Over the past decade, Teri Johnson has built a life where travel takes center stage. As one of the first solo female black travelers to turn her passion into a full blown career, she remains one of the leaders in the video content creation space. To date, Teri’s travels have taken her to 67 countries, where she’s produced over 200 videos for tourism boards, automotive companies and hotel brands.
For the average person, such a fast-paced, jet-setting lifestyle would completely wipe them out; for Teri, it’s the energy source that keeps her going. Yet, if you had to guess, you’d say that Teri lives out of a suitcase like many of her travel blogging peers. She’s always had a city to call home, though, and Harlem is that city.
“I traveled to all these really cool places but I really do love coming home to Harlem because there’s so much culture and history and it’s right here at my fingertips.”
She decided to do something a little different and in 2015, she launched Harlem Candle Company, a luxury home fragrance brand inspired by Harlem’s most noteworthy characters like Langston Hughes, Josephine Baker and Duke Ellington.
While many entrepreneurs try to go beyond their reach, Teri reached within. She went with what she knew and she knew Harlem. “There’s so much change happening and a huge revitalization of Harlem and I felt like it was really important for me to tell the stories of history and these incredible characters but in a way that transport you to that space, to that nightclub, to the boudoir of Josephine baker.” That medium became fragrance.
For Teri, the transition from travel blogger to perfume designer was an organic shift. “Here I am learning about all these other cultures around the world, but there’s nothing like being able to be an expert and a lover of culture in your own neighborhood.”
Today, Harlem Candle Company—the manifestation Teri’s love affair with fragrance, jazz, and Harlem—has come a long way since the early days when Teri would craft each candle by hand in her kitchen. In addition to corporate clients like Facebook, YouTube and Viacom, her collection will soon be sold in Bloomingdale's stores.
Teri is quick to note that she’s not a chemist or perfumer but she is involved in every step of the creation process. “I design the perfumes, much like a fashion designer designs (but doesn’t sew) the clothing.”
When smelling Teri’s candle creations, don’t be surprised if you’re whisked away to destinations far beyond the streets of Harlem. One of her favorite candles, is the ‘Josephine,’ because it makes her think of Paris. Inspired by Josephine Baker’s boudoir, the scents are very oriental in nature, with notes of moroccan rose, Indian jasmine and vanilla. As Teri explains, it’s what the west thought the east smelled like and that was really popular in the 1920s and 1930s. “It takes you to this very sexy boudoir that’s red and velvet in Paris.”
While Harlem Candle Company is primarily inspired by stories of the past, Teri still finds inspiration in the Harlem of today. “It’s the type of neighborhood where you really get to know the people you see each day, from the tailor in the cleaner’s downstairs to the crossing guard across the street,” she notes.
And for those who discover Harlem through her candles, Teri is all about it. “Home is what you make it and you can travel even at home. I’m speaking different languages in Harlem all the time and I have friends from all over the world who live right here.” The Harlem of today attracts people from around the world, from West Africa to Iceland and everywhere in between. “So many people love Harlem and they feel the same way about it as I do.”
Quick Fire Round
We asked Teri to share a few of her favorite local spots in Harlem.
French/Senegalese patisserie and restaurant that has the best pastries in Harlem. My favorite pasty is the tarte au fraise. It is open until 3am which is perfect when I am really craving something sweet or savory.
Inspired by Spanish and Italian dishes, this restaurant makes me feel like I'm in Europe. The wines are excellent and the waiters do a fantastic job at pairing them with your meal.
One of the most chic and convivia, places in Harlem to have a glass of French wine or a delicious meal.
Music venue: Minton’s Playhouse
This iconic jazz spot has been around since 1938 and is where Bebop was born. It’s a must when you’re in town.
Shop: Nilu Gift Store
It's a very well curated gift store and it happens to be the main stockist of the Harlem Candle Co in Harlem.