It is curiosity that kills the cat, they say—but not in Belinda Brown’s case. Her curiosity about scents, which stemmed from her obsession with luxury perfumes, eventually made her the first black woman luxury perfume designer with an ever-growing international presence.
That particular floor is notable for stocking exclusive brands only, products for which you never get free samples. Though UK-based, Belinda is Nigerian but had the first five years of her life in Ghana where she was born, and then lived in Nigeria until the year 2000 when she moved to the UK with her husband. We engaged her during her recent visit to Nigeria.
WHAT led you into perfume production?
I didn’t plan to produce and sell perfumes. I so much loved perfumes that I suddenly desired to make some for my personal use. That sounds crazy, I know, but I wanted to wear something different from what others were wearing.
I wanted a perfume whose production I would be part of from start to finish, and that eventually led me to Roja Dove, British world-renowned perfumer. Roja is actually the Nose of the United Kingdom for perfumes.
World renowned perfumer
To see Roja, one would have to book for six months but God did everything miraculously for me. On meeting me, Roja was actually thrilled by the effect scents had on me and was with me all the way.
I soon got my own perfume, though without a name. The urge to go into it as a business arose when people began asking where they could find my perfume to buy because they loved the fragrance.
The name Blessings comes across as spiritual; why adopt such for a luxury product?
Life is full of blessings. I’m of the school of thought that we should count our blessings always rather than complain for the things we do not have. I got the inspiration for that name on my way from church one Sunday and that moment, I made a final decision regardless of whatever misconception. Hence, today I have the Blessings range of fragrances.
We’re talking about a luxury brand here and you weren’t a celebrity; what was the reception like?
It was incredible. The first launch was in 2010 and I did only fifty with each selling at six hundred and ninety (690) pounds; that price is higher now though. The price couldn’t be less because I used some of the world’s finest ingredients. Besides, it took two years to personally travel to different parts of the world to select those ingredients and produce the brand.
And what eventually happened at the launch with such exorbitant price tag?
Actually, when it was time to launch out, I was very much scared because I felt nobody knew me apart from friends and relatives who liked my perfume. You know, everyone would prefer patronize designer brands with known names. But I was stunned to find that on the day of the launch, I had no bottle left; everything was sold out because Roja involved the great British press in the launch. Some had been put on display at Harrods, but three days after the launch as well, I got a call from Harrods, saying seventeen people had booked for my perfume and were waiting. I however had to let them know they had to wait for another six months because till date, each production takes six months. You know, the bottles are hand-blown and are totally handmade; they’re produced in Czech Republic and are also refillable.
So that means you lost those seventeen customers?
No! I didn’t. Harrods relayed my message to the clients and they said they were ready to wait for six months!
I was surprised but then it dawned on me that I had also waited for a Hermes Bag for one year, with my own money. So, it was amazing to know it was my turn for people to wait for me.
You said you weren’t a celebrity when you went into this business; who were you?
I was just a ‘house-wife’ taking care of my home and kids. I was partially into property management, though. I just loved perfumes so much that I wanted to know about them. I had to travel to India, Grenada, Vietnam, Egypt, the border between Somalia and Kenya, France, Czech Republic and some other places. I smelt and sampled a thousand oils before deciding on the choice of fragrance. You know, there are things in life for which you don’t need a university degree and I think, for me, scent is one. Scents had become second-nature to me and I knew exactly what quality I was searching for. By this time, my kids were a bit grown up (they’re 19 and 17 years old now) and I thank God my husband was very supportive.
It sounds like you also mix the ingredients yourself…
No, I’m not qualified to do that; professionals handle that. You need a professional before the UK law will let you even sell your perfume.
Let us talk about this obsession with scents; how did it come about?
I’ve had this obsession since childhood. I remember back then in boarding school in Delta State when all the girls adored the smell of my pomade- a gift from my mother. In fact, in exchange for sweets, I supplied my friends with a scoop of my pomade. Now as a mother, I love it when my children come to kiss me goodnight and they acknowledge the way I smell. I think every woman should learn to wear perfume in bed.