Penning Perfumes: New York Times Beauty Columnist Names Luxury Fragrances After Literary Pieces

Photo by Jurate Veceraite
Photos by Jurate Veceraite

It’s funny how a smell can bring up so many feelings and memories—good or bad—for a person. Of the senses, it has the most power to bring you back to a place or to someone you once loved, and serves an emotional time machine providing jaunts down sensory lane. Though some memories should probably remain dormant, it’s kind of sweet to think that something as fleeting as the salty mist from the seashore or the zesty burst from peeling an orange could awaken your subconscious.

For Bee Shapiro, a beauty- turned celebrity-columnist for the New York Times whose byline has appeared in the likes of Vogue, Vanity Fair, and InStyle, it’s the smell of Pseudonym, a body milk from her line Ellis Brooklyn, that takes her back to where everything started: in her new Williamsburg home with a baby on the way and a drive to create something special.

As a beauty columnist, Shapiro had become a human guinea pig for the products she reviewed. Applying, lathering, and dabbing each product that came into her possession, plucking the duds from the must-haves, and incorporating a selected few into her everyday life. But while pregnant, she noticed that the ingredients in her most-cherished luxury products weren’t natural–though they never claimed to be–and didn’t feel that safe to use, while the all-natural products all had the same smell and lacked appeal.

And so Shapiro, like so many void-finding entrepreneurs before her, founded Ellis Brooklyn, a luxury fragrance line named after her daughter, who served as inspiration for the paraben- and phthalates-free, aka super natural, line.

“I really created the product for myself. I wanted something that was natural and safety-focused but still luxurious and beautiful. I think there’s a lot of natural products out there and there’s a lot of luxurious products out there, [but] there’s not a whole lot in the middle, especially one with a beautiful pared down aesthetic,” Shapiro said. “But I didn’t want to be preachy about it. I think that we’re making a very safe product but at the same time it’s not splash all over the bottle. It’s 98 percent natural. It’s not all over the place. It’s not in your face. It’s just really great.”

Shapiro teamed up with renowned perfumer Jerome Epinette, who’s known for his scents at cultishly adored Byredo, and a formulator in upstate New York to create this line of fragrant body milks that soak into the skin with a velvety finish. Though she loves oils, her choice to deviate from the current coconut oil and essential oil trend was an obvious and simple move.

“It’s really hard to wear them day to day,” she said. “They get on your clothes and surroundings, and the bottle gets messy. I just wanted something that could live day to day.”


Pseudonym is the original scent and was inspired by the D.H. Lawrence poem, Figs.

Nothing that Shapiro does with Ellis Brooklyn—and probably in life—is done by mistake or is insincere. Every scent is something that Shapiro contemplated. With Pseudonym, the original, she wanted something really warm and wearable, which she effortlessly achieves with inviting fresh green notes of Capri fig that effloresce into a seductive blend of jasmine, pepper and sandalwood. And with Raven, a scent for the more sophisticated perfume lover—her French girlfriends rave about it—Shapiro entangles the wearer in a mysterious yet sweet peony-patchouli blend.

And as far as naming the scents, Shapiro selected each based on literature or poetry, since the two are big parts of her life. There’s Fable, inspired by Aesop’s fable of Androcles and the Lion, and Verb; there’s also Raven, which, despite paying homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s most well-known poem, also has a deeper and personal tie.

“I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and growing up, there were these totem poles. These totem poles are actually story devices, not religious. And there’s a lot of raven figures that are this witty, clever creature,” she said. “And I always thought it was interesting that between that, Edgar Allan Poe, and other stories, ravens are these constant, magical creature. So it was inspired, yes, by Poe, but also by this broader aspect of what the raven in literature is.”

And as for the name Pseudonym, Shapiro explains that the scent was inspired by D.H. Lawrence’s poem, Figs, but I offer a more intimate theory.

While Ellis Brooklyn is named after Shapiro’s daughter, the real-life Ellis was actually named after Emily Brontë who used a male pseudonym (as did her sisters, Charlotte and Anne Brontë) to launch a career which involved writing Wuthering Heights. That name? Ellis Bell. A pseudonym has never smelled so sweet.

Ellis Brooklyn also offers her scents in candles, and come spring will be launching hand soaps.


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