From the first glance, Soohyang is a fragrance brand that fits perfectly within today's world. Its website, where it attracts the majority of its traffic, captivates viewers with a burst of brand-signature millennial pink that precedes a simple yet declarative statement: "Life is better when you smell nice." Beyond being Instagrammable, this minimalist, open-ended introduction invites those who come across it to stay a while, find the scent perfect for their lives, and slowly discover the interdisciplinary reinvention behind the pleasant surface.
While many fragrance entrepreneurs refine their perspectives from a lifetime of exclusively pursuing the perfume industry, Soohyang Kim is providing a different view. A lifelong passion of music had led the would-be entrepreneur to an initial path doing planning work for a recording company, where she fell in love with the industry's vibrant and constant diversity, which spans far beyond what any individual can experience in a lifetime.
"I felt like I would never age because there were so many types of music out there and I was only beginning to discover them," Soohyang said of her transformative time at the recording company. "Then, I fell in love with perfume and soon realized that music and fragrance were very similar. As I left the company, I sought to apply all I had cultivated by using ‘fragrance’ as a medium to develop my own business."
While she may have worked in a different industry before deciding to create scent, in a very literal way, Soohyang's calling was always fragrance. Her name translates to "excellent fragrance," so even before the Korean entrepreneur decided to embark on her olfactory journey, she knew she had an interest in one day playing on this fact via her own brand. Manifesting this destiny only after exploring music, she has developed a thoughtful, inspired perspective that helps her to stand out amidst the booms of both K-beauty and photo-ready minimalist aesthetics.
Over the years, Soohyang has evolved from abstract to concrete inspirations and catered to an increasingly global audience, but her brand has consistently displayed an obsession with the transformative power of fragrance and an impressively smooth production process to make the magic happen. The company's Seoul production facility allows for a two-week turnaround from idea to product, and thanks to this, the brand has successfully released more than 20 collaborations annually in its first few years of existence. Among these collaborators are Korean fast-fashion brand 8seconds, athleisure giant Lululemon, and CGV, a Korean cinema chain with which Soohyang created a Beauty and the Beast collection.
While the industries and aesthetics each capsule brings together may vary, common to all of them (as well the standalone products) is a sense of simple beauty in the world around, a way to revive life's most exciting moments and find the spirit behind those decidedly more mundane. Of course, this magic happens due to Soohyang, who brings together her belief in yin and yang, fantasy as inherent to fragrance, and a mix of timely and timeless inspirations. To let the world in on her philosophy (and remind the world of scent's power along the way), the entrepreneur spoke with L'Officiel USA about her go-to fragrance, her ever-changing process, and what she wants to do next to further reimagine the olfactory.
What do you want to bring to the world of fragrance through Soohyang?
A pure pleasure from the sense of smell should add bliss to everyday life, much like warm sunlight, a soft cashmere sweater, classical piano performance, and fine wine. While much of the fragrance industry has built their brands on flamboyantly displaying tradition, expertise, and luxury, my hope is that Soohyang shines in a different way. The goal was to be simple but stylish, and to present a small gift of happiness that would leave a memorable impression. This may be the reason Soohyang’s candles have gained a promising popularity in Seoul throughout the years.
When creating a new scent, where do you look for inspiration?
There was once a time when I explored more abstract collections, like creating a series of ‘Sunday Scents.' My approach to scent creation was more about using new chemical compounds than embracing classic fragrances. I would spend months hustling as I collaborated with perfumers. Come to think of it, it’s quite humorous to have thought people would pay for something like that.
Nowadays, I find sources from classical notes like floral, woody, fruity, and green. Reinterpreting ordinary materials is the domain of creation. When working on a fragrance, I get inspiration from whatever is around me, including magazines, internet culture, trending hashtags and buzzwords, notable happenings, and the zeitgeist of this generation. As a simple but trend-forward brand, Soohyang has its own way of presenting ordinary things from a different angle without making the scent overwhelming.
What is your production process like?
We are lucky to have invested in a production facility in Seoul, where we craft our products in-house. This puts us in a place where we're able to continuously showcase new fragrances without the burden of carrying inventory.
Most companies launch their products within three months of developing their ideas. Small boutiques like ours are quick to make decisions, so if you know what you want, you can move quickly to make it a reality. Having your own production facility is also helpful. Once, after sketching new ideas all night, I ordered samples the next day and they were ready two weeks later. Even within the fast production of Korea, we were amazed at how quickly and beautifully it turned out. This is our secret to making as many brand collaborations as we do each year. These days, though, I am trying to get out of my obsession with speed. Now I want to slowly craft beautiful products that people can use and love for a long time.
How do you think a scent contributes to the wearer’s personal aesthetic?
To me, scent acts as a non-verbal language to explain my personality to the outside world. What's funny is that people choose their favorite fragrance based on genetics. Unlike fashion, perfume is not about seasons or trends, so finding your favorite scent is like searching for your true self. The right fragrance can lead to good fortune and help you to build relationships that last a lifetime.
What is your go-to everyday fragrance?
Lately, it has been D.S. & Durga's Bowmakers. I already own it, but the first thing I did as soon as I landed in New York was buy a larger bottle. This scent reminds me of insatiable longing after a first date, much like in Cinderella—the lost glass slipper and the prince’s love at first sight. I have also come to like the scent of iris even thought I once thought florals were cliché. Of course, single floral notes can be, but everything starts from creative reinterpretation. Armani Privé's Iris Celadon does this exceptionally.
Your brand has a variety of scents to cater to a range of customers. Can you talk about a couple of your fragrances and what lifestyles they might fit?
I believe the forces of yin and yang make up this world, and it's the same for fragrance. While the customers do not explicitly know this, the fragrance collection from Soohyang has kept the above in mind. Take, for instance, New Yorkers. They are more inclined to show interest in our scent, Hinoki, a woody note of the typical dry wood - closely aligning with yin. Scents like Hinoki counterbalance socially active (yang) individuals, perfect for many residents of this expressive and dynamic city. In Asia, however, many individuals who keep to themselves (holding yin energy) benefit from the dominant, yang-aligning scents, which often manifest through citrus and fruity notes.
You did a Beauty and the Beast collaboration a couple of years ago. What do you think is the power of fantasy within fragrance?
Fragrance and fantasy are inseparable. How do people buy our products online without having to test the scents in person? It’s fantasy at play here. People decide whether they like a product or not based on its appearance and ambience. This process happens in a matter of seconds, just like swiping on Tinder. This is how our products sell better online. The world of Soohyang is a fantasy itself. All we need to do is give people that little push they need by providing them the most honest and detailed profile and adding a droplet of fantasy on our product to make wonders happen. We believe your second date can be as amazing as your first.
Do you have any dream future collaborations?
What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?
I’m currently working on a collection comprising single floral note reinterpretations. My love for flowers is never-ending and I always keep them close by me. Flowers are one of the essentials of my life. I make frequent trips to local flower markets, wherever I am in the world. There, I feel the change of seasons. Tulips in Seoul appear in March, then disappear in time to say hello to summer. Naturally, I bring back a bunch of tulips in spring, along with daffodils and hyacinths. When peonies start to appear, I buy them almost every week. A month or two later, when the peony season is over and it’s hard to find them in the local flower market, my heart sinks for a moment.
Seeing the most beautiful flowers each season is one of the ways I appreciate life. I would like to show off the unique charm of these seasonal flowers by reinterpreting them in our own way.