“When you go to Bermuda, all your senses will be seduced,” says Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone, perfumer at the historic Bermuda Perfumery. “Every season smells different. When you’re here in the spring, the lilies will be blooming and the oleanders will be starting. The scents are intoxicating. You’ll be walking on the road and have a whiff of these spectacular flowers, and it will take your breath away. That's what’s sensational about making perfume here.”
The Bermuda Perfumery has been around since 1928, but Isabelle is only the third perfumer in this establishment’s history. While it's one of many unique places to visit on the island, its products are unique as well. “It’s one of the oldest perfume houses still standing,” explains Ramsay-Brackstone. “Our perfumes have always been exclusively made and sold in Bermuda.”
What makes the Bermuda Perfumery so unique?
It’s always been a family business and it’s never taken a commercial strategy. We’ve had some of our perfumes since 1928, which we carry in our legacy collection. Not all fragrances age very well; fashion has changed, of course. Because there are so few real perfumeries in the world, we offer the experience of showing our customers how we work.
What do you mean by “real perfumeries”?
Very few houses make perfume in 2017. They’re all licenses. Ralph Lauren doesn’t make its perfumes, and neither does Calvin Klein. They’re all Johnson, Unilever, or another corporation creating their scents. You could have the same person working on Gucci and Britney Spears. I used to work in that world. Nobody wants people to know how it works because they’re all a bit ashamed of that.
We create and produce all of our perfumes from A to Z. When I joined, I was blessed to train with the former perfumer, who worked here for 46 years. Today, I still work very closely with the University of Versailles, which has a perfume program. Next summer, I’m going to have students from the university work under my guidance.
How can visitors experience the perfume-making process?
We have a history room where we display old packaging and have a small exhibit where we show the raw materials that we work with. Those include vetiver root, spices, ambers, everyone’s very curious about that, patchouli leaves, rhizomes of irises, frankincense and myrrh, all the bible stuff. Nobody’s ever smelled it! So we have it displayed for people to sample.
There’s an educational video that answers frequently asked questions about perfume making. We also show visitors where we make the perfumes. I’m there all the time, so people can ask me questions. It’s a destination where you can spend 10 minutes to a couple of hours.
We also offer workshops where we customize scents, which I do by appointment with a maximum of five people. We take a good four hours where we learn, smell, and write formulas. But you need to be motivated to do it. If you’re not, it’s not going to smell good! But if you are, it’s a very rewarding, fun, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
What else is a must-do while visiting Bermuda?
Have tea at the perfumery! We have a lovely garden on the property. We’re located inside Stuart Hall, a 300-year-old Bermuda mansion that’s owned by the Bermuda National Trust. It’s historic architecture.
A friend of mine was moving back to New Jersey where she was a spectacular chef, and I offered her to come serve tea in my garden. That, alone, has become a destination—the tea at the perfumery is a five-star experience. It’s afternoon tea, so it’s a light lunch or a very hearty snack. She serves scones with cream and local preserves and a three-tiered tray of savories with sweets. She tries to serve food that's very Bermudian and uses local and seasonal ingredients. You’re welcome to bring a bottle of champagne if you want, too.