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Conversations with Rashad Roulhac of Rose and Fontes

by ~ April 2023

For Rashad Roulhac’s boutique batch perfumery Rose and Fontes, family and heritage can be as inspirational as getting the right balance of aromatic notes.

     It was in 2020 during the pandemic, when Pennsylvania based Rashad Roulhac, who has a background in the film industry, realized with more time on his hands, he had more time to explore other creative interests. Fragrance was top of the list.

    “After doing my research on Black perfumers, I realized that there really wasn’t anyone online to read about, there were just a few---and barely a few in the past,” Rashad says. “So that gave me further inspiration to go forward, and in 2020 my daughters and I started our own fragrance brand, Rose and Fontes.”

   Named in honor of his late grandparents, John Rose and Josepha Fontes (pronounced FONCE), both immigrants to the US from the islands of Cabo Verde—Rashad’s brand is a collection of fragrances inspired by the region. Join in CONVERSATIONS with Rashad Roulhac about how he came to be a forerunner in the Cape Verdean perfume industry, and what it’s like building a legacy with his daughters.

BP: Rashad, how did you first enter the art and craft of perfumery?

Rashad: During the pandemic we all had to reinvent ourselves. I’m an artist, a creative, so I decided to dabble in the perfume industry since we had time off. I’m actually a novice at the whole profession, but after doing research---that gave me further inspiration to go forward with the scent experience and in 2020 my daughters and I started Rose and Fontes. It’s the first Cape Verdean fragrance brand in the world and in the U.S.

BP: Why do you think that is?

Rashad: Well, there is no perfume industry in the Cape Verde islands, nobody had the idea or interest of starting a perfume line from Cape Verde. That wasn’t part of their interest there, up until now. Now there are other brands out which is great. The more the merrier. I'm all about sharing the wealth.

BP: I think it’s really cool that you’re doing the business with your daughters. How do they influence the brand?

Rashad: They take part in all of the decisions that are made. All the moves. I always go to them whenever I’m creating a scent. They’re definitely my scent testers.

BP: I love that. So, do you have any memorable early experiences with scent that are tied to your heritage?

Rashad: I would say Cape Verdean culture is heavy into cooking and baking.

BP: Any kind of ingredients you can recall?

Rashad: Well, we make a Munchupa or Cachupa. It’s like a stew that has kale in it and Portuguese sausage, linguica. Then you know kale has its own scent. The potatoes, the rice, and with the broth.  Also, we make a fried bread dish and other flavorful desserts. I would say cooking scents are definitely part of my childhood scent memory.

BP: Why is it important for you to connect your heritage to fragrance? Can you elaborate?

Rashad: So, I’m half-Cape Verdean. The culture is well known to fellow Cape Verdeans and people who live in the US New England area and obviously in Cabo Verde. But my culture is not known to the rest of the world, even today.

I can go outside and ask someone, “You know what a Cape Verdean is?” And they won't know what I’m talking about. So, I thought that it would be kind of a brilliant idea to tie in the fragrances and to inspire all the fragrances we make.

Our scents are all inspired by Cape Verdean culture and/or Cape Verdean individuals who are famous in history. In America and in Cabo Verde.

BP: Do you ever rely on your filmmaking experience to help you construct a fragrance?

Rashad: Definitely. With the film background, I create all the marketing videos and the graphics for the brand. Everything is imagined in house. It’s also vetted by my daughters. I kind of make them like executive producers for the fragrance commercials.

BP: (laughs) Right!

Rashad: So yeah--working in the entertainment industry for so long—yes---you know how to write, you know how to create a story, product placement. So that all helps me do this fragrance work. 

BP: It’s so interesting. I don’t think I’ve met one person in the fragrance community who hasn’t been deeply connected to some other industry or sector. It’s really fascinating to me. It’s almost like the scent piece brings to life some of those other skills that may have been dormant. Or, almost infuses them with a new facet. Like a new way to look at the creative thing you were doing before?

Rashad: Exactly, I would agree with that.

BP: Your brand is named after your grandparents. Can you tell a little bit more about how they inspire you?

Rashad: Yeah. My grandfather’s last name was Rose, my grandmother’s last name was Fontes---so the name just fit perfectly to me with the branding and the industry that we’re in.

It sounded like an actual brand that was already existing, you know?

It’s just great to see their legacy continue and flourish with me, their grandchild, and my kids---their great-grandchildren.

They were Cape Verdean immigrants, actually second generation. So, their parents were the first generation. They came over to the US back in the 1800’s and they were just kids when they came over here. But they grew up in America, became regular American citizens, contributed to Cape Verdean culture, American history---and we’re just trying to carry on the legacy for everybody.

BP: Do you recall your grandparents having any particular fragrances that they wore?

Rashad: Ah yes! My grandfather he was a---you know--- a very manly man. From the era he grew up in of course. He fathered twelve kids with my grandmother.

BP: Wow (laughs).

Rashad: Yes, so he was definitely a man’s man. And really all that he would wear was the original Old Spice.

BP: Ah! Love that.

Rashad: (laughs) So I can definitely remember him splashing that on if he was going down to the bar. Or going down to the AMVETS in Falmouth, Cape Cod (laughs). My grandmother---I never knew her for any specific perfume---but she loved flowers and had lots of flowers and gardens around their property.

BP: Yeah, that Old Spice. I don’t know whatever they were doing with that formulation--- it sure leaves a permanent memory!

Rashad: I’m sure whatever they were using wouldn’t be FDA approved today (laughs). You know what I’m saying? It was no joke! No joke.

BP: That’s hilarious. So, Rashad, what do you hope people will connect to when they wear your fragrances?

Rashad: Well, each fragrance we make has its own story. Its own unique creation, its own name inspired by the Cape Verdean islands and the culture.

That goes from our flagship scent Conta Di Ojo which is the name of our famous Cape Verdean bead that is supposed to ward off the evil spirits, evil eye.

We have Joao and Josefa which are named after my grandparents, that’s their first names, and those are two of some of the most common Cape Verdean names around.

We also have another fragrance Cabo Cocoa which features Cape Verdean coffee bean essence and that is the first of its kind to exist. So, every scent is connected to the island and culture in some way.

BP: So, do you want people who are familiar with the culture to see themselves in these fragrances and also be reminded of home?

Rashad: Yeah, that’s right. Also, to be represented, you know. We want people to experience it who don’t know anything about the culture as well.

BP: Almost like an introduction into the culture?

Rashad: Exactly.

BP: It’s a beautiful cohesive branding story. Do you have any tips to share to novice perfumers?

Rashad: I would say try to use social media to your advantage. Follow and connect with people who are in the business. People who recognize you and look like you, and businesses that are similar to your business. Just look at the brands that you like. There’s always information about those brands and use those tools available to you to make something. And from there, you’ll learn more. You’ll grow from there.

BP: Can you tell us what’s on the horizon for Rose and Fontes?

Rashad: We’re gearing up for the launch of a few new fragrances. I’m actually working on a new Pennsylvania scent featuring some black walnut essence and another scent is dedicated to the great Harlem renaissance pianist Horace Silver. Horace Silver was Cape Verdean as well.

BP: Oh, wow. I didn’t know that.

Rashad: Yeah, he was actually the key inspiration for me coming up with this idea of a photoshoot of Black perfumers and coining the name Black Fragrance Renaissance because of the movement he was a part of---and that iconic picture of him with the Harlem Renaissance jazz musicians in 1958.

That’s going to be a very big release. I definitely believe that now is the time of a great Black Fragrance Renaissance and we will see many more perfumers of color in the future.

BP: Can you give us a glimpse of where you see your fragrance brand in the next five years?

Rashad: Long term plans are to continue creating Cape Verdean branded fragrances here in the US, but to also expand and create in the Cabo Verde islands.

BP: Sounds very exciting Rashad! Many thanks for your time!

Want to learn more about Rose and Fontes? Click here!

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