Belfast woman Tonya Kidd-Beggs on working with leading experts in France to create her own luxury, signature scents
Cherished childhood memories were unlocked when Belfast woman Tonya Kidd-Beggs began to design her new range of luxury perfumes. The mother-of-four tells Stephanie Bell about working with leading experts in France to create her own signature scents
Beautiful memories from a childhood overshadowed by trauma are the inspiration for new luxury perfumes designed and developed by a Belfast mum.
While working with one of the world's top perfumers in France, Tonya Kidd-Beggs found herself on an unexpected journey as the scents evoked long-lost memories from her childhood.
Now the mum-of-four has captured those memories and smells in a new high-end fragrance range called Stories by Eliza Grace.
In a crowded market where the biggest companies spend millions promoting their products, her self-funded perfume range has already captured the interest of London's leading department stores.
For Tonya, who has spent two years working with some of the best noses in the business, it is an exciting time as she flies back and forth between the French Riviera, Belfast and London to negotiate with various big-name retailers.
"It has been two hard-working years in the making, and I have been fortunate enough to attract attention in the luxury fragrance world in London," she says.
"It has been incredibly hard work but, on the other hand, incredibly rewarding."
The 47-year-old is married to Ian (47), and has four children - Zak (21), Ethan (16) and 12-year-old twins Gracie and Beth.
After being a full-time mum for 21 years, Tonya decided to do something for herself.
"I wanted to do something I really loved, and luxury perfumes were always something which helped me to connect with memories and emotions," she explains.
"My grandmother, Margaret Stewart, was a well-known businesswoman in Northern Ireland who owned a number of hotels and really believed in supporting women to succeed.
"I never met her, because she died before I was born, but my mum always talked about her.
"She always wore Chanel No 5, and I connected with her through that fragrance. I grew up feeling I knew her because of that smell.
"Even now when I smell that perfume, I am reminded of feminine strength and dignity."
Until she entered one of the labs in a world-class perfumery in France, Tonya had no idea how powerful the scents she would be working with would be.
From the outset, she wanted to be hands-on, designing the fragrance herself under the guidance of a perfumer.
She spent time in a laboratory in Grasse learning all about the fragrance families, the science behind fragrance and how to develop her own signature fragrances.
"I knew I wanted to go into a laboratory in a perfumery to make the perfume myself, so over a period of time I started contacting independent perfumers and perfumeries, and where best to start but the world's capital of perfume?" she says.
"It was by doing this that I got invited to meet some of the world's top perfumers.
"I chose to work with the third-oldest perfumery in the world, which to this day is still family-run.
"I wanted to create my own fragrance brand, but I didn't know exactly what that would look like at that stage.
"Once I started working in the laboratory, it became very clear the direction I wanted to take.
"I had such a life-changing experience while making the fragrances that I found the smells I came in contact with unlocked powerful memories I didn't know I had."
Tonya underwent a traumatic ordeal at the age of 12 that she has never spoken about publicly.
It overshadowed the rest of her childhood and her early adult years until counselling in her late twenties helped her to come to terms with what had happened.
Looking back, she only remembered the trauma of that time, and it wasn't until she started to make her perfumes that the smells brought back happy childhood memories she had blanked from her mind.
It was a wonderful revelation that led her to create a range of fragrances around the "stories" each scent evoked for her.
"I never thought that making fragrances could be so powerful and would bring back memories from my childhood," she says.
"My hope with the brand is to help people take time to stop and connect with the feelings evoked through the fragrance. Every smell reminded me of something good. It was so powerful - it was an unblocking of memories that had been buried.
"It made me realise for the first time that, despite the trauma overshadowing my childhood, I did have a good childhood and I had some wonderful memories. It was a real healing experience for me.
"I really believe that fragrance has the power to connect people to their past, their present and dreams for their future."
Tonya's first range includes two perfumes for men and women called Stories No 01 and Stories No 02, as well as a range of luxurious body care products.
She employed time-honoured, traditional methods to formulate the fragrances while also listening to her gut and trusting her intuition to bring a harmonious balance to the collection.
The entire range of Stories by Eliza Grace is hand-crafted.
Tonya says the eau de parfums were created in such a way that each note is discernible as it develops on the skin.
The body care range matches the fragrances, and features luxurious ingredients with proven health benefits such as aloe vera, shea butter, marula seed oil, argan kernel oil and coconut oil, to name but a few.
She chose a blend of aromas that suit both men and women. Stories No 01 is described as having citrus notes of bergamot, grapefruit and orange blossom with "the deep warmth" of cedarwood, a delicate touch of jasmine, heliotrope and a fig tea accord.
"The mystery of this perfume is revealed in its blend of amber, vibrant sandalwood and hint of vetiver," Tonya says.
Stories No 02 combines notes of bergamot, Bulgarian rose, spiced with ginger, cardamom and green tea. Honey tobacco tones balance cedarwood at the heart of this woody fragrance. This perfume also contains patchouli, which helps to enhance its full-bodied scent.
While Tonya wanted to use the fragrances to tell her story, she also hopes they will encourage and empower the wearer to unlock their own stories and create their own, highly personal connection that will last a lifetime.
Her first fragrance, Stories No 01, represents transformation, moving from darkness to light in her battle for freedom.
Her second fragrance, Stories No 02, is based on the memories that came flooding back as she completed the perfume of happy days spent in her grandfather's garden.
"I had forgotten about my grandfather's garden and, as it all came flooding back, immediately I remembered the greenhouse and rose bushes standing among orange trees," she says.
"He also had pots of patchouli lining the patio, and I remembered rubbing the leaves on my wrists. The memories were so powerful and freeing that my time in the laboratory was awash with wonderful tears of joy."
Tonya is mindful that she is entering a highly competitive world with a luxury perfume brand, but she is confident - and all the evidence so far is pointing to a successful launch in London early next year, along with some exciting future projects she cannot yet reveal.
"Everybody I have met to date in this industry has said I couldn't have picked a harder market to enter," she says. "I find this exciting, not off-putting.
"We live in a generation where people want to follow the latest trend and celebrities.
"People choose the fragrance that the celeb has endorsed or released, because they want to be like that person - they crave their lifestyle. I hope to have created something that shows the power of fragrance itself and what it can do if you take a moment to connect with it.
"I know it is a saturated market and there are wonderful new niche fragrance houses being launched all the time, but I took the bull by the horns, so to speak, packed up some sample bottles of my fragrances and started making contact with PR companies in London who specialise in the fragrance industry. I started reaching out to companies I had researched in London. I shared my products and my story, and doors started to open."
Tonya was thrilled to be introduced to Josephine Fairley, co-founder of Green & Black's chocolate, who also co-founded The Perfume Society along with Lorna McKay, who started out as a buyer in Harrods and who was then commissioned by Liberty of London to create a unique concept for their first foray into beauty.
"To be able to sit and have coffee with these incredible women and obtain wisdom and advice from the creme de la creme of this fast-moving industry was amazing.
"In November I showcased with some of the top brands of the industry in their sampling Niche II Fragrance Box, and have received amazing feedback.
"There is something quite daunting about revealing your new baby to the world, but I have developed a fantastic team in London and here in Belfast, helping me with the different strategies needed to present my brand in the purest and best way possible."
For Tonya, her first two Stories by Eliza Grace (a name derived from her twin girls) is only the beginning. She already has plans to increase the range by developing a wardrobe of perfumes and a matching body line, expanding in the future to luxury fragrances for the home.
"Running your own business is a juggling act, and a pretty difficult one - you work from early morning to late in the evening with little time off," she says.
"I'm still a full-time mum, that has not changed - my kids and my husband are my priority. I hope I can give my kids the example to go and break glass ceilings - you can do it all if you put your mind to it.
"Our pasts do not define us if we don't allow them to. Making fragrances has helped that become truth in my life. I don't regret starting my career later in life, in fact it probably has given me more stamina to succeed, to grasp my dream and run with it.
"Who knows what can happen until you try?"
For more information, visit www.elizagrace.com