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Blocki: A 150-Year-Old Scented Legacy

Jun 7, 2024 | Scent Talks

Join us as we uncover the remarkable journey of BLOCKI Perfumes. Established by John Blocki in 1865 during the early days of the American fragrance industry, the brand was revived in 2015 by his great-great-grandson TYLER KRAEMER and his wife TAMMY. They share how the founder’s inventive methods enchanted the emerging elite of the country at the time. Combining vintage and contemporary elements, the couple discusses how they craft fragrances that embody their commitment to conservation and superior quality while celebrating Blocki’s illustrious past.

 

So, Tyler and Tammy, Blocki Perfumes was founded in the United States in 1865, with a unique story, predating the inception of modern perfumery in Europe. Can you summarize the company’s history until it closed its doors in 1950?

John Blocki, our original founder, was involved with perfumery on every level – fragrance formulation, manufacturing, ingredients wholesale, and retail sales. He also advocated for American perfumery on every front from changing consumer perceptions to establishing formal education for chemists and challenging trade tariffs. He sold his own perfume creations from a storefront connected to his laboratory where he also created fragrances for other brands. He opened the first perfume store in Chicago that was referred to as the “perfume palace” and his perfumes were sold in shops around the world.

The original Blocki is a uniquely American juxtaposition of the old world and the new. People longed for the trusted comforts of the old world but were dazzled by the innovations of the new world. The designs reflect some of the traditional elements seen in great houses like Houbigant, but the preserved flower-in-the-bottle brought new world novelty. It also helped resolve a uniquely American issue at the time: how to communicate to an influx of immigrants speaking many different languages. Visual cues worked better than words.

The earliest fragrances were natural soliflores, next came innovations in organic chemistry that led to several violet and lily of the valley fragrances, as well as other timely scents. Blocki also created USA-centric fragrances like American Belle Rose, Liberty Rose, and Bouquet Kosciuszko (a freedom fighter integral to the success of the American campaign during the Revolutionary War). Finally, there were brand-new creations like Saharet, Sanrovia, Uno, and Thais.

The success of the perfumes led to a cosmetic line in the 1920s called Esprit d’Amour. The line offered skin care based on skin type, as well as separate products for men and infants. This novel method of skincare was taught in cosmetology schools. There were about 87 different products in this line, including scented dry shampoo and powders.

Blocki remained a family-run business until the very end. Most of the other perfumeries from this time either closed during The Great Depression or sold to the large chemical houses. Jeanette Blocki was the last family owner and, lacking another family member able to continue the business, she sold the business to a family friend with the agreement that they would close it down. The last new launch was a line of icicle colognes in the 1940s, but without the founder’s innovative spark, the business was done.

 

 

Blocki Vintage ProductsBlocki’s vintage products

 

The brand was revived 150 years after its founding by you, Tyler, the great-great-grandson of John Blocki, and your wife Tammy. What were your motivations and goals?

I have been obsessed by fragrance and scent since I was a child. It was a trait Tammy noticed when we first met and is what led her to research the Blocki perfumery. Our first fragrance business was importing flower waters and essential oils in the late 1990s when the Bulgarian rose industry was privatized. By 2013, we were ready to revive the perfumery and had two goals: 1) to continue the family business of making and selling perfumes for discerning customers and 2) to share the history of early American perfumery.

 

Blocki states that it ‘combines vintage and modern elements to create something new.’ Please elaborate. Are any of today’s offerings based on the original collection?

Early on, we explored what, if anything, differentiated an American brand revival from a European heritage brand. A quote about how the American relationship to history is more referential than reverential answered that query for us. We start by choosing a family or note from the original perfumes, and then add modern notes for a contemporary aesthetic or sometimes replace historic notes with more contemporary ones. For example, a lot of vintage amber perfumes like This Grand Affair rely on bergamot top notes – we modernized by using folded grapefruit and neroli. For Walks is another example of the vintage/modern mix: you get the best of a golden-age violet soliflore (violet leaf on top, violet flower headspace and Boronia
flower in the middle and finishing with an orris accord) combined with the cool fresh green effervescence of a modern floral (mint, anise, and fir needle).

 

 

Blocki FounderTyler and Tammy Kraemer

 

In the 1800s, the brand was aimed at the new American aristocracy who yearned for luxury products. What is the current Blocki’s target audience and customer base?

By “new American aristocracy” we mean the rise of the working class, especially working women. Luxury goods like silver, linens and perfume were available to anyone who could afford it through department stores, local merchants, and even mail order. Blocki partnered with many women-owned boutiques that sold perfume, cosmetics, and gift items. Today, we have a surprisingly broad customer base for a small niche perfumery, but the common thread is that our customers are curious, well-informed, thoughtful, and creative.

 

Blocki’s original fragrances had a unique presentation, such as preserving a real flower within a perfume bottle, which secured the founder a patent. What is the new generation’s perspective on aesthetics?

We thought of how the flower-in-the-bottle design must have delighted patrons at the time. So, delight became a goal for us: to create something worth pausing for, taking a moment to discover and enjoy. The layering of text and design elements lends itself to discovery. The matchbox drawer is a delight to open; it allows you to expect something special to be inside. The matte paper and debossing are tactile. The cap is also very tactile with the engraving and the shape on the underside smoothly fits the hand and it mirrors the top of the bottle. Overall, the aesthetic is a sprinkle of historic references into understated modern design.

 

 

Blocki Current Fragrance LineupBlocki’s current fragrances

 

The brand divides its portfolio into two collections: the Heritage collection and the Emma collection. How do they differentiate themselves? What is the source of inspiration for each?

Our initial launch was the Emma collection. Since this is a family business, we wanted a very personal creative inspiration. Emma Blocki wrote her memoir in 1872 describing her youth in Pomerania before coming to the US. The memoir is so poetically descriptive; it inspired us on many levels. The name of each perfume comes directly out of the memoir passage that inspired the fragrance. The Emma collection fragrances are neo-vintage – an earthy violet, an opulent amber vanilla, and a classic fresh white floral.

After the first trio launched, we were continually asked about whether we would relaunch any of the original perfumes. The Heritage collection was our response; the fragrance names are original Blocki perfumes. While the fragrances are inspired by the originals and use a classic pyramidal structure, they are modern formulations. The two newest launches, Brazilian Lily and Press Club are the most modern of our fragrances.

 

Which criteria are used when choosing perfumers to collaborate with? What kind of freedom does Blocki grant them? Please walk us through the creation process.

We interviewed several fragrance houses as we explored reviving the brand. The deciding factor was how much creative direction and involvement we could have in the formulation process. In the beginning, we were also keen to work with American perfumers, as this felt it kept true to our history. The creation process is based on our submission of a brief describing the type of fragrance and inspiration or story. We give a lot of creative leeway to the perfumers and try to stick to emotional cues for feedback, but sometimes there is a specific ingredient that we want highlighted. We are very fortunate to have found the right circumstances and partners to achieve the artistic freedom we desired.

 

How is Blocki sourcing its ingredients to ensure both quality and sustainability? How does the brand achieve a balance between naturals and synthetics?

The family-owned fragrance house we work with is always working to improve conditions for people and nature and we trust their quality. Their formulations comply with IFRA and they have several sustainability certifications including membership in the Union for Ethical Biotrade. Our perfumes contain a high volume of natural ingredients, especially citrus and herbs, since that is the specialty of our fragrance house. We do not add artificial colors to the perfumes, so all of that intense color is from the ingredients. The intensity of the naturals and the vibrancy of the synthetic fragrance molecules really brings up the emotion in each fragrance.

 

 

Blocki ScentXploreBlocki at ScentXplore (2023)

 

 

What are Blocki’s plans for the future? Are there any new fragrances or projects in the pipeline? How does the brand envision itself evolving in the next few years?

There are projects in the pipeline for 2-3 more eau de parfums. We are also exploring other fragrance categories. There is a lot of history that we still have not recovered.

 

In 2 or 3 words, how would you define perfume?

Flower-in-the-Bottle.

 

Thank you, Tyler and Tammy, for your time and for sharing valuable insights with us. Would you like to add something before we wrap up?

Thank you for sharing our story.

 

 

A gift for the ScentXpress readers: BLOCKI has generously provided a bottle of one of their fragrances as a special giveaway exclusive to our readers. To be eligible, you just need to sign up for our newsletter and leave an insightful comment below. The winner will be drawn from the comments within 2 weeks from the date of this article’s publication and contacted via email directly.

 

Follow Blocki on Instagram: @blockiperfumes
Check out Blocki website: https://www.blocki.com
(Blocki images cortesy of LC James)

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DANIEL BARROS

DANIEL BARROS

Editor-in-Chief

DANIEL BARROS is Brazilian, based in São Paulo, and the author of  ‘1001 Perfumes: The Guide’. He has been collaborating with ScentXplore since 2021, contributing to content production and management, as well as organizing the annual ScentXplore People’s Choice Niche Fragrance Awards. In addition to his editorial responsibilities, Daniel is actively involved in mentoring niche brands and fragrance enthusiasts all over the world. Click here to send him a private message or report an error. Follow Daniel on Instagram @danielbarros_1001perfumes.

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