Luxury fragrance designer Teri Johnson made a name for herself in the fragrance industry with her highly successful Harlem Candle Company. Now, she’s stepping up her game by introducing Billie, Harlem Perfume Company’s first wearable fragrance.
A love letter to the Harlem Renaissance, Harlem Perfume Co.’s debut fragrance is named after the iconic Billie Holiday. The singer was known for wearing white gardenia flowers in her hair, which serve as a key fragrance profile in the perfume.
Whether it’s setting the mood at home or making a statement with her body fragrance, Teri Johnson has harnessed the power of scent and she’s determined to share this power with the world.
Reflect Beauty chatted with Johnson to discuss all things fragrance and got a closer look at how she uses fine fragrance to unlock and unleash her inner confidence and creativity.
Reflect Beauty: How did developing a wearable fragrance differ from the candle making process?
Teri Johnson: With home fragrances I’m really creating a mood where you feel transported into a boudoir or into a creative space like that of Langston Hughes. With candles it’s more focused on the energy of a space, with fine fragrances my goal is to make you embody the spirit of Josephine Baker or that confident renaissance man or the feminine creative side of Billie Holiday with our Billie perfume. It’s about unleashing and unlocking the beauty and the creativity and the sensuality of what we all have inside of us.
The difference is the mood or the energy in a space versus the fierceness, sensuality, and boldness––all of those things we have inside us that we want this fragrance to help us unlock. It’s almost like putting on makeup or putting on jewelry or a certain dress that makes you feel like a million bucks.
RB: Do you have a signature scent or are you constantly switching it up?
TJ: I switch it up. Right now the only scents I’m wearing are the ones in development. I like to get feedback. You know, you wear it and someone says “ooh that smells good,” and it’s like ok.
In terms of the genre or the fragrance family I tend to love, it’s the more amber and vanilla scents. Fragrances are so personal and it really depends on your body chemistry. That’s why it’s important to test and try new scents to see what works best for you.
RB: For someone looking to learn more about fine fragrances, what are the makings of a quality perfume and how did you instill that in Billie?
TJ: What makes a great fragrance is how it wears. Does the scent last? Can you create a sillage? A sillage is a trail of scent. When you pass by someone on the street you might want someone to say you smell good. Not everyone wants to leave a sillage, some may want you to be closer, maybe a hug. It depends on what you like and the performance that you want.
The ingredients you use should be of the highest quality, with a good balance of natural ingredients. The importance of working with high-quality perfumers is what they do with natural ingredients that have allergens. They have the ability to remove those allergens through science and technology. It’s important to work with high-end fragrance houses who have the experience and the know-how to develop something that’s very balanced.
RB: What did you learn in your previous roles as a consultant, editor, and producer that helped you as you built a business of your own?
TJ: One thing I’ve been good at is wearing a lot of hats. And I’m not afraid to wear any of them. There’s always gonna be challenges when running a business but knowing that no problem is insurmountable is one of the biggest lessons.
RB: February 2023 was the second annual Black-owned Fragrance Week. What do you want to see from this event and future events like it?
TJ: I’d love to see candles, fine fragrance, and skincare all combined together for one event. There’s so few Black-owned brands in this space. As we continue to blaze trails I think we’ll open up more doors for others. That’s the goal.
RB: People often express themselves through fashion, makeup, or hair. How do you view scent and body fragrance as a medium of self-expression?
TJ: People really underestimate how strong and powerful our sense of smell is. It’s so important—from your home to your body—to be a reflection of greatness and excellence. You can control that through scent. It’s about finding the scents that speak to you, that can help you be creative, express love, inspire romance. Scent is so powerful. This is part of your performance, part of how you show up. You’re representing yourself and it’s not just through great hair, makeup, your jewelry. It’s also through scent and people need to pay more attention to it.