Perfumer Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone captures Bermuda in scent-sational fashion.
Sense memory is powerful, and on the island of Bermuda, Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone bottles the island’s essence into scents.
Perfume-making happens when you least expect it,” says Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone, owner and master perfumer of Lili Bermuda, a landmark on the island since 1928. Inspiration often strikes Ramsay-Brackstone while she’s picking flowers, walking along Warwick Long Bay Beach or simply breathing in the ocean air. ¶ The greatest challenge and thrill of her career arose out of Bermuda’s waters, a salvaged present from the distant past. Among Bermuda’s 300-plus shipwrecks is the Mary Celestia, a Confederate blockade runner that sank in 1864. In 2011, a team of marine archaeologists explored the wreck and discovered two intact bottles of perfume among its cargo. The brand, Piesse and Lubin, was a London perfumer whose scents Queen Victoria might have worn. Ramsay-Brackstone was presented the two bottles to analyze so she could re-create the fragrance. ¶ “It took us 110 iterations to re-create this masterpiece,” she says. The final composition— redolent of rosewood, grapefruit, orange flower and white musk—proudly bears the name Mary Celestia. Part of the proceeds from the perfume fund the nonprofit Lili Bermuda Foundation, which pays for Bermudian youth to earn their Professional Association of Diving Instructors open-water certification as scuba divers. ¶ “The conditions of our shipwrecks and reefs are out of this world,” Ramsay-Brackstone says.
How would you describe the perfume-making process? It’s very much like making music. You hear the scent in your head, and then you try to create it physically. What do you consider the trademark scents of Bermuda? It’s very floral: white flowers, roses, lilies. There’s Bermuda cedar and lots of citrus: lemons, mandarins, guava. I love to capture the ocean in my fragrances too—and the smell of the wind, which is really cool, dewy and fresh.