INTERVIEW WITH DOUGLAS LITTLE, THE PERFUMER BEHIND THE VIRAL CANDLE
“Little is clearly tapping into an undercurrent that mass-market fragrances aren’t addressing." -Beauty Independent
While out with a friend at a restaurant in San Francisco, Heretic founder and perfumer Douglas Little overheard two women chatting about This Smells Like My Vagina, the world-famous geranium, citrus, bergamot, cedar, rose and ambrette seed candle from his brand that’s sold by Goop for $75.
One of the two women said, “‘Oh my god, have you seen this ridiculous candle that Gwyneth Paltrow is making?’ And the other woman was like, ‘Um, I think it’s fucking amazing!’ And she was like, ‘You know what? Men have talked about their dicks for the past hundred years, and now I’m talking about my vagina,’” recounts Little, who couldn’t help but laugh at the conversation. “The girl looked at me and she was like, ‘Excuse my language.’ And I was like, ‘No, please don‘t excuse yourself.’”
He didn’t inform the women he’d worked with Paltrow on the candle nor that their tête-à-tête was precisely what he and the Goop creator were trying to instigate with the product’s now-viral moniker. Elaborating on the candle in an interview with Beauty Independent, Los Angeles-based Little says, “There is something wonderfully curious and something that is provocative and that is a little naughty, and I just feel like we’re at this incredible place in the United States where I think sexuality is in a transformation and going through a revolution, where we’re becoming so much more accepting of people’s needs, wants and desires, becoming more accepting of the idea of male female transgender, gay, straight, bisexual, like this language is becoming much more acceptable, as it should be, and people are able to live more healthy and fulfilled lives because of it.”
Of course, the women at the restaurant aren’t the only ones discussing This Smells Like My Vagina. After hitting Goop in November on limited release, it promptly sold out in January following press mentions in The Cut, People and more publications, and it sold out again on Valentine’s Day. Paltrow has brought it up on the late-night television show circuit, including during stops at “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”
Heretic’s partnership with Goop predates This Smells Like My Vagina. The brand seemed like a no-brainer for the e-tailer because it and Paltrow’s chic wellness destination share an affinity for clean formulas. Heretic’s fragrances are made from botanical ingredients. Prior to This Smells Like My Vagina, Little composed a number of fragrances for Goop Beauty, notably Eau De Parfum Edition 02 Shiso.
While testing scent strips for a new fragrance, Paltrow blurted out, “Uhhh, this smells like my vagina!” The phrase became an inside joke. “The moment was uncomfortable and funny, and we both leaned into it and really embraced the concept,” remembers Little. “Why is there so much stigma and shame and anxiety about a woman’s vagina? What is the big deal about it?” The notes in This Smells Like My Vagina are meant to capture the sensuality of warm skin, not an olfactory knockoff of Paltrow’s anatomy. Anyone with the candle, however, can decide what they want it to convey.
Going an unusual route can invite scrutiny and occasionally ridicule. Martha Stewart mocked This Smells Like My Vagina as a stunt for “guys who are horny.” What Stewart failed to notice is that it’s women snapping up the candle. “Women are buying it for themselves, and they’re buying it for other women,” says Little. “We are seeing this incredible ownership of power that women are taking. For the people who really love the candle, they feel like it gives them some empowerment. Fragrance should inspire. It should provoke. It should make you feel. I’m trying to bring back that spark of magic.”
Little is clearly tapping into an undercurrent that mass-market fragrances aren’t addressing. The majority of fragrance advertising from large companies relies on the assumption that women are motivated by attracting men and vice versa. The traditional paradigms inherently require a woman to be sexually available to a man, which isolates and excludes many consumers. Heretic’s customers are looking for a product that represents them. “Women are becoming very unapologetic about their needs, wants and desires,” says Little. “I’m not making these products to placate to that world, I’m making these products provoke curiosity, wonder and amazement.”