. It’s also a little vertical-flip notebook. The grid is helpful for me to write down my math problems—especially when I’m in the middle of production—it’s a lot of calculations and it’s easier to see the numbers in a grid format. In a pinch, I will use an old-fashion flip with a spiral at the top. I don’t like these as much because the spiral catches on everything but I like it because I like the sound of ripping the paper out when I’ve completed my list of tasks. For keeping in my studio or my suitcase, I like a thin notebook with a soft bind or stitch. I don’t like thick notebooks with heavy binds because somehow it’s too daunting and too heavy for traveling. I also have a lot of notepads that have perforated edges at the top. Nice ripping sound too. Small sizes like 5×8″ or 6×9″ tops. Anything bigger and it’s annoying. Yellow pads—never. Reminds me of school.
PLUMB: What do you do with them when you’re done?
YOSH HAN: Almost all the little ones are for my thoughts or things to do. If I’ve finished the task, then it gets ripped and tossed and then the notebook dwindles to nothing. If something makes it through editing, then it will end up on my Blueprint and Milestones Map on my computer. This helps me keep track of the awesome ideas that will eventually be produced. Of course, I wish every brilliant thought would come to fruition but some things don’t ever see the light of day.
PLUMB: Have you ever lost one?
YOSH HAN: I don’t usually lose things. I have a Virgo moon and therefore have weird systems for everything. If I lose it, it’s because I can’t find it temporarily. Things usually turn up in odd places.
PLUMB: How else do you use notes or paper in creating a scent?
YOSH HAN: I use index cards for formulas. Then I put them all in a recipe box. It’s a bit old-fashioned but for every customer that comes to my studio for a bespoke perfume session, I write their formulas on the index card for future reference if they want to re-order it. I do the same thing for my own formulas. Some habits are hard to break. Everything is alphabetized.
PLUMB: What are the long strips?
YOSH HAN: The long thin papers are scent strips for dipping or spraying perfumes on to. Usually, you write the name of the material essence on one side and the other end has the aroma on it. Then you can smell each note separately or together. You can fan them out and make a paper bouquet, so to speak.
PLUMB: What are the color aura charts?
YOSH HAN: The color aura charts are something I developed to read people’s energy. I used to just close my eyes and tell people what I saw. But as you can imagine, it’s a bit esoteric and so I took the concept of a make-up chart where make-up artists color in the products they’ve used on the face. I instead color in the layers of people’s aura as it relates to each chakra. Then each client walks away with something a bit more tangible. There is a humanoid in the center with concentric circles around the body that represent the aura fields. I have done hundreds of these charts. Every single one has been different depending on whatever is going on in a person’s life. The same person could have multiple readings and their colors change.
PLUMB: What do most people not realize about scent, perfume, and the olfactory world?
YOSH HAN: Most people don’t realize that scent is super complex and scientists are only beginning to understand it. Olfaction is the most primal of our senses. It’s the closest connection to our brain and so we are able to process what we’re smelling almost instantaneously. Science is now proving that our internal organs have olfactory receptors as does our skin. Wild! They have also shown that loss of sense of smell is an early indicator of Alzheimer’s. In a separate test, scientists have also shown that people who completely lose their ability to smell die within 5 years. In a way, the body is saying, it’s time to close shop! But on a happier note, our olfactory bulb is situated in a place in our brains that is connected to emotion.
PLUMB: Under what conditions do you make your best work?
YOSH HAN: If I’m to do any creative work, it has to be with either Mozart or hemi-sync music. I’m a bit of a night owl so I also do many things when it’s dark and quiet. Lately, I have been processing many of my thoughts and questions in the sauna. I go in with a question and by the time I leave, I have an answer. Daily meditation is also a necessary aspect of my creative process. I drink coffee in the morning and bouillon in the evening.
PLUMB: What’s your relationship to the internet?
YOSH HAN: I’m totally obsessed. I’m on my phone all the time. I have clients all over the world so it helps me stay connected to my partners in Europe, Japan, Russia, and the Middle East.
PLUMB: Whose notebooks would you like to look at?
YOSH HAN: I would love to look at the notebook of Rei Kawakubo, founder of Comme des Garçcons, Dries van Noten and Tsumori Chisato. These fashion designers are so creative. I think it would be interesting to read a comedian’s notebook, especially those writers at SNL or Jimmy Fallon—that guy cracks me up! I would also be interested in looking at Malcolm Gladwell’s notebook. He must have some bright ideas that he writes down.
PLUMB: What’s your favorite Plumb book so far?
YOSH HAN: I love this one from Sumi Ink Club. It’s very evocative. It does something amazing to my brain when I see those black swooshes. I also like the size of it. I hope that we will have some scented notebooks in the future, that would be so fun!