Essence of luxury: Belinda Brown stakes her claim to the title of Africa’s first female luxury perfumer
By James Brewer
Growing up in the oil-producing Niger Delta, young Belinda Brown and her friends would have to hold their noses as their village was among those hit by fumes from gas flaring operations that created huge volumes of nauseous ‘greenhouse’ emissions. At home, though, she could take refuge in a very special and comforting aroma: that of a favourite moisturising cream named Stella Pomade, a rich mixture of lavender, jasmine and vanilla. Her mother would massage Belinda from head to toe with Stella, which has been a skin care choice of many Nigerians for more than three decades.
Thus began Belinda’s love of exotic scents led her in adult years to search for a signature perfume for herself. From that quest sprang her current success in creating beautiful fragrances based on distilling the finest natural products into an exclusive perfume range. Her label Blessings has won the promotional backing of one of the world’s top parfumiers and a prized slot in Harrods department store.
Although she still loves her native Nigeria, Belinda now resides in the UK and looks back in wonder at the precarious environment of her childhood days when she had to avoid big blotches of oil when swimming about in the river near her home in the southern state of Bayelsa. Belinda luxuriates in lovely perfumes that bring back the happier reminiscences: “The olfactory glands are linked to memories, ” she says.
Her voyage to becoming “Africa’s first female luxury perfumer, ” as she has been called, began on a family holiday in France, where she spotted a pharmacy that was advertising: “Design your own perfume.” She and her then 11-year-old daughter Carmen experimented with the shop’s offerings, making a kind of “pick and mix perfume.” Back in London, she told a friend that she had always wanted to make her own perfume, and the friend said she knew one of the world’s best perfumiers, in Cairo. Belinda toyed with a plan to go to Egypt, but never went, because the friend she had just met phoned her to say she had just seen Roja Dove on her way home. “Roja Dove?” said Belinda. “Yes, the man they call ‘The Nose, ’” said the friend.
Soon Belinda had arranged a meeting with Mr Dove, who has been termed the world’s most respected perfumer and owns the Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie in Urban Retreat, on the fifth floor of Harrods. Mr Dove was clearly impressed by Belinda’s drive and enthusiasm, telling her: “I like free-spirited people.”
The meeting resulted in the range of Blessings perfumes. Blessings Purple is described as combining “jasmine absolute with rose de Mai picked on the hillsides of southern France, ” with “hesperidic” notes of bergamot, lemon and mandarin, and nestled in tonka bean, vanilla and warm cedar. There is an eau de parfum including rose de Mai and jasmine from Grasse, the French town that claims to be the world capital of perfume. Blessings Red brings to some of the above ingredients ylang ylang and a touch of clove, on patchouli, warm cedarwood and vanillic benzoin. There is a handbag-convenient bottle and a syringe for refills; and a stylish parfum pen with a brush for easy appliance – “if only James Bond knew about this!” says Belinda.
At this level, adds Winifred Adeyemi of the communications agency AFRICA:Seen & Heard, and an aficionado herself of fine fragrances, “perfumery is an art form.” Ms Adeyemi , who is a keen supporter of Belinda Brown, is the founder and managing director of her London-based agency which sets out to provide a positive platform for the diverse creative and cultural wealth of Africa and its diaspora.
Winifred says that few women are aware that a bottle of perfume they may have bought from a Western fragrance house most likely has its roots in African soil. The African continent has long been a rich source of premium fragrant materials.
Blessings is winning worldwide attention: buyers have been from, among other territories, Russia, the Middle East, the UK and India. This has pleased Mr Dove, who, according to his website, “throughout his years in perfumery… has become the connoisseurs’ connoisseur.” At Harrods he is in charge of what is said to be the most luxurious perfumery in the world and which he has characterised as “a cross between a sweet shop and a boudoir, ” where small brands enjoy the same presence as more famous lines.
Belinda says: “A certain smell comes to my head, and I go out and try to create it as perfume.” Her Blessings creation was not solely inspired by Stella Pomade; she was always touched by the spiritual connotation of scent, as in the Bible story of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with alabaster oil.
She chose the brand name Blessings as reflecting her religious faith, her own life blessed with happiness, and the joy that she wants to bring to women who apply it. It is her aim to change the ambition of buyers who go more for style than substance in perfume, winning them away from the lure of the celebrity names appropriated by the big producers for the mass market.
She is passionate too about the bottle design and packaging of her product, and travelled to the Czech Republic to reach a deal with a maker of fine glass.
Belinda says of her own preferences: “ I never spray just one perfume, I always spray three or four. I like good-looking bottles as well.” She loves wearing perfume to bed: “It is such a pleasure having the kids give me a goodnight kiss and telling me how lovely I smell.”
Blessings is available for purchase in the Urban Retreat in Harrods, at a boutique spa in Switzerland, on international flights of West African airline Arik Air, and online at www.blessings-perfume.com