Yosh Han, a perfumer in San Francisco, got her start a decade ago managing 826 Valencia’s retail arm, the Pirate Store. She began making scents for her then-boss Dave Eggers and his friends and associates at McSweeney’s, including authors JT Leroy (whom she describes as complex and dark), Nick Hornby (“he couldn’t eat a whole burrito”), and William T. Vollmann (“Who is this guy? I didn’t really want to talk to him”).
Following a successful collaboration with novelist Robert Mailer Anderson, Han edged away from McSweeney’s. “Perfumes and pirates don’t really [go together], at least not for the section I wanted to be in, which was high end at Barneys,” she says. “I wanted to have my own success outside of any relationship with Dave.”
These days, Han makes custom scents for high-profile food writers and peddles her wares at upmarket retailers. We asked her to concoct a scent for The Baffler. Here’s what she said.
When I was looking at the old covers, they were so cool to me. I was thinking about what [the magazine] would smell like because those colors are remarkable—they’re very bright. When I look at them now, they’re slightly dated. I was trying to imagine the new Baffler. I’d imagine it’d have an online presence, and it would have a new feeling now, but still maintain its intellectual—let’s say snobbery.
I definitely wanted to include the smell of paper because it’s originally a print format. I also wanted to have the smell of pencil shavings, and then I also wanted to have the smell of ink. Because it’s somehow new and modern, and I kept seeing images of technology, I wanted to have something coppery or wiry. Computers have that certain vibe.
I find the intellectual tends to not be so perfume-y. They don’t really like floral fragrances, and they don’t like anything too dense, but they also don’t like anything too happy. There’s a sense of pragmatism, a sense of challenge. If you’re writing about politics and culture, I would imagine that doing the job of being a real, professional journalist is to keep things in check. If you’re writing a criticism on politics, you’re not writing sweet honey thoughts. You’re being critical—you’re actually being critical—of what’s happening in our government.
I had this feeling, when I was looking at [The Baffler], that it had bright citrus notes, but not too happy—just a touch of bitterness. When I say bitter, I don’t mean emotional bitterness. I mean the crispness of what it would be like if you’re reading something—like, ouch, a reality bites kind of smell.