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Douglas Little: Fragrance’s Agent Provocateur

Douglas Little is bringing some good, clean fun to the fragrance category.

Douglas Little, the 45-year-old mold-breaking founder of Heretic Parfum, has a flair for the provocative and a taste for alchemy.

Working out of a small studio in downtown Los Angeles, he has produced a string of unusual products, all featuring naturally derived ingredients, right down to the alcohol base.

Fragrance has the ability to alleviate stress, lift depression and instantaneously transform the ordinary into the extraordinary,” Little said. “It’s magical.”

An example is his new line of Striptease candles, which he created with his old friend Dita Von Teese, under the Bougie Burlesque brand. When the candle heats to a certain temperature, the layer of ink of peek-a-boo clothing cheekily disappears, then reappears when the temperature cools.

Heretic's Douglas Little Plots Brand Expansion
Candles from Bougie Burlesque.

Little earlier achieved a flash of notoriety for collaborating with Gwyneth Paltrow on two candles with risqué names: “This Smells Like My Vagina” and “This Smells Like My Orgasm.”

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Little is unapologetic, noting the industry could use a dash of irreverence. “Fragrance has become too pretentious, and the element of fun, innovation and surprise has been lost,” he said. “I really want to echo the concept of what it means to be a heretic in product development.”

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But Little is interested in much more than being an agent provocateur. He’s thinking big, particularly when the conversation turns to his devotion to building a full-fledged beauty house founded on products using 100 percent naturally derived ingredients, and demonstrating the efficacy of those substances for particular types of products.

This is not lost on Dionisio Ferenc, group president, global fine fragrance at International Flavors & Fragrances. “Douglas’ passion for discovery, his knowledge of ingredients, and his desire to do something truly unconventional is not only disruptive, but it is driving new energy into the fragrance industry,” Ferenc said. “He understands that consumers are craving uniqueness and self-expression and [he] transforms the traditional approach to an ingredient or olfactive structure by allowing it to be seen through an unconventional lens for modern day.”

Now Little is spreading his wings, reflected in the renaming of his company to Heretic Beauty. He intends to “venture into spaces that are not your traditional territory for a fragrance brand,” such as the hand sanitizer he has been working on for two years.

“The future for us is that we are really going to be stepping heavily into functional.”

His stable of 15 naturally based scents will be flanked by launches slated for next spring of personal-care products, including a sexual lubricant containing CBD, and a body wash scented with essential oils used in his Dirty Lemon fragrance. There are plans for three more Striptease candles. Not surprisingly in this coronavirus era of heightened domestic living, Little is stepping up his home fragrance effort.

The body wash launch is meant as a prelude to a full body-care regime.

Little stressed that the personal lubricant will contain CBD. “[CBD] provides a relaxing effect and it is suitable for both partners, specifically for women who have any pain. It also provides relief for anxiety. I have been doing a tremendous amount of work with various doctors within the sexual wellness space. There is so much anxiety and stress that surrounds sex.”

The formula is in synch with his determination to stick to a natural regime, right down to the organic sugar cane alcohol. “I want our progress into the expansion of new products to follow suit with always being 100 percent naturally derived,” he said. “There still is a lack of products within the lubricant market. [I want to offer] something that is relevant, contemporary, safe and also very effective.”

This fall Heretic will also introduce a couple new fragrances, but Little is keeping his eye on the future.

“Eventually we will be looking at color cosmetics,” he said, noting he is aiming for a 2022 launch.

Body care is being planned as a slow rollout in fall 2021, with prices expected to fall between $22 to $25; the lubricant will be $45.

But Little hasn’t lost sight of his core business of natural fragrances, which he produces at the rate of perhaps four a year. According to design, roughly 65 to 75 percent of his business was meant to be direct-to-consumer, with additional distribution in Credo, Goop, Sephora, Bergdorf Goodman and Maxfield’s in Los Angeles plus sales points in London, Paris and Australia.

Heretic took another step this year by launching some of its natural fragrances—Florgasm, Dirty Mango, Dirty Grass and Dirty Lemon—into the Clean at Sephora lineup in April, where the fragrances “performed exceptionally well,” according to Carye Campbell, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of fragrance in the specialty chain.

“It‘s one of our first fragrances with CBD, an ingredient which has been trending in skin care for some time. “In a short time, the brand has established a strong connection with our clients, prompting high levels of social engagement and overwhelmingly positive online reviews,” she said.

Little had no comment when asked about Heretic’s overall volume, but industry sources estimate that the business, which was founded in 2016, could hit the $21 million sales mark by the end of 2023.

While there hasn’t been a lot of large-scale innovation in the market, aside from the advent of perfumer collections, Little has noticed changes requiring strategy shifts. “It’s so much better to start off with an edgy philosophy,” he said. “It’s not niche anymore…it’s like you have to be a niche of a niche. The days of appealing to everyone are over.”

The biggest change, of course, was the emergence of types of customers, along with new consumer tastes.

“They are looking for what is the next thing in fragrance and they are looking for [scents] that have a real point of view and a brand that is honest in what it is doing,” he said.