The Daily Herald, March 19, 2010

Capturing a Unique Tourism Niche in Grand Case

By Lisa Davis-Burnett

Not just another scent shop, Tijon Parfumerie – located at the corner of Rue de Grand Case and Rue de L'Esperance – has won the affections of a loyal clientele in the year and a half since it opened. With a charming boutique, a friendly staff, and an "outside the box" business plan, Tijon is a place that friends take friends, time and time again. Not only can you visit the store to purchase wonderfully scented products and accessories, but you can learn about how perfumes are mixed and in the end create your own personalized scent.

What makes the Tijon Parfumerie so different? The answer lies in the persona of its founder, one John Berglund. With a background in chemistry and law, this world traveller fell in love with the art of fragrances and with the island of St. Martin. He and his wife Cyndi began planning their bold strategy by researching techniques from the leading perfumers around the world, including those in the famous perfume capital of Grasse, France.

The result is Tijon: part store, part laboratory, and part classroom, where they offer a one of a kind experience, the Tijon "Perfume 101" Class. Berglund himself instructs customers in the hands-on course in creating perfumes from natural essences. WEEKender was allowed to join in on one of their lessons, and after a short "history of perfume" presentation, we donned the white lab coat, grabbed a beaker and a test tube and started mixing up the essential oils.

The heart of perfume-making is in the oils. Termed Essential Oils, they are derived from natural plants. These concentrated drops of intense fragrance must be blended together in perfect balance to create a complex set of notes that can evoke romance, mystery or sophistication.

Laboratory fun

By way of introduction, Berglund explained, "If you came here thinking you were going to create a perfume that is as good as those on the market, it won't be overall because those, including the ones that we make, all have over a hundred oils and take months to develop, so to do something in two to three hours with five to thirty oils, or how ever many you want to use, isn't going to be as complex. But I can tell you this, every single person that has attended this class has enjoyed what they've made and they've liked it. Some of them have even duplicated it and made more." The process is fun and sparks the creativity, but Berglund cautioned. "I will tell you this, though, while you make your perfume, you may get frustrated or overwhelmed, don't worry, I'll help you and everything will come together, and I guarantee you all that you will enjoy the process or you don't have to pay, 100% guarantee."

"What we have tried to make here," Berglund continued, "is to really re-create what they do in Grasse, France, in the mixing of oils." In the plant world there are so many different sources of fragrances: flowers, petals, barks, rosin, peels of fruits, roots. For traditional perfume-making, the basic idea is to collect oils through a process called effleurage, a time-consuming and labour intensive process where the petals of flowers are laid on thin sheets of animal fat and stacked to sit in the sun for hours. The fragrance is transferred to the fats, used for making soaps, and the concentrated oils for perfumes.

Today, modern perfume brands, such as Estee Lauder or Ralph Lauren, don't actually manufacture their own scents. There are about seven industrial companies around the globe that manufacture all the popular perfumes. All the big names are produced from synthetics, or man-made, from chemical solvents, expression or steam distillation. In the Tijon lab they actually produce natural essential oils through steam distillation. Berglund: "We'll take a basket and fill it with petals, such as the island jasmine, gardenia, or frangipani, and immerse it in water, and start the distillation process. About 4 hours later, steam will rise through the 'bird's beak' into the condensing unit. We cool it down and we get a little bit of essential oil and also some flowered water which we use in soap making."

Perfume 101 students have access to more than 300 pure oils. They are primarily natural essential oils, but also some replica oils, and a few synthetics. They can be classified as citrus, floral, woody, oriental, etc... Each small vile is pure and care has to be taken to keep them that way. To clean away one fragrance and refresh the olfactory senses between scents, one is to sniff a bowl of coffee beans. The idea is to smell something very familiar, to bring back your sense of what is normal.

Berglund showed that the art of mixing a good perfume meant creating an "accord" which includes top notes, middle notes, and bottom notes. Top notes are noticed first and will evaporate quickly such as citrus-y smells of lemon, orange or grapefruit. Middle notes are generally florals, and they are the heart of the perfume. However, the base notes are long lasting and give the scent its foundation. By themselves, they may be less than pleasant, but at least 20% of the mix has to be base notes such as patchouli, sandalwood, vanilla, or frankincense. Commercial perfumes may be as much as 50% base notes.

Perhaps the unique magic of Tijon is the relationship that is developed during the Perfume 101 class. The classes are small and each participant is given individual attention by a patient and knowledgeable instructor. There is humour and camaraderie, as the various concoctions are passed around for everyone to sniff. Amazingly, Berglund places no limit on the time or amount of resources given to the students. "You can stay here all day and keep mixing oils, if you aren't happy with what you have made," he commented to the class. What may be seen as an extravagant expense only seems to make him happier, "trying to add a little rose oil, or a little cedarwood," if the mix turns bad, he says, just start over. Notes are taken to keep track of what is put in, and in the end the finished product is bottled and given a name – A name dreamed up by the student and printed on a label. Before leaving, each person's signature scent is celebrated with a champagne toast, a press release touting their accomplishment, and a small gift from the proprietors. The occasion is marked by the fun, the extravagance of the idea of creating your own perfume, and feeling that you got more than your money's worth.

The Tijon Line

From 1996 to the official opening in December 2008, Berglund consulted with a number of chemists and met with perfumers around the world, including those in Grasse, France. Concoctions were prepared, tested, reformulated, re-tested and tossed. Copious notes were recorded for all formulations and modifications. They created more than a thousand fragrance formulas that were finally reduced to their ten signature fragrances.

Tijon now boasts six women's and four men's scents. Each can be purchased as a eau de parfum or in lotions, powders, body washes, and deodorants. They also offer the Baie Caribe Suncare Line, including sunscreen, lip balm, and after sun lotion. They have formulated scents for candles and soaps, all created at their Grand Case facilities.

Cyndi Berglund is an artist in her own right, creating beautiful jewellery from her imagination, the island's natural resources. Gorgeous sea glass necklaces are displayed in the boutique, along with earrings, and bracelets. She crafts the jewellery in tasteful designs individually with semi precious stones, and even a Tijon logo pendant with diamonds.

The boutique also features many styles of shirts, bikinis, and caps along with a variety of other gift items, coffee mugs, Christmas ornaments, and music CDs.

Why St. Martin?

The Berglunds could have developed this unique business virtually anywhere. So what factors played into their decision to set up Tijon in Grand Case, St. Martin? First of all, they were drawn to the tropics, and during a family trip in 1996 while visiting several islands, the family together decided to come to St. Martin to pursue the dream of creating fragrances. The natural resources, a variety of flowering plants, plus the natural beauty of the island were big draws. In addition, the history of the French perfume industry played a role in the choice of seeking out the French West Indies. The advantages of operating on a duty free island were also considered.

It wasn't an easy thing to accomplish, challenges to opening the business included establishing residency, locating a suitable property site, and then remodelling it, and learning French. One of their biggest obstacles was securing attractive packaging in modest numbers. Just the over-caps for the perfume bottles were a challenge: "We could only locate one supplier, and the minimum order per cap/top was 10,000. That meant for the three differing perfume bottles, I had to order a total of 30,000 tops, which was both expensive and a challenge for storage." The same issue continues to be an obstacle for the bottles, the sprayers, the cartons, etc. But in the end, the island and its people charmed the family, Berglund wrote in an email to WEEKender, "I maintain that visitors come to St. Maarten-St. Martin for the beaches; return for the food; and if they move here, it is because of the people."

Tijon is open Monday through Friday, from 10:00am to 1:00pm and from 6:00 to 8:00pm. But if you are interested in doing a class, please call to schedule a space. Classes are held Wednesday mornings and Thursday evenings. Tijon Parfumerie & Boutique is located in Grand Case, 1 L'Esperance Road, where French Airport Road intersects with Beach Road. For more information, write to john@tijon.com , visit www.tijon.com or call 590 590 52 08 12.

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