Vivienne Haldane found one of Wellington’s best-kept secrets at the top of the Cable Car in Kelburn.
It may be known for its crazy weather, but Wellington is also a mecca for creative and cultural enthusiasts. It’s well known for its café lifestyle, as well as its artistic endeavours such as Te Papa, the Circa Theatre, Cuba Street’s vintage style and Wetā Workshops, to name but a few.
One of Wellington’s most popular attractions is also the Cable Car, based at Kelburn Station. With its superb views of the city and beyond, this fun mode of transport is also your route to some unique attractions, including Zealandia, the Space Place, Wellington’s Botanic Garden, and the elegant – and intriguing – fragrance emporium Fragrifert. Owner Francesco van Eerd created Fragrifert Parfumeur in the style of a Victorian perfumery. Located at the top of the Cable Car, it is one of Wellington’s best-kept secrets.
Welcoming us to his ‘Sanctum of Scent,’ Francesco tells us he’s created a perfumery as it would have looked 100 years ago. To add to its authenticity, Francesco, wearing a crisp white shirt with a Victorian-style collar, black cravat and spotless white apron, looks like the picture postcard version of a Victorian perfumer. The perfumery has a fantastical story that only adds to the emporium’s theatricality. Fragrifert Parfumeur is named in honour of a fictitious character called Gustave Alphonse Fragrifert, a talented French perfumer whose perfumes were developed as formulas but never came to actuality. Gustave mysteriously disappeared while travelling in Borneo, never to be seen again.
The fascinating story about Gustave Fragrifert on the perfumery website hooked me in. “Is this a true story?” I asked Francesco (we writers like facts!). “Do you want it to be?” he smiled enigmatically. I settled for the fantasy.
A journey of scent
Even though he wasn’t aware of it then, Francesco’s journey into the world of perfume began in the village where he was born, Veghel in the Netherlands. “Fields of medicinal herbs such as clary sage, chamomile, and rosemary were grown and processed for our local herb drying factory. As a little boy, I often biked around these fields, and their scent was fantastic. Sometimes my brother and I would lie down in massive drifts of fragrant chamomile and dreamily watch the clouds go by. It is such an unforgettable memory.”
Later, Francesco studied forestry, at the same time keeping up his interest in perfume. He then emigrated to New Zealand, where he spent many years as a secondary school computer and science teacher in Wellington. Once his children left home, he could finally unleash his “passion for all things fragrant.” He travelled to Grasse, France, where he learned more about the art of perfume making. He also trained with a mentor, Steve Dowthwaite of Perfumersworld in Thailand. “Fragrifert Parfumeur represents all the things I am passionate about,” he says.
The art of perfume making
Francesco gathers natural materials and uses time-honoured techniques to make his bespoke range of perfumes. The process is labour-intensive, and the alchemy, or magic, happens in Francesco’s most treasured possession – his perfume stills. “These connect me with centuries of traditions and generations of perfumers who have worked as I do. Knowing that I have created my perfumes with many natural ingredients makes it a delightful and authentic experience,” he declares.
It takes six hours of distilling natural raw materials to make 50mls of concentrated perfume oil. That’s about enough to make 500 bottles (15mls) of perfume. Working with the hefty copper still is hard work. “My Alsatian-designed production still, ‘Alouette’, weighs 200kgs empty; when you fill it up with 600 litres of water, it weighs almost a tonne. Most perfumers in the world never use this method.
Instead, they simply buy their materials from extraction companies or chemical suppliers,” says Francesco. “My smaller experimental still ‘Lambiekske’ is a Portuguese alembic of Moorish design. Both are beautifully crafted pieces of equipment.”
The perfume collection
Since coming to New Zealand, Francesco has discovered many unique ingredients never used previously in traditional perfumery. Māori people used these plants for various purposes – plants such as Tarata (lemonwood), Tī Kōuka (cabbage tree), Karo (stiff-leaved cheesewood), Kohia (NZ Passionfruit), Heketara (scented tree daisy) and Pōhutukawa (NZ Christmas tree). He calls the collection of perfumes made using these indigenous plants Te Kete Kakara a Tane. “Some of these perfumes are rich and voluptuous; some floral, sweet and honey-like; others fresh and uplifting with tones of ripe mango, and some are unexpected and unusual.”
Francesco’s leading range of fragrances comes in four collections: Les Saisons, Les Fleurs, Masculine and Feminine. “I create classic Victorian flower perfumes that no one makes nowadays, such as Lily of the Valley, rose, gardenia and lilac. Just like grandma used to wear.” The ‘Summer’ perfume sounds divine. It’s described as ‘a bold composition with major notes of pink grapefruit, Virginian cedar wood, prune, white musk and lashings of oak moss, mellowed with vanilla and ambergris.’ It suggests a lazy, balmy summer afternoon. “Do you have a favourite perfume?” I ask Francesco. “Yes, but I’m not allowed to say: they are all my children, and one is not allowed to have a favourite.”
Sarah Davies, who was visiting that day, is an avid fan of Francesco’s perfumes and was able to give us some helpful tips as we sampled the various scents. She advised us to sniff a tiny jar of coffee beans to clear our noses before trying another one.
Sarah says, “Fragrifert perfumes are wonderful and unique. The masculine perfumes are the woody, musky things we love on our men folk, but women like to wear them too. The spicy Zanzibar has tones of vanilla; the single flowers, such as Rose, are gorgeous too. I like that Francesco doesn’t use any nasty chemicals in his perfumes.”
If you want to make your own perfume, Francesco runs perfume workshops. There are one-day courses; if you wish to learn more, you can do the week-long course. For more information,
Other places to explore
Fragrifert Perfumery’s location makes it a good jumping-off point for exploring other sights. It is next to the top of the Cable Car in Kelburn and adjacent to the Cable Top Eatery, the Botanic Garden and the Carter Observatory (Space Place). A shuttle bus makes a circuit to Zealandia, the extraordinary urban ecosanctuary in Karori and returns. (see details below).
• The Wellington Cable Car
If you take the Cable Car back into the city, you are in Lambton Quay’s CBD and shopping precinct. Along the way, you can get off at the different stations to explore this pretty and historic suburb. In 2022 the Wellington Cable Car celebrates 120 years of service. The Cable Car Museum next door is worth checking out to learn about its history.
• Cable Top Eatery
After exploring, it’s time to eat at the café with a beautiful view over the city and harbour. Visit: cabletop.co.nz
• The Space Place
If you enjoy science and discovering more about outer space, you will love The Space Place. More information: museumswellington.org.nz/space-place
• Wellington Botanic Gardens
Discover the seasonal displays and the many pathways that thread their way through this historic 25ha garden. Website: wellingtongardens.nz
• Zealandia – a forest in the city
Shuttles pick up Zealandia visitors FREE from Wakefield Street and top of the Cable Car. They then drop visitors back to the city i-SITE via the top of the Cable Car (upon request). The trip from the city to Zealandia is about 10-15 minutes. Check the pick up locations on this link: visitzealandia.com/shuttle