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Times Shopper: Bahamas

Getting More Scent for Your Perfume Dollar

June 12, 1988|JENNIFER MERIN | Merin is a New York City free-lance writer

Despite modern development, the Bahamas remains a sweet-smelling paradise where citizens need look no further than their own gardens to find fragrances that have seduced travelers since Columbus.

Creative and successful businessmen use the islands' flowers and barks to blend native perfumes. They've made the Bahamas a center for the manufacturing and sale of perfume.

Tourists who visit the Bahamas can purchase a variety of scents. Many shoppers select the native Bahamian perfumes that are relatively inexpensive. Others choose to buy perfumes imported from France and other nations and sold at duty-free prices or about half of the cost in the United States.

Both Bahamian and imported perfumes are made from essential oils blended with alcohol.

Perfumes are graded and priced according to the percentage of alcohol they contain. The purer the alcohol, the more expensive the perfume; the range is from inexpensive after shaves with 2% alcohol to costly perfumes with 35% alcohol. Eau de Cologne, eau de toilette, eau de perfume or esprit de perfume usually have about 15% alcohol.

Bahamas Fragrance & Cosmetic Factory (41 Charlotte St., Nassau) produces 20 fragrances for women and 10 for men.

The most popular of these is a women's floral blend called La Te Da. Two pure florals, Hibiscus and Frangipani, are also top sellers at $10 for two ounces of cologne or $14 for four ounces.

Bahamas Fragrance & Cosmetic Factory was founded in 1981 by owners Elizabeth and Bruce Smith, who still make their colognes and after-shaves in small quantities (as little as a gallon at a time) and sell them only in Nassau.

Visitors to the factory can witness the perfume-making process in which essential oils, mostly from the islands, are blended with alcohol and put in a freezer so that impurities separate out, leaving a clear liquid ready for bottling.

Caribe Bahamas (Independence Drive, P.O. Box SS6394, Nassau), the largest of the perfume factories, was founded more than 20 years ago by Herbert Rich, a retired American business executive.

Most of the scents are blends of oils made from local flowers. They are made in cologne and perfume strengths ranging from about $10 to $20 per bottle.

Most popular for women is C'essence, a refreshingly light floral blend that's made as an esprit de perfume, plus Gardenia, White Ginger, Jasmine and Frangipani, available in esprit de perfume or spray colognes.

For men, the refreshing and subtly scented Lyme, Bay Rhum, Muske and Spyce are popular as after shaves or colognes. These are sold only in Nassau, but may be mail-ordered from the United States (write to request a mail-order form).

The factory also manufactures a line of sun-tan lotions and screens with pleasant coconut scenting. These products, developed by Herbert Rich's son Michael, are sold at the factory and in selected shops throughout the United States at a higher price.

Fragrance of the Bahamas (Hepburn Town, a native settlement about 15 miles outside of Freeport, Grand Bahama) makes several attractive scents that are spectacularly packaged.

The men's cologne, an appealing citrus blend, is called Sand ($14 for four ounces) and comes in a bottle that actually has gleaming white Bahamian sand at the bottom. Pink Pearl ($12 for a 12-cubic centimeter perfume atomizer), their most popular women's fragrance, has conch shell pearls in the bottom of its bottle.

These fragrances are pleasant enough to be bought just for themselves, but the special packaging makes them an unbeatable souvenir or gift item.

Additional scents include Island Promises, a light scent with a base of Bahamian jasmine for use by both men and women; Goombay, a slightly spicy women's fragrance made with ginger, which grows on the islands, and Paradise. These come in perfume and cologne strengths, and in aloe-based moisturizing products. Prices are between about $10 to $27 per bottle.

Fragrance of the Bahamas manufactures its perfumes in an old Baptist church and 200-year-old schoolhouse, known simply as the Perfume Factory and located right on the beach.

Visitors have the opportunity to select their own blend of activities: sunning, sniffing and seeing how perfumes are made. You can purchase perfumes on the premises or pick up a form for subsequent mail orders at slightly higher prices (to cover postage).

Nassau, Grand Bahama and other popular islands have perfumeries with popular French and other imported fragrances (even those from the United States) available in abundance for reasonable prices, with discounts of up to half their cost on the mainland.

Prices are fairly standardized, so the need to comparison-shop is eliminated. Simply choose the perfumery that is most conveniently located and has the scents you're seeking. Phoning ahead to ask whether the shop stocks your favorites will save time. Among the more reliable shops:

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