St Johns Fragrance Company™ is over 70 years old, but its rich history goes back to the 1800s. Their tradition of creativity and distinction are unmatched, and it’s through guiding principles of authenticity and timelessness that they have remained an iconic part of the grooming routine for generations of men in the US and internationally.
THE INVENTION AND EXPANSION OF BAY RUM
St. Johns bay leaf oil is derived from the bay rum tree and has been an integral health and beauty remedy of the Virgin Islands and its people for centuries. With its unique climate and exceptionally rich soil, the island of St. John provided an ideal place for bay trees to thrive.
Danish chemist AH Riise discovered an exceptional fragrance when he mixed the local remedy, St. John bay leaf oils with fine Virgin Island rums. Riise’s unique medicinal potion went on to win numerous awards including the Centennial Medal and paved the way for what would become the rise of the an entire industry.
St. John bay leaf oils quickly acquired a worldwide reputation of being distinctive and superior, and in 1903, the Danish Plantation Company purchased 237 acres at Cinnamon Bay to cultivate St John bay trees. Others soon followed, and by the early 1920s, bay rum became an important Virgin Island export.
At its peak, historians estimate that 1,000 gallons of pure St John bay leaf oil were blended into over 35,000 gallons of Bay Rum.
In 1921, the national prohibition of alcohol meant Virgin Island bay rum could no longer be exported to the United States. By adding aspirin to bay rum, manufacturers were able to skirt the law, and word spread that drinking bay rum not only made you feel good, but also relieved aches and pains. Virgin Island bay rum production reached a peak of over 100,000 gallons annually.
THE INFLUENCE OF JOHN WEBB
U.S. Naval Officer, John Webb of Minneapolis, was stationed in St. Thomas during WWII. With knowledge and inspiration from bay rum producers that preceded him, he had a goal...revive bay rum in the Virgin Islands. He began producing St Johns Bay Rum® and designed the soon-to-be-famous "Fishpot Weave®" bottles, each carefully crafted by hand using native palm fronds.
The combination of St Johns Bay Rum®'s distinct fragrance and beautiful, native packaging were a recipe for success, and the demand increased. The group of local weavers in the islands grew to more than 200 families, creating a huge local industry that produced tens of thousands of bottles annually.
BECOMING AN AMERICAN ICON
In this post-war, “Mad Men” era, looking like a gentleman became a priority, and men began to pay more attention to grooming and their overall appearances.
With this in mind, in the 1960s, John Webb enlisted a Madison Avenue advertising agency in New York City to represent St Johns Bay Rum® in the United States. Men’s focus on grooming coupled with the "Fishpot Weave®" signature bottle design, a postware fascination with island exotica and ingenious ad campaigns in The New Yorker and other print outlets contributed to tremendous growth and national distribution of St Johns Bay Rum® in the 1960s and 70s.
The brand soon became a household name, as the typical businessman added bay rum to his usual repertoire of Lucky Strikes and three martini lunches.
St Johns grew its presence and distribution in leading retailers such as Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue. With the worldwide market in mind, consumer products giant, Warner-Lambert, acquired St Johns Bay Rum® in 1963.
Seeing tremendous opportunity to grow the brand, in 1978 Columbus, Ohio retailer Jerry Woodhouse purchased St Johns® from Warner-Lambert, and moved his family to the Virgin Islands.
Simultaneously, the brand’s footprint in the US continued to grow, entering retail powerhouses including Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus and Brooks Brothers to name a few. Even Hollywood took notice with the iconic Fishnet Weave® bottle featured on episodes of M*A*S*H and movies such as Down and Out in Beverly Hills.
RESILIENCE IN THE ISLANDS
In 1995, Hurricane Marilyn struck a severe blow to the Virgin Islands, destroying the St Johns factory and most of the Tyre palms used to create the famous Fishpot Weave® bottles. Dedicated employees rallied to salvage what could be recovered from the wreckage and were able to resume shipping to customers within a few weeks.
In 2007, St Johns created its first E-Commerce store: stjohnsbayrum.com, extending its loyal fan base to Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and beyond. That same year, to celebrate St Johns’ 60th Anniversary, a unique limited edition Fishpot Weave® bottle was produced.
2017 brought a milestone 70th Anniversary and new ownership. The Welles Family, consisting of four American brothers, became owners of St. Johns Fragrance Company™, and sought to revitalize the classic and timeless brand, reminiscent of their grandfather’s era.
In late summer/early fall 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the islands five days apart. The hurricanes left the islands and the St Johns factory devastated, ripping off its roof, wreaking havoc on the building and destroying most of the product and woven bottles. Even the palm trees used to make the famous basketweave bottles were stripped bare.
Mother Nature and its elements would not stop this brand from persevering.
Despite the damage, all was not lost for St Johns. Under the leadership of the Welles Brothers and CEO, Rhys Moore, they pushed forward, taking empty glass bottles and untouched fragrance to create a special “Hurricane Series.” The St Johns team commissioned an artist to design and digitally print the Fishnet Weave® bottles, and donated a portion of the proceeds to Americares and island relief efforts.
As if 2017 wasn’t eventful enough, the St. Johns brand celebrated its 70th anniversary by producing a limited edition bottle to commemorate its milestone birthday.
The iconic Fishpot Weave® bottle and bay rum brand have continued its pop culture presence through the FX television show, Archer and FX television series, Feud: Bette and Joan.
ST JOHNS TODAY
Following the devastating hurricanes and with a new supply chain back in place, St. Johns is stronger than ever today and laser-focused on creating its iconic, award-winning scents, bringing the allure of the islands to gentleman everywhere. The brand continues to handcraft and blend the richest bay leaf oils and premium Caribbean spices to produce its classic, distinctive and authentic fragrances, and are extremely proud of staying true to original formulations, all while evolving to fit today’s modern man.
With an extensive network of basket weavers in place and the Tyre palm frond supply flourishing in the islands, the famous Fishpot Weave® bottle is still crafted by hand, making each completely unique and one-of-a-kind.
To meet the needs of new customers and a loyal fanbase rapidly expanding internationally, The St. Johns Fragrance Company™ continues to build on its full line of men’s grooming products. The company still maintains an important presence in the islands and has established a sales and marketing office on the mainland in Ridgefield, CT.
St Johns is proud to be a classic and committed to being an essential part of every gentleman’s grooming routine.