On December 6th 1927 my grandfather Agustin Francisco Reyes started his perfume company. His extraordinary vision started on that day which he clearly planned to coincide with his son’s fourth birthday. Could he have already been planning the legacy that would continue 80 years later?
He began this journey because he had been inspired in the same way that a great composer or painter is moved by their respective media. For him the inspiration was to create great fragrances in a place and time that stacked almost impossible odds against him. But impossible means nothing to the truly great. What we see as impossible, their minds see as a clear and sustainable path that begs them to follow. His passion and study of the plants and fauna that made up the raw materials that were his palette led him to Grasse, France to receive formal training in the art of perfumery. Later, at his home which he had built in a section of Havana called Miramar, he meticulously planted a garden of the flowers which he loved. Directly under his bedroom window were roses whose scent reached into his room. Inside the home was a sitting room where he had set up a fragrance organ and library to enrich and inspire his curiosities. From this home on a hill near the river Almendares and with the Caribbean Sea only blocks away, this idyllic setting served as his sanctuary and inspired his first creations.
His first, Agua de Colonia de Agustin Reyes was an instant hit. It garnered prestige and popularity which made the company a recognized name throughout the country. Later he launched Loción Violetas Rusas which became not only his most popular creation but a cultural icon that has lasted generations. It stands in rare company as a product that has stood the test of time, the most unforgiving thing we know. Used from birth through adulthood and by rich and poor alike it truly is the cologne of the Cuban people. Over the next few years my grandfather became Cuba’s greatest perfumer. He was internationally recognized for his creations and throughout the years built and impressive list of beautiful fragrances. Among those creations were La Nuit De Samedy, Silver Anniversary, Notre Dame, Pasion Arabe, Azucenas Cubanas, and many others. When political upheaval forced the family to leave its island home in 1960, a lifetime of inspiration was lost. The fragrances that had become the love of a nation were gone. Eighteen months later, when all the raw materials were used up, production ceased and to many it seemed as if all the flowers had dried up and died.
But all was not lost. On a ferry from Havana to Key West my grandfather carried with him a leather-bound formulary in his own handwriting that he was able to sneak past the guards on his way out of the country. Even cold hearted guards couldn’t bring themselves to search a now old and blind man who was supposedly on his way to the U.S. for medical treatment. A few days later, my father, mother, sister and I boarded a flight from Havana to Miami. My father, on whose birthday the company was founded, carried with him a hastily typed copy of the same formulary in a hidden compartment in his luggage. God was caring for the fields of flowers that day and let both pass without the severe consequences that would have awaited either of them had they been caught.
Eighteen months after leaving the island my father realized that our hopes of returning in the near future were slim. He approached my grandfather and proposed that they continue their operations from their new home in Miami. A chemical engineer in his own right and with nearly ten years of tutelage from my grandfather in the art of perfumery, my father began the Miami operation. With almost no resources at their disposal they decided they could only bring back one fragrance. Since Violetas Rusas had become a cultural icon and the company’s signature fragrance it was the obvious choice. A new American name was given to the product in deference to its new home. Loción Violetas Rusas was re-launched as Royal Violets® Eau de Cologne. Almost fifty years later it is still a cultural icon in the Cuban community and has branched out into an ever wider Hispanic community.
In 1981, after finishing my Master’s degree in Organic Chemistry, I too had the privilege of being groomed to steward the company and Royal Violets ®. I spent the following 14 years working literally feet apart from my father, absorbing all that I could about the Art of Perfumery. In 1995 he passed away. As the years have passed, I have wanted to do something that would honor my grandfather’s incredible body of work. Every day it becomes clearer to me that I must not allow his genius to die without an audience of new generations having had the pleasure of enjoying his labors of love.