Cuban perfumist makes home-grown fragrance with surprise ingredient

By Thomson Reuters Feb 14, 2024 | 5:13 AM

By Alien Fernandez

HAVANA (Reuters) – A Cuban entrepreneur believes she has hit upon a formula for a unique homegrown perfume she hopes someday to sell to the world.

Her secret ingredient? Cuba’s prized tobacco leaf.

Tobacco, one of Cuba’s top and best-known exports, thrives across much of the western half of the Caribbean island, and especially in Pinar del Rio province, home to the world’s finest tobacco and cigars.

The cigar leaves, green and veiny, are crushed and their fragrant-filled juices blended with alcohol and other essences, Clara Camalleri, 53, told Reuters in her small laboratory next to her family home.

“It gives it a special touch and smell, more well-rounded,” she said.

She describes the smell of the tobacco-based perfume, which she calls “Vitola Cubana”, as “exotic” with hints of “acid and wood that confer a seductive and distinctive character.”

Camalleri said she began making perfumes at home in 2018 but created the business not long ago, after Cuba’s communist-run government lifted a ban on private companies that had been in place since just after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.

Entrepreneurs in Cuba, battling through its worst economic crisis in decades, face particular challenges, said Camalleri who worked through a blackout on a recent morning.

“(Making perfume) is complicated, not just in Cuba, but anywhere. And here we have many more obstacles,” she said.

Obtaining raw materials, imports and even the basics such as electricity and packaging can be challenging, she added.

Despite the hurdles, Camalleri also produces other perfumes, antibacterial gels and colognes from essences derived from sunflower, chocolate, coffee and cinnamon.

Working alongside her mother, father and two daughters, she said she hopes that one day she will be able to export her products but in the meantime, has found a strong market at home.

“In Cuba, there’s a shortage of perfumes…and so we’re trying to meet that demand,” Camalleri said.

(Reporting by Alien Fernandez and Carlos Carrillo, writing by Nelson Acosta, editing by Dave Sherwood and Ros Russell)