Master perfumer

For Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone, an unexpected career change made good scents.

Romance brought Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone to Bermuda, but it was another passion that captured her imagination and changed the direction of her career: perfume.

Before making the subtropical nation her home, Ramsay-Brackstone worked in investment banking with Chase Manhattan (now JPMorgan Chase & Co.) in Toronto. In 2002, Ramsay-Brackstone and her late husband, Kirby Brackstone, who had family roots in Bermuda, decided to move there — he accepted a corporate banking job and she followed in 2003, after giving birth to their second daughter. "Bermuda shares Canada’s accounting designation, so professionally it was great," she says. She had planned to work in the territory’s burgeoning reinsurance industry, "but life decided otherwise." The same week a major firm offered her a position, she learned she was pregnant with William, now 10. Shortly after William’s birth, Ramsay-Brackstone’s career took a twist.

Ramsay-Brackstone had loved fragrances since childhood, and when she learned that a local perfumery was up for sale, her interest was piqued. The Bermuda Perfumery, founded in 1928, had lost its grandeur and it needed new leadership and vision. "I thought this would be a great lifestyle, making perfume in paradise. The price was right and key employees would stay. We bought it in 2004 and never looked back."

Ramsay-Brackstone worked alongside company and industry experts to learn the art and science of scents. She revamped the perfumery’s branding and revived its signature Lili Bermuda line. Her first fragrance, Coral, remains her bestseller. "I wanted to showcase modern Bermuda. Coral is about spring and renewal, with smells of freesia, rose, ginger and clementine." She still follows her own muse regardless of trends, joking, "I’m between New York and Paris, so I can do anything I want!"

Ramsay-Brackstone frequently draws on her accounting background to run the perfumery. She learned about the financial side of fragrances while interning at EY, which counted cosmetics company Cosmair Canada Inc. among its clients. "You have to understand what customers want. My accounting training was my absolute best school."

The Bermuda Perfumery now offers handcrafted fragrances for women and men. (Its newest, Mary Celestia, is a re-creation of a 150-year-old perfume found in a shipwreck off Bermuda’s south shore.) Ramsay-Brackstone is still hands-on, making fragrances and teaching workshops. She encourages fellow accountants to cultivate their creative side: "You can turn your artistic passion into a phenomenal business."