If it’s good enough for a founding father …
Caswell-Massey is the fragrance and apothecary brand that’s been making some of the world’s biggest celebrities and historical figures smell amazing since 1752.
But while the Newport-founded company may be coming up on its 268th year of business, its CEO Nicolas Arauz insists they’ve only just gotten started scenting the masses; after shuttering its 84-year-old store in the Barclay Hotel in 2010, Caswell-Massey opened its new brick-and-mortar location at 312 Bowery at the end of October.
Of the brand’s biggest presidential fan, Arauz told Page Six Style, “We always joke that he was our first influencer: George Washington.”
“[Washington] came to the shop in Newport on a business trip to meet [Marquis de] Lafayette,” he explained. “From everything we know, Dr. William Hunter — who founded the brand — and George Washington both really wanted to show off how European the colonies were, so that’s why Dr. Hunter was making perfumes, to have Newport feel less like a pirate town and a little more like a real cosmopolitan place. I think Washington was also really eager to show off that we weren’t a backwoods anymore and that we were a sort of worldly, global, up-and-coming civilization. So, I think they must have hit it off a little bit.”
America’s first POTUS used Dr. Hunter’s “Formula Number Six Toilette Water,” and liked it so much he gifted it to others.
“Lafayette, when he came back to the States in the early 1800s, visited the shop on his grand tour and talked about how this was the fragrance George Washington had given him and he came back to buy some more,” Arauz said. “So because they were both opinion leaders, it really did boost awareness of the brand, and that was used as one of the calling cards of the brand when they came to New York in the 1850s.”
While Caswell-Massey has updated the formulation of the iconic scent quite a bit since its invention, swapping out animal-based ingredients for plant-based and molecular ones, the brand still uses the original recipe as the basis to produce its “Supernatural Number Six” scent ($225), which it counts as a bestseller.
But Washington and Lafayette weren’t the company’s only high-profile customers. Arauz noted that Jenny Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale” opera singer who traveled with P.T. Barnum, “had a request that we send her something new every week wherever she was, anything because she just liked our brand and wanted a little something special.”
Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney were also fans of the shop, as was Katharine Hepburn, who treated it “like her corner drugstore.” Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was known to buy its avocado oil, and John Denver was a regular visitor of the Colorado storefront.
But while the label may have a storied past, Arauz isn’t letting that define Caswell-Massey’s future. “Heritage brands often have a habit of looking back through their history and just thinking of themselves as this dot at the end of the timeline and you’re always at the end,” he said. “We’ve got to think of ourselves as a 600-year-old company; we just happen to only be halfway through the timeline. It’s a trap to think about the past too much.”
To that end, he wants the company to be “inspired by, not shackled by history.”
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