In light of our upcoming collaboration with Miller Harris, we’re delighted to welcome Sarah Rotheram into the Spotlight. Sarah took up roles at Penhaligons and L’Artisan Perfumeur before moving on to become CEO at luxury British brand Aspinal. In April 2017, she joined Miller Harris.
Sarah, you’re six months into the job, how is it going?
I love it. There’s so much to do – I get distracted by all the exciting things going on. There’s a huge amount of warmth for Miller Harris and I’m here because I fell in love with the brand and the products. It’s amazing when I pick up the phone to talk to people – there’s so much goodwill. We’ve lots of new products on the horizon, new stores opening, new international markets, so we’ve all been incredibly busy – and the website is about to relaunch, too.
How was it going back to perfumes?
Well I knew I’d missed it, but I didn’t realise quite how much – I feel alive again! When you do something that you love that much you don’t even feel like you’re working. You don’t stop working – everywhere you go there’s an inspiration or an idea. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking ‘why did I not think of that before – it’s amazing!’. I’ve got my pad next to my book by the bed. And I’ve also been back in the lab and spending time with the perfumers. I feel very much at home.
Miller Harris and McQueens seem to have so much in common, don’t they?
Yes, I always describe it as ‘friends of the brand’. Sometimes you see companies start up collaborations that feel a bit forced, but there are great similarities between us. Obviously, ingredients-wise there are lots of overlaps, but also from a creative approach right through to the relationship side, we have so much in common.
Our two companies have been working closely and there’s a new product on the horizon – watch this space! You seem very good at those relationships – your fragrance L’Air de Rien came from working closely with the actor/singer Jane Birkin, didn’t it?
Sometimes the best collaborations just fall into place, like this one. With Jane Birkin, it started as a private commission with Lynne Harris. As they were working on this fragrance they felt it had commercial legs and could be put out to market. So what started off as a relationship between Jane and the perfumer then became a commercial product. That’s how you achieve better perfumes, because they have more integrity.
Miller Harris goes much deeper than just delightful perfumes we spray on ourselves, though?
For us, it’s about making an emotional connection with our perfumes. When you smell a fragrance, it transports you; it’s either a moment or a feeling you hold on to forever. Scent is very powerful in that way. It’s not just about selling products, it’s about creating moments and memories for our customers. It’s a little like music – you can hear a tune, and you’re 16 again and you want to dance! Just walking into McQueens today, I got that wonderful scent of water and stone, benches and flowers, the greenery and the trimmings. It’s all part of that olfactory experience.
What flowers do you have at home?
I have lots of flowers and lots of scent around my own home and I have a big garden so there’s a huge amount of flowers out there. From spring, we’ve got wisteria, early roses, the wonderful smell of lilac in the air, laburnum and honeysuckle. Right now it is full of Japanese Anenomies and the last Hydrangea blooms. I grow things I like to smell too, so there are plenty of fresh herbs and I plant shrubs that keep the bugs away.
When you wear perfume do you stick to one signature fragrance?
Oh no – I’m like a perfume junkie! I also drench myself, I’m terrible. If I’m wearing jeans and trainers and I wear a strong fragrance I’d feel a little bit over-dressed, so I tend to wear a fragrance that depends on how I’m dressed, where I’m going and what I’m doing. So if I’m at an evening event with a massive frock on, I need a very loud perfume. I do a lot of presentations to investment bankers, which are typically male-dominated affairs, and I do tend to go for a strong floral fragrance, then – I’m not ashamed of being that loud woman! It’s all about the mood, the occasion, and the season, too. In the winter, people tend to go for warmer, woodier, darker fragrances or vanilla, so you feel like they’re cuddling you. Fragrance can be like a little cashmere blanket around you when it’s cold and horrible outside.