Lola James Harper is a brand that has achieved something of a cult following over recent years, with its brown-glass bottles and candles appearing in the world’s chicest boutiques from Colette to Le Bon Marché and, most recently, Selfridges. There’s a plentiful abundance of niche fragrance brands producing all sorts of olfactive offerings at the moment but, somehow, there’s something uniquely charming about LJH – a mystery that is completely resolved as soon as I meet the brand’s founder, Rami Mekdachi. With candles named things like "The Vinyl Store Rue des Dames" (which has a scent that so good that a recent houseguest took mine home with her) and "The Promenade in Vincennes Wood", it would be easy to assume that the label could be the brainchild of a marketing expert who understands the commercial cachet of a quirky title. But, instead, each scent is created by Mekdachi (a man who has created fragrances for the likes of Roger Vivier and Chloé) to reflect a particular memory in the life of him and his friends and family. Listening him talk about it all removes any suspicion of it all being a stunt.
“Lola James Harper is all about taking pictures and creating fragrances of the places we love," he explains, "playing and recording the music we love, and sharing the states of mind we respect. Perfume is about one’s state of mind, about one’s attitude." And, while that might initially sound a little twee, such statements are proclaimed with ebullient and heartwarming enthusiasm. In fact, so thoroughly enthusiastic is Mekdachi about everything that he likes that the brand has come to encompass more than just candles (and, most recently, eau de toilette): he has a friend who roasts really good coffee beans, so now there's a coffee arm to the company; he's a prolific photographer, so one can buy his prints either as stand-alone artworks or printed upon LJH t-shirts and totes; even contemporary furniture is available under the Lola James Harper umbrella.
"For 20 years I was doing all these different things," Mekhadi says of the brand's inception, "travelling, designing, taking photographs, making fragrances – and then, three years ago, I decided to gather all that, all those people, all those friends around the world and to create a project that would just express our way of life and our way of travelling, creating, playing together, composing together and the fragrances of the places we loved, the songs that we wrote together, the pictures of our holidays or our music sessions." What is resolutely charming about Mekdachi, and thus the line itself, is this spirit of collaboration and emotion and, while there are plenty of strings to Lola James Harper's bow, fragrance is clearly at its heart.
"The thing about scent is that it’s really linked to emotions, not to intellect," Mekdachi explains. "And that's different to, say, looking a photograph. For example, when you smell a house that you used to have parties in, you become like Proust with his madeleine: you don't remember the house, instead you feel like you were right there." So, a rum and wood candle invites us to the billiard room of Jean-Jacques ("a dear friend living in Britany in a great house in the middle of nowhere with that billiard room where we spend so many nights arguing, playing, laughing"), a patchouli and sandalwood blend to the TV basement of Jonet ("Jonet has a big house with a basement filled with old couch, sofas, old carpets and a BIG TV… we used to go down really late at night to watch action movies"). Through candles, we're transported all around the world with Mekdachi and his companions.
Now, the brand has launched a perfume line, which takes a slightly different path: "It is all about the feelings that the fragrances give us," says Mekdachi. One can therefore not only choose to embark on an olfactive journey with him and his friends, but imitate their resoundingly positive approach to the world by spraying "Together is always better" (Green Tea), or "Little by little with joy" (Orange Blossom) onto oneself. It means that, even when you're at your gloomiest, Mekhadi's life philosophy is only a spritz away: ideal.