When we think of how Charleston smells, many scents come to mind, from salt water and sea air to hot, magnolia-perfumed nights. Kelly Gaskins wanted to create a scent that epitomized life in the Lowcountry, and in December 2011, she created the perfume Charleston Girl to do just that.
"Charleston is the No. 1 city in the States and the No. 2 city in the world right now. We continue to receive accolades," Gaskins says. "And when people think of the South, they think of Charleston as this iconic symbol of the South. You have the Chanel and the Lancômes that are French, and you've got the Tommy Hilfiger, which is West Coast and California. No one is saying, you know, 'The South is awesome, and here's our fragrance.'"
But back up to 2007 when Charleston Girl wasn't even in the cards for Gaskins. She had recently graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in broadcast journalism and was working for a CBS affiliate out of Johnson City, Tenn.
"I loved journalism, but there was just something missing for me. I was working holidays, and I was like 90 pounds and not eating right," she explains. "I wanted to be more in control of my future. I wanted to be back in Charleston."
In order to do that, she had to go back to school — in a sense. Gaskins went to the library and taught herself business basics as well as how to create fragrances. "Just researching the process of concocting a fragrance is very detailed and very time consuming," she says.
Gaskins found a chemist, who isn't local, and they started trying out scents. "We probably went through 30 different test runs. I'm sure they were like, 'Kelly, we're ready for you to get the scent,'" she adds.
But part of why Gaskins tried so many different concoctions is because Charleston is so well-known — she wanted to be careful about the scents she chose to represent it. After much trial and error, she settled on the final mix. The perfume has top notes of Bartlett pear, Casaba melon, and green apple. "As a native, I grew up with pear trees at my parents' home so I have a lot of childhood memories associated with that note selection," Gaskins explains. "I selected apple because it reminds me of a favorite dessert — apple cake — by one of my favorite Charleston girls, my grandmother." Heart notes, or the scents that appear after the top notes evaporate, include orange blossom, jasmine, and orchid. Sandalwood and amber round out the bottom notes, or the base of the fragrance.
"It doesn't smell like a paper mill," Gaskins jokes. "When you meet a true Charleston girl, and she's at a party, she doesn't come in there loud and obnoxious. She's elegant. She's subtle, and people take notice. And that is what I want to create in a fragrance. It's not like Chanel No. 5, which is very pungent." She wants the perfume to be something special enough for date night but also light enough to wear during the day.
But it hasn't been all smooth sailing. She's had to deal with a salesperson who was padding orders and even one storekeeper who didn't like how she looked in an ad for the perfume that she appeared in. "If you have a business you have to have a thick skin," Gaskin says. "You have to learn to be firm and stand your ground. People are going to criticize you. Any time you're doing something that is different and a success, people are going to talk."
Despite all that, Gaskins wouldn't change anything. She plans on rolling out new fragrances soon as well as expanding her sales team. She's in control of her life and living exactly where she wants to be.
"Do what you love and the rest will follow, she says. "I love fragrance, and I love Charleston."
To find out where to purchase Charleston Girl locally or to place an order online, visit charlestongirlperfume.com.