Ryan and Lorenzo are the co-founders of HOOHAA – a monthly fragrance subscription that allows you to explore the worlds of ylang ylang, citrus, woody aromas and more from the comfort of your sofa. Their boutique brand partners all have an individual story to tell, celebrating expert craftsmanship, eclectic combinations and undying passions.
We’ll tell you what fragrances smell like in words that make sense… Here’s to fine fragrances without the bollocks
After being contacted by the brand I was offered 3 types of subscription for the summer:
1. Easy Does It: Just dipping your toes in? Start here. Fresh, smiley and easy-going. Perfect for any hour morning to night. These scents are more background music than wall-shaking floor-fillers, but with enough clever riffs to keep your foot tapping along to their beat. Current Drop: Realist by Contradictions in ILK (Bergamot, Lemon, Yuzu, Amber, Hinoki Wood and Immortelle)
2. Buckle Up: Time to set your pulse racing, or maybe someone else’s. When you find yourself wondering what that fantastic smell is, it’s probably you. Apologies in advance if you find your nose -or someone else’s – stuck to your wrist. Current Drop: Bain de Midi by Maison Matine (Bergamot, Coconut, Tiare flower, ylang ylang, Madagascan vanilla, musk)
3. Take Me To Mars: Strap in, splash on. Time to go. Take Me to Mars is designed for the connoisseurs always on the lookout for the weird, wonderful and extreme. These might make your toes curl. NSFW (depending on where you work) Current Drop: Tobak by Maya Njie (Tobacco Leaf, Vetiver, Cinnamon, Tonka, Musk, Leather)
I loved the sound of Take Me To Mars – something heavy, unusual and exciting! And luckily for me it is totally safe for work. I often enjoy buying men’s fragrances – they’re usually richer, full of body and flavour. As a serial sprayer that’s frequently caught red handed in the aisles of the department store, shamelessly soaking themselves in a cocktail of characters, it’s refreshing to have an at-home service that presents a unique challenge.
Take Me To Mars is a full-on Rapé ceremony in a bottle. The Tobacco Leaf and Leather linger on the body for hours, leaving a peppery after-taste that adds a little spice to the day (might be the Tonka Bean or Vetiver which is apparently a smelly grass). But the most substantial spice is in the variety and it’s enticing knowing that every month will offer something new.
Could you tell us a little more about your background and how you came to found HOOHAA – including where the name comes from?
Both Ryan and I have backgrounds in digital. Ryan is more of a digital customer experience and design geek and ran his own agency before HOOHAA. Whereas I am more focused on the strategy and commercial development side of things. He’s from the North-East and now lives in Hampshire with his wife and 2 children. I was born in Italy, raised in England by my mum, and now live in Mallorca with my wife and 7-year-old twins.
For both of us, after a life spent creating PowerPoint decks and helping other people start and grow their ideas, we felt it was time to do it for ourselves. We realised we had a shared passion for fragrance, so set off looking for a way to bring our own fragrance brand to life.
In doing this, we discovered a wonderful lady, Sarah McCartney, founder at 4160 Tuesdays in West London, who agreed to help us develop our line, and Vaunt was created and launched in late 2018.
On this journey, we met an amazing group of artisans making incredible products, which didn’t seem to be finding their way to people. And as massive fragrance fans, we knew this was a missed opportunity. For us, this was the catalyst that led to HOOHAA. Which originally started as a simple e-commerce idea, but we knew discovering new fragrances online was not something people are particularly confident doing, so the subscription model seemed the perfect solution.
The name HOOHAA is interesting, and apparently not without controversy already. In the Cambridge Dictionary, it means an occasion where there is too much interest in, or discussion about something that is not important. And for us, we believe fragrance is brimming with rubbish and pomp! So we are trying to remove that for people to help them discover things they would normally be too nervous to go out and try in pretentious perfume shops.
Of course, HOOHAA has a different meaning in the urban dictionary, but we’ll let your readers find that out for themselves ;-)…
You have a focus on ‘Quality and Culture’ – explain a little more about the exact things you look for here when it comes to fragrances?
The process of deciding which perfumes make it into our curations is both a joy and a gauntlet. For us, there are many parameters as to how we define a fragrance as excellent. This goes far beyond the technicalities of a well-composed perfume.
When testing a new scent on the skin, we are looking at the aromas used and how those move together throughout the fragrance’s trajectory throughout the day, and if there are any gaps or places we feel the fragrance seems incomplete. We also pay a lot of attention to what happens in the drydown.
The experience that HOOHAA offers is entirely different from a customer experience in a department store. A lot of perfumes found in the beauty halls have what we like to call curb appeal. Because perfumes in department stores have such a limited window of time to capture a customer’s attention, they’re giving all of their best bits up straight away, which can sometimes lead to a disappointing wearing experience.
However, because our customers get to experience scent differently, we like to do our best to make sure the perfumes found on HOOHAA deliver for them and how they will be experiencing them.
Seasonality is crucial and one thing we take into account when curating the monthly subscription edits. Just through our own experience, we’re aware of what sort of fragrances people enjoy at different times of the year.
However, we’re fortunate in that we offer three very distinct paths to hop in between. For instance, our Easy Does It customers received Maya Njie’s Les Fleurs in July, a fantastic laidback citrus floral white t-shirt scent, appropriate for any occasion. Our Take Me to Mars customers got 4160Tuesdays’ Maxed Out, which uses a whopping dose of cumin. Cumin can smell quite sweaty, which might not be for everyone during a heatwave; however, those customers subscribed to that edit specifically for that reason. They want a challenge!
Where did the inspiration for the different subscription options come from?
To be honest, this was a pretty tough thing to get right, and who knows if these will stay the course. But we knew we didn’t want to force people through a clunky quiz or fragrance profile, only to pigeonhole people into Citrus scents or Woody scents. Because this is how people get locked into one dimension, and they never break out into new scent areas.
So we had to find a way to help people identify with a level of courage. And we wanted some personality in the Edits, rather than low, medium and high, so Easy does it, Buckle Up and Take me to Mars were born!
What are some of your favourite or most unusual scents?
It’s so hard to pick a favourite scent, when I probably have over 100 in my collection, plus access to so many more, but scents that made a big impact in my life have been Rose 31 by LeLabo. This was one of the first scents which helped me dive deeper into the world of niche back in 2008.
Of course they’re owned by Estee Lauder now, so things have changed a bit there. The second is Montabacco Intensivo by Ormonde Jayne, which I deliberated on for ages (£340 for 120ml!). But this has become one of my all time favourites.
And then I have favourites of the moment to be honest. When you’re constantly testing new fragrances, it’s fun to fall in love for a month or two, and then move on. Right now I’m loving Tropica by Maya Njie, Bain de Midi by Maison Matine and Realist by Contradictions in ILK, all scents we stock at HOOHAA.
What are some of the existing problems in the industry (distribution / sustainability etc), why do they exist and how are you helping to solve them?
Wow, where do we start here?!
Well let’s start with distribution – the problem is you find the same fragrance pretty much wherever you go in the world. At the designer end, it’s Dior, Armani, CK, Chloe etc. In the premium (Mastige) segment it’s Hermes, Acqua di parma, Diptyque, Byredo or LeLabo.
All of these are either owned by the dominant CPG companies or well funded by Private Equity houses, looking to grow quickly internationally to recover large investments. So the consumer doesn’t see new things too often. Which is why we’ve focused on bringing smaller, high-quality houses to the market, filling the gap.
The retail experience – historically, the way people have had to discover scent is pretty harrowing at times. You walk through duty-free at an airport and find yourself doused by overzealous sales assistants. Or you’re in a department store, and it’s almost impossible to determine whether you actually like a scent, because of the overwhelming aromas battling for airborne supremacy around you.
Receiving scents through their door, it gives our customers the chance to test in a calmer environment, over a longer period, which gives a much more accurate representation of the fragrance.
Ingredients: we feel there are a lot of misconceptions around ingredients used to make perfumes. Much of this is off the back of really unhelpful marketing copy – “finest quality ingredients”, which are almost always rooted in naturalism.
A brand may very well be using an exquisite ingredient grown right in the heart of Grasse and picked at the crack of dawn while its petals are still laden with dew (cue: dramatic music). However, it’s a bit of a piss-take for the perfumer is only actually using a drop of that and leaving out the fact the rest is put together with synthetically derived aroma molecules.
That’s not at all a dig on synthetics – quite the contrary. We would not be able to have perfume as we know it today without using synthetic aroma molecules. We feel that it’s a shame that they have been left out of the conversation surrounding perfume for over a century.
It’s only now that we are beginning to see some of them creeping into notes lists, usually Ambroxan, Cashmeran or Iso-e-Super. Perfume is not just a story built around beauty. Science is the other side of the story, and one people are becoming increasingly curious about.
Form factor: we’re declaring the end of the 100ml bottle as the default choice for consumers. We think there are too many fragrance graveyards out there, and people will soon wake up to the waste and the restriction this places on them.
Once they realise a signature scent is something the brands invented to keep them coming back for more of the same perfume, once consumers are educated about the concept of a fragrance wardrobe, they will want to have more choices. And this will mean smaller bottles being bought more frequently. And we think there will be more ways to wear scent. Think gel pens, car air fresheners, roll-ons etc.
Sustainability: rightfully a very hot topic in the fragrance industry right now. Like any luxury product, which fragrance is really, brands have had to rely on packaging and the experience to sell their products.
But the excessive packaging that helps brands stand out from their competitors will become the very thing that stands in the way of them and their consumers. Single-use plastics, the use of natural and clean beauty are all prominent themes that brands will need to navigate in the coming months and years. At HOOHAA we’re doing everything we can with our packaging to ensure it is sustainable, having just introduced compostable envelopes last month.
Finally, let’s talk about gender in scent – a thorny issue, to be honest. People into niche fragrances get it, but the truth is that the population still struggles with the concept of a unisex fragrance.
They feel safe knowing that a scent has been labelled safe for a man or woman. Lots of men don’t want to smell girly, and women don’t want to smell manly. So the big fragrance houses don’t want to risk a sales decline, especially at this time after the pandemic.
But things are changing slowly, and we want to be one part of that movement, helping democratise fragrance and open people’s minds up to things they might never normally discover, or consider wearing for themselves.
Before the post-war period, except for perhaps Caron Pour un Homme which came out in the 1930s, there were no hard lines between what was sold to men and what was sold to women when it came to fragrance. It was only in that economic boom that followed that brands delighted in the fact they could make twice as much money selling one selection of perfumes to madame and another set to monsieur.
The perfume-buying public thought Calvin Klein was doing something really revolutionary in the 1990s with CK One, but they were actually just capitalising on an idea that was always there. The industry was slow to adopt the approach simply because it was more economically beneficial not to until niche perfumery really took off.
Not only were the concepts fuelling the design of fragrances within the niche sphere no longer about attracting the object of your affection, but the customer experience slowly began to change as well with more customers taking the time to make more informed choices by being able to purchase samples and get to know new perfumes in their own time.
However, once the larger brands that typically populated the designer end of the market that capitalised on binaries started seeing how much money there was to be made within “niche”, they too introduced their own collections – Chanel’s Les Exclusifs and La Collection Privee from Dior for example – all of which were marketed as unisex.
Interestingly though, the conversation regarding gender in fragrance is evolving to what one brand called “genderful”. As more people come round to engaging with scent as a vehicle for deeper self-expression, terms such as genderless and gender-neutral are beginning to feel like a disservice to utilising perfume in this way because people want to reflect their gender identity through the perfumes they’re wearing. Empowering people to discover a full spectrum of gender through scent can be deeply gratifying and very fun.
There’s always going to be a generous proportion of “unisex” fragrances. Many of the concepts and narratives used as inspiration for perfumes don’t touch upon gender at all, so it simply would not make sense for them to dip into binaries; however, as more people begin to experiment with fragrance in their own personal perfume wardrobes and olfactory exploration, they’ll be less afraid to dip their toes into pools they thought they’d never be able to swim in.
A case in point is Verano Porteno by Frassai. We’ve had so many men raving about this scent, that traditionally they may have been hesitant to wear, based on its floral nature.
What does a typical work day look like for you, and how has this been impacted by COVID?
HOOHAA was born in the middle of the pandemic in March 21, so to be honest we’ve known nothing but remote working, with our teams distributed across the UK and Spain.
Ryan used the pandemic as a trigger to move him and his family out of London into Hampshire, as there was no longer the need for an everyday commute. I was bolder still, and moved our family out to Mallorca, with the full intention of commuting regularly, once travel returns to something resembling normality.
So our work days look very different. Mine are spent on calls, talking to team members about customer acquisition and retention, subscription mechanics, brand partnerships, fundraising and strategy. Ryan spends more time working on Brand, Marketing and the evolution of our customer experience. We try to meet weekly in central London, with 180 The Strand having become a regular spot for us to get together and collaborate on new ideas.
Did you fundraise for your business?
Yes, we did. We’ve just completed a seed round to help us prove our assumptions and acquire our first 1000 customers. From here we expect to raise more money to reach the scale we know we can get to.
What unforeseen opportunities have arisen?
One very recent opportunity came up completely out of the blue. We have always thought we should experiment with a pop-up retail environment, to test the impact this has on our customer’s experience and ultimately sales.
Last week we had the opportunity to partner with Nolii, a design-focused technology company that has a retail store in Boxpark, Shoreditch. In less than one week, we worked together to plan what a retail partnership supporting our subscription model would look like and managed to get it ready to launch tonight (24/8/21).
We didn’t think we’d be able to allow customers to test our fragrances in person this early on in our journey, so we’re very excited about what this test can teach us.
When you first launched, what brought the most traction and momentum for you? And what hasn’t worked so well?
Good question. In the early days, we saw success with paid advertising, particularly Facebook and Google. But probably the single biggest event was an article about us that appeared in Fragrantica back in May.
The article went live on a Saturday evening I think, and by the end of the bank holiday, we’d signed up more people in those three days than in any other period so far. It really showed the power of the right PR in the right place.
We’re now starting to build out our relationships with certain influencers, as we’ve also had great success in the small tests we’ve carried out here too.
Something that didn’t work too well was a recent newsletter-style email, which triggered a larger amount of people to leave than we’d seen in any one day. It showed us that there are people who forget they’ve subscribed to your service, but when you remind them, it can lead to cancellations. So we have to work harder to improve our communications and service, so we can communicate regularly and not trigger people to leave!
What motivates you?
A few things to be honest. Firstly, it’s creating a company that makes an impact in the world and provides economic and social security for the people who work for and with us. Secondly, and maybe more selfishly, I want to provide economic security for my family and I, so we can continue to live a full and meaningful life on our terms.
What has been your biggest lesson, fear, or failure?
Biggest lesson: Slow down to speed up. When we try too hard and try to force things, we can end up pushing them away. So now when I find myself obsessing over certain things, I try to remember to slow down. Maybe go for a walk, or focus on something else for a day or two. It works.
Biggest fear: Being broke. I probably spend more time than I should be worrying about money. And when you launch a new business in your mid-40s, it’s a bit of a leap of faith, given the responsibilities you have by now! In some ways, this ties back to my motivation – creating economic security for my family and me. I try to focus on the opportunity rather than the fear!
Biggest failure: Too many to mention. I think the only way you learn is by failing and learning from those experiences. As someone who is always looking for new challenges in all areas of my life, it’s only natural I’ll fail more often than most.
Do you have a mentor or people you ask for advice?
I’ve used life coaches and career coaches since my mid-twenties, and I’m always thinking about what qualities I need in a mentor to help me through certain situations.
The people you need to help you get promoted in a big corporate are not the same to help you navigate the less conventional path of entrepreneurship.
Right now I’m actively looking for a new mentor and advisors to join our board. I know how important these people are when you’re embarking on an uncertain journey.
If you did not have your own company, what would you be doing?
Begrudgingly working for someone else – wishing I’d had a go at owning my own company!
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
I’m good at long-term thinking and vision setting. At thinking through complex problems, adapting to new environments and situations, at building relationships and taking on board new information. But I think my biggest strength is my dogged persistence. If I want to do something, I’ll keep going, even when times get tough.
However I have to work a lot harder at organising the details and project management. I often think too far ahead and lose perspective on what has already been achieved. So I need to live a little more in the moment. Sometimes I give people more room than maybe they’re comfortable with, so I have to learn to adapt to different styles.
How has what you do changed you as a person?
It’s made me a lot happier. I’m finally building a business in an area I’m passionate about, with people I chose to work with. It’s made me more aware of my strengths and weaknesses, and it’s forced me to become more present and spiritual, as I’ve had to find ways to remain centred when things can sometimes feel like they are spiralling!
If time and money were no object – what would be on your to do and to see list?
On my to-do list would be lots of sports and activities. So I’d probably play padel tennis and golf every day until I could compete in tournaments in one or the other (or both?!).
I’d like to travel with my family, to the west coast of America and play golf at Pebble Beach and Augusta, and then go further west, taking in Thailand, Japan and Hawaii.
I think I’d also like to spend some time on the water, chartering boats with lots of friends and family, playing around on jet skis and other crazy water toys. I always look longingly out to sea at these crazy yachts, so it would be fun to get involved!
Oh, and then I’d like to end world hunger, save the planet and prevent any more diseases from spreading through the world. That would be really satisfying :).