Hani Oh, founder and Creative Director of Nalda discusses her company, Nalda, artisanal perfume with Alex Jensen.
With a deep back in fashion and branding, Hani has developed a range of perfumes that express her feelings about her homeland.
She created aromas that not only represent these key figures in Korean history, but also scents that those great people might wear. As she says, “When I created our Admiral Lee Sun Shin perfume, people expected a smoky woody, strong aroma, but he wrote a journal every day, so I created an aroma for that part of him. Clean, comfortable to help him relax. And this aroma also for you, when you came home, relax and you pour yourself a beer. For when you take your time relax, part of a perfect time for you.”
Hani has also created a powerful ecosystem surrounding her products with strong followings on Instagram and Naver that has led to Hani being invited overseas to discuss Korean tastes at international forums.
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Alex Jenson 0:08
You’re listening to koreabizcast with the KBLA. It is Tuesday, March 22. I’m your host Alex Jensen. We’ve got a really exciting topic planned for you today. If you like nice smells and perfumes, then make sure you listen if you don’t, then perhaps you don’t know what you’re missing. I first want to just say thank you very much to the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul for making today’s episode possible. Offering stylish elegance in the very heart of the city. Speaking of stylish elegance, Hani Oh is co founder of heroes of Korea and also the perfumer there this is a Korean perfume brand. Hani, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Hani Oh 0:48
Thank you so much for having us. Alice Thank you.
Alex Jenson 0:51
You are a perfumer which means you make perfumes. How does one become that? Do you have to have an extra special nose or be in the right place at the right time? Tell us your story.
Hani Oh 1:04
I haven’t been lucky. After I was a grazer from fit in New York, so it’s about fashion business. And then luckily I flew to Paris and and I stayed there for a while. And I met the master perfumers, Francis Cazale and the Trombona child, then we had a great time together. Yeah, that’s how I encountered the world of perfume.
Alex Jenson 1:34
What were your favorite perfumes growing up? Or when you became aware of perfumes so we can get an idea of your tastes?
Hani Oh 1:40
Wow, that’s a very good question. So when I grew up, perfumes are one of my favorite things. But also one of the things that I cannot like because you know we Korean we have a different food cuisine and different culture compared to France, slash European countries. So certain smells, certain spicy notes, like cloth and pepper. And those things like that are not that familiar with me. So I couldn’t like them much, and especially Parisien perfumes, which has a very deep, rich vanilla but Jasmine, deep jasmine and very heavy, heavy floral note with the musk. And probably some other or North Americans they understand what I’m talking about. Because there are certain people out there. They couldn’t bear it either. Because it’s too too strong. Yeah. So I there were perfumes I liked a lot when I grew up, like something lighter, like like cotton, or detergent, things like that. But certain perfumes very deep, musky, and spicy. I couldn’t like them much.
Alex Jenson 3:12
So how did that influence your profession? Have you then gone down the route of choosing scents that that you like personally? Or? Or has it been more about trying to find out what Koreans generally like?
Hani Oh 3:25
So after I had the time away the master perfumers in Paris, I learned that Oh, I mean, you guys like that perfumes a lot. I understand because we’re just different. And I so that was the moment they’re like, why not perfumes? Koreans do not feel like it’s too heavy. It’s it. It’s not that strong. It’s not the dominant. It’s more the life for pleasant. So yeah, that came off to me.
Alex Jenson 4:03
Nevertheless, I find it difficult when you’re smelling one after another and often sprayed onto paper strips, they all start to smell the same, or it’s difficult to distinguish what they’re actually going to be like on your skin. I’m wondering how you actually test and make sure that your nose is able to detect all the right perfumes that are going to work and those that are either too overpowering or nauseating or off for some other reason.
Hani Oh 4:30
Oh, that was a really good question. So when I was in Paris, though, those are master perfumers and also founders of perfume brands, and they advised me how to meet my perfect perfume. First, obviously it has to make you feel pleasant, and it doesn’t give you unpleasant moment. It has to be very delightful or it has to be something pleasant, and a lot, but a lot of people came up to me came to me. And then they explained to me, Oh, I needed to buy this one, do you really think I need to buy this one because all my friends, they wear this perfume because it’s expensive. And everybody says, because of my age, because of my job occupation, I should do where it is these days. So I told them, it’s better what you really, really feel. We’re really, really, really like. So to find out the perfect perfume, it really means to find out who you are, what you really like. And while you really like to be for even, for example, ice cream, or dessert or pecan pie. I mean, some people really liked it, but some people don’t like it, but they don’t know what they like, unless they try to identify what they like.
Alex Jenson 5:58
So tell us how did heroes of Korea start exactly and and also when did it start?
Hani Oh 6:04
So it was started 2020 but before then, since 2013, I started writing about perfumes on my blog. So I have attracted a 5.5 million visitors to my blog. And because of that, I was lucky to open my Instagram account and I attract more followers. And now I’m running my YouTube channel as well. And I started my perfume 2020 through crowdfunding. So it’s all about digital world. So I’m really appreciative of that. So because I with the crowdfunding, I was able to launch the first perfume which is named this Sejongdaewang very woody. Yeah,
Alex Jenson 6:54
So Sejongdaewang or King Sejong, you named all of these perfumes after legendary figures in Korea. Okay, firstly, why and secondly, how did you choose which legendary figures to go for?
Hani Oh 7:10
So first of all, I really wanted to talk about Korea to the world. I know I’m not BTS BTS does really really amazing work. Yeah, well, I am. But when I started in New York City, there was not many many products to demonstrate to show Korea, so when I was invited to my American friends, thanksgiving day or Christmas Day party, there was not many things I can present to her so I wanted to make something made in Korea also telling about Korea. And then you know, there are a lot of celebrities’ perfumes and perfumes are the perfect medium and to remember to imagine someone, so I was like oh then why not Korean Heroes, heroes of Korea. We have a lot of heroes. So then I thought of King Sejong, Sejong the Great because I always mentioned about Sejong th Great when I was in New York when somebody came up to me Oh, and a lot of to a lot of people I was the first Korean. So I explained them we have a king who created all Korean alphabet for their his people, because he loved his people then much. Yeah, so literally he created a legacy. So I remember I showed the Korean bill which is with values $10 for American market, so I carried one or $10 a Korean bill and I showed that because the figure is Sejong th Great so I show them He is the King who created Korean alphabet for his people. So that’s the first three key heroes I picked. They are all featured on Korean bills and also Korea coins.
Alex Jenson 9:21
Which is the most popular of the heroes perfume so far?
Hani Oh 9:24
So far Sejong th Great the woody but also to some people, they they compare Sejongdaewang with Diptyquethe ticker Tam Dao. Diptyque Tam Dao is was inspired by the forest in South Asian era. And because of the humid environment is so humid to them, it’s very humid center, rude, woody scent. And to them, Sejongdaewang, Sejong th Great perfume is a lot more sunshine, dried, woody, sandalwood and vetiver. Yeah,
Alex Jenson 10:08
so that one is the most popular at the moment. But what are the other two then that you haven’t mentioned so far?
Hani Oh 10:14
So the second one was Sinsaimdang. She was known for a very talented painter. And the third one is Lee Sunsin who was the admiral of the Chosun Dynasty, who beat Japanese troops.
Alex Jenson 10:35
I sort of imagine some sort of sea spray involved in the scent of Admiral Lee Sunsin, sorry.
Hani Oh 10:45
Wow, this is the beauty of the scent I mean, even though we smell we don’t smell now together but we can imagine together so Lee Sunsin, the fragrance the perfume is like, I know a lot of people expected me to create like, smoky because it’s a fire. It’s a war, an aqua, less strong, dominant aqua and but, you know, essentially a road or joiner because he’s very diligent. So he wrote a journal daily. And I read his journal. And he worried so much he worried every single day he worried about his mother, he worried about his kid, he worried about his people, and also a lot of things. So I’m like, Oh, my God, I cannot. I couldn’t create a perfume to like fire and smokey and heavy. Because I don’t think if Lee Sunsin is alive right now, he’s not going to wear it. He because he worries too much. So he probably wears something clean, something more like something calms down him something more comfortable. And early, everybody chilly and cool. So I create a perfume for him. more airy, but also Aqua. But it’s not aqua, like typical French perfumeries. Strong. Our own Aqua. It’s more delightful. It’s very light, and then also I, I created a cyprus, it’s considered woody, but very green, green. So it’s not like what people expect from me. It’s not smoky. It’s not heavy at all. It’s very, very comfortable. So some people told me they’re like, this is a perfect perfume. After you finish your choose your big, big project. And you came home and you pour out your beer from your refrigerator. And then you take your time relax. And this is the perfect time for you.
Alex Jenson 13:09
To sum up, and really it would be calm, light aqua and cyprus. Yes. Is that the aroma? Right? I’m just summarizing imagination going. From a business standpoint, what’s it like though competing with all of the various established brands? And you mentioned like the diptyque comparison, the fact that people will always say, Oh, this smells like this or this reminds me of that.
Hani Oh 13:42
I mean, they are big, big players. So I don’t think I can beat them at this point. However, I have my own story. And also those are these perfumes are created by me. I think people who pay a lot of attention on our perfumes because of that. They like to hear about my perspective towards the heroes of Korea as well, and how I interpret and how I translate their story into perfumes. So yeah, definitely. I’m not a big player in the market. But yeah, we never know.
Alex Jenson 14:23
Well, I’d also like to ask about your retail options. Are you seeing most of your sales offline? So people smelling it first or are they reading about you online and take your chance?
Hani Oh 14:36
So right now people are reading about me on the Internet, whether they go to smart store, which is my ecommerce website, and also they are great great porters. So one of the chefs in Busan she asked me can I present your perfumes at her place? So now They are selling our perfumes in Busan. Also, my other friend who worked who is working for a theatrical industry. And she asked me Can I do a little pop up at Seochon in Seoul, so she’s also selling my perfume and presenting. The reason they deliver my perfumes it is because I believe in them I know they are not going to appreciate their customers, smell it and buy it. I know they are not going to do that. Because that’s not what I want. I want people enjoy the moment of the fragrance and perfumes. And as far as they remember what they smell. And also Oh, this is the whole interpretation of heroes over Korea. That’s very interesting. And so I told them, it doesn’t matter if they purchase it immediately or not. But it really matters. They have to have a moment to experience or so they, they interpretate by themselves. So those people they can provide those moments to them. So that’s why I’m very happy to have my travel partners to sell at offline.
Alex Jenson 16:25
Ultimately, do you want to be reaching out to a global audience? As you suggested before? These are figures that you kind of want to publicize abroad? Maybe not quite as known as BTS for now but people who could represent Korea and also part of this question I wanted to ask. Are these aimed at unisex market?
Hani Oh 16:46
Oh, absolutely. I want to reach out to the yeah, abroad and then global market. That’s why I or my or our perfume packages are written in Korean, which is rare because a lot of Korean perfume brands they are packaging are written in English. But I really want to present Korea so and also is beautiful. I believe Korean characters, Korean languages are so beautiful. So that’s why even though a lot of people told me no, you should make your packaging in English because the design wise it looks better. But I like no Korean, I mean, it’s beautiful. So my packaging is all written in Korean. And oh, I’m sorry, I forgot the second question.
Alex Jenson 17:36
No, no worries at all. So you’re looking for a broad base of people to be passionate. I get the feeling like, as you’ve suggested, it’s not just about customers. It’s about people to be passionate about your product, which sounds wonderful. But you’re also looking at men or women or without a doubt. When you look at the big perfume players they definitely are aiming for him and for her.
Hani Oh 18:01
Oh, so basically my perfumes are all genderless . Yeah. So even though a lot of people are still considered woody perfumes are for men, but my, my Sejongdaewang, Sejong the Great perfume, it’s woody, it’s ascendo is vetiver. But there are a lot of female customers or who like to wear even my friends, my girlfriends, they wear Sejongdaewang a lot and they like it because too, according to them Sejongdaewang woody is very calm warm and also it kind of makes them feel like they are at a very nice place. So all my perfumes are genderless, and even Sinsaimdang, some of my customers to them Sinsaimdang who is the representative character of a Korea Mother, mother figure so some of them wrote their reviews. Then they told me they’re like oh, I don’t feel like I can look at Sinsaimdang on my Tavor however they tried it and they liked it because it is citrusy but they are middle notice for the end is woody and it lasts longer than all the other citrus perfumes. So they liked it. And then they told me that like I feel I’m very confident and it’s vibrant. It really gives me the energy. So to them even though the finger is a female figure and known for mother figure in Korea, but because it’s a citrusy grapefruit and orange blossom and it really makes them confident and it feels really good. So they like to wear it so all my perfumes are very genderless.
Alex Jenson 20:00
We’ve heard before on this podcast that less people might be inclined to wear makeup because of the face masks that have become so popular during the pandemic. But but also, face masks do something else, they diminish our sense of smell, maybe not entirely, but it’s not going to help get the full range of the sense that you’re describing. So has it been a problem for you in the perfume industry launching this product during the course of COVID? When so many people are covering up their noses?
Hani Oh 20:29
Oh, thank you for asking the question because it was a really, really tough time. Especially for someone like me launched the perfume brand. According to Korean regulation during pandemic, basically, you cannot smell perfumes at a store. So it was banded before but now it’s free. It’s okay. But it had it was banned the like for one and a half year I think. Yeah, so you cannot smell it. So it damages a lot. However, i Luckily, my blog and my Instagram and my YouTube channels, I described it as much as I can and also showed when I create a perfume and things like that people understand even though they cannot smell it, and a lot of my buyers, my clients, they don’t smell perfumes before they buy it because they couldn’t they were not places. However they imagine the smell and they purchase it through crowdfunding and also Naver smart store.
Alex Jenson 21:46
Well, we’re gonna have a special giveaway which we’re going to provide more details of via LinkedIn. If anyone’s interested in that check out KBLA and answer the question we’re going to put there for now, Hani, oh, it’s been an absolute pleasure speaking with you. I’m looking forward to smelling some of these scents myself and seeing if they match what you’ve described.
Hani Oh 22:05
Oh, yeah, I cannot wait. And also Alex, you have a great knowledge of perfumes. Yeah. So I’m really really I look forward to hearing from you.
Alex Jenson 22:18
We build these association and these stories and you’ve done that brilliantly clearly with this name heroes of Korea tells us a lot in itself. Hani, it’s been a pleasure. And I also want to say thank you very much to the Four Seasons Hotel sold for making today’s episode possible. Check out that LinkedIn page as I said before, and for now see you again same time or at your convenience tomorrow.