PASSPORT TO PERFUME ~ Interview with Fragrance Specialists Hilary Rayvis Randall and Michal Gizinski

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Last Sunday morning I found myself in a sweet smelling spot. Vibrant morning light filled the beautiful little patio behind Antelope on Valencia Street where Tigerlily Parfumerie is located. The mornings in the Mission District of San Francisco always seem the brightest and warmest of all the neighborhoods in The City and never more so than in late Spring when the sleepy fog hangs over Twin Peaks not daring to descend any lower than Upper Market Street.

 

I was there to meet my friends and fragrance specialists extraordinaire Michal Gazinski and Hilary Rayvis Randall for a nosey perfume chat. Under a poppy orange umbrella we sipped on steamy cappuccinos and sampled lovely pastries and fresh nectarines.

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Looking at this truly beautiful woman I have known for a little over two years I mulled over how we met.  I bumped into Hilary at a Diptyque launch for Volutes. Amidst the swirling notes of that perfume we clicked, over the following weeks we became good friends. Hilary speaks both French and Japaneses, was a teacher of English as a second language, she has even been a chef.  Food, Florals and French!  At all seems to have lead her to fragrance.  Most recently has represented many perfume  lines including L’artisan Parfumeur, Byredo, Arquiste at Barney’s and Dior Fragrances at Neiman Marcus. She also holds top honors as a nationally recognized fragrance specialist. She presently works at Barney’s New York on Stockton Street as well as being a fragrance consultant for Tigerlily. Hilary became my fragrance history teacher, my perfume guide and beautiful ambassadress to the ever blooming garden of fragrance I was discovering.

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Through Hilary I met Michal; she referrers to him as the “Nose of Union Square”. He is the man everyone goes to who is serious about perfume, those who want to know more than what is the hottest thing on the market today. Michal is a fascinating man, an actor, a gentleman, and impeccably stylish and sophisticated. Open, warm and a mesmerizing raconteur he is simply a wonderful guy. He can tell you just about anything about any perfume past of present.

Over the following months I met up with Michal at different events or just popped in to see what was new at Neiman Marcus. Though these meetings with both Michal and Hilary the idea was born to interview both of them.

 

Now at last we were together for the long anticipated interview. This sun was shining on us, our own personal key light. The stage was set and the curtain was rising on a new act for three fragrant friends.

 

 THE ABC’s OF MICHAL AND HILARY

Lanier: “Where were you born?”

Michal: Warsaw Poland

Hilary: Philadelphia Pennsylvania

 

Lanier: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Michal. As a very little boy I wanted to be a classical pianist.

Hilary: up to 10 a Ballerina, from 10- 12- Mortician 14-20 Geisha 20> Chef

Michal: from 10 up and Actor.

 

Lanier:  What opened the door to your life in the perfume industry?

Michal: My grandmother, the smell of her perfumes. Then in the 80’s a friend took me to Dior and introduced me to their perfumes. First in Grenoble then in Paris .

Hilary: My Mother,. She would descend the stairs in a cloud of Diorissimo. She was dramatic. She talked to me about her perfumes and taught me about them. Since she was a gardener and expert flower arranger, she would take me out in the garden and teach me everything about flowers and how they were transformed into fragrance.

 Hilary

 

Lanier:  How do you gauge a client?

Michal: I don’t judge. I never judge a book by its cover. I ask questions and over time I discover the personality, where they live, work, their lifestyle. I use my imagination to put all this together. I engage them in dialogue.

Hilary: You can’t judge a client. I ask questions and look for non verbal clues as well.  It is all about finding solutions. What do they own, what notes to they like. And what part of the world are they from. That plays a very large role in the process. Northern Europeans, Scandinavians generally prefer lighter florals; in the south they like heavier florals or Orientals. I try and see how adventurous they are.

 

 

Lanier: Are there skin palettes as there are color palettes for skin tones?

Hilary: No not by color if that is what you mean. The skin itself, the age of the skin. Older skin that has lost its oils needs a bolder scent. The skin’s natural oils are no longer there to support the fragrance’s diffusion. And self identity is important in choosing a perfume and the skin’s chemistry as it reacts to a perfume is important. Perfume is a form of communication that speaks to the right brain, the limbic system which houses emotion and memory. It is a non verbal way to present a part of yourself that may be the secret you, the part of you that can’t be expressed verbally.  Perfume is the invisible language. Its aura casts a spell !

Michal: Psychology is an important aspect. Why do we wear scent? Attraction plays a role for many clients, Perception of others, or how we want to present ourselves is a part of it.  There was a big change in perfume in the 90’s. People stopped smoking. A woman who smoked could wear Santos and it was beautiful. It might be too much on a non-smoker.

Fragrance involves people and can take them to a place they have never been. You wear a certain perfume that says “ Paris ” to you, and you are IN Paris.

 

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Lanier:  What is your favorite type of client and least as well?

Michal: I like people so there are no favorites. My least, never mix perfume with politics. I once had a client from Texas who was looking for a perfume for his wife. When I presented him with a Cartier fragrance and explained it was French he said, “I don’t want anything French!”

One must be a diplomat with clients; we are the ambassadors of fragrance.

Hilary: My favorite clients are thoughtful, open to new ideas, non-judgmental. A person with imagination and who is confident in their choices and in their opinions. I like a good dialogue with a client based on trust. My least favorite would be someone with a closed mind. Also boasters, who come in and talk about how many hundreds of perfumes they have and lists of notes.

 

 

Lanier:  Who was your mentor in the world of perfume?

Hilary: My mother and Michal. Reading every book published on fragrance, all the blogs and being a chef for 15 years have contributed to my scent knowledge.

Michal: Not a person, but books and travel were my mentors. I grew up isolated in Poland . Imagine my wonder when I was first exposed to Yves St. Laurent’s Opium or No.5.

 

 

Lanier:  Where do you want to be in five years?

Hilary: I want to be sharing my passion for aromas, fragrance and food in a global venue.

Michal: I want to have more time, personal time to pursue my interest. I will be in San Francisco and still traveling.

 

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20 smelly questions for Monsieur M and Madame H. (inspired by the ten question asked by Bernard Pivot on the French television show “Bouillion de Culture”.   

 

1. Who inspires you?

Michal: Marguerite Yourcenar

Hilary: My daughter , Sasha

 

2. What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning?

Hilary: The idea of learning something new that day, perhaps meeting someone intriguing!

Michal: Early morning is my favorite time of the day. The fresh air of a new day

 

3. What is your favorite sensation?

Michal: Looking at nature and feeling a part of it. Mendocino!

Hilary: Letting go when I drift off to sleep.

 

4. What is your favorite word to describe a perfume?

Hilary: Intoxicating

Michal: Magic

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5. What is the most over used world to describe a perfume?

Hilary: Fresh

Michal: Sexy

 

6. What is your least favorite perfume note?

Michal: None

Hilary: None

 

7. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Hilary: Imagination

Michal: Fate

 

8. What perfume turned you on this month?

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Michal: Kouros Sport

Hilary: Muguet by Guerlian (2014)

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9. What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Hilary: Negativity ~ no sense of humor

Michal: Vulgarity ~ no sense of humor

 

10. Who excites you  in the world of perfume?

Michal: Olivia Giacobetti

Hilary: Edmund Roudnitska then, Bertrand Duchaufour now.

 

11. What turns you off about the industry side of perfume?

Michael: Money

Hilary: Focus group generated perfumes

 

12. What natural smell in nature do you love?

Hilary: Violet

Michael: Lilac

 

13. What smell in nature do you hate.

Michael: None

Hilary: Lavender!

 

14. What historical person do you imagine would have smelled Wonderful and why?

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Hilary: Lady Murasaki ~ because of the beautiful bathing “ofuro/onsen” ritual of the Japanese with wonderful botanicals and incense.

Michael: Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette ~ because they appreciated perfume, had their own perfumers. On a side note: Catherine de’ Medici who was a great influence in perfume.

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15. What is your favorite language other than your native tongue?

Michal: French

Hilary: French & Japanese

 

16. What is your favorite curse word in that language?

Hilary: Chienne

Michal: I would rather not say

 

17. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Michal: Classical musicianship. Any aspect of classical music; be it conducting or playing an instrument.

Hilary: Shakespearean Actor

 

 

18. What profession would you not like to do?

Hilary: Politician

Michal: Working in a slaughter house, or being a butcher.

 

19. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Michal: Relax honey.

Hilary: My dear, you look and smell fabulous!

 

20. What perfume would you like God to be wearing when he says that to you?

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Hilary: Joy; vintage Joy from fifty years ago because I would know my mother was near and I would be with her once more after so many years.

Michal: En Passant. A heavenly scent.

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 *** 

I hope you enjoyed this time with Hilary and Michal. They are indeed extraordinary people. As Sales Associates in their stores they go beyond what is expected giving great service to every person who comes to see them. More than that, they are wonderful friends that I am privileged to know.

 

If you come to San Francisco drop by Barney’s for Hilary and Neiman Marcus for Michal and say hello. Bring your open mind and your nose ready for a fabulous journey. Let them be your guides, just as they have been and will continue to be mine. Tell them Lanier sent you.

ALONE AT LAST ~ Gs03 from Biehl Parfumkunstwerke

Biehl

Movie stars are strange creatures who flourish and grow bright in the cold glare of fame. It is a brittle brightness that often shatters in natural surroundings. When there is no one looking, no stalking paparazzi on the pavement outside Le Cirque. It happens when one sunny day they turn a head to find no fans trailing behind on Rodeo Drive to flame the ego. No stardust left to add glitter to the id. That is when they begin to die, up, way up above mere mortals in the sky they loosen and begin to fall.

There are only a rare few who truly don’t care. The ones who don’t put on a disguise and try to hide just for a sliver of me time. They can turn off that inner starlight and walk among the hoi polloi without eliciting a sudden gasp of “Oh …oh! It’s you!”  They don’t want to be alone like other stars who really mean “look at me!” when they protest the eye of the telephoto lens. They just want from time to time to be left alone.

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Strolling on this overcast spring day in Cimetière du Père-Lachaise the biggest movie star in the world, David Black went quite un-noticed by the few people he passed in this city of the dead in the center of Paris. He was just a man with an annoying cold walking under the new leaves unfolding over the departed. The irony of his stroll did not escape him, the fact that he sought a hour of anonymity in a place packed with fallen stars.  Balzac, and Bernhardt, Simone Signoret and Yves Montand. Piaf is there and Callas no more. Just an empty urn for her is all that remains. Only one grave draws a crowd, the ravaged remains of Jim Morison’s tomb can be found with mourners in grievous attendance that were born long after he was interred.

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David paused before the thousand lipstick kisses the cover the monument that keeps Oscar Wilde’s wit in check. Each lip that touched that stone belonged to a man pursed and placed on rough granite in memory of the love that dare not speak its name. That old concept of love is buried  there too. Even though David was not one of the “boys” something made him want feel his lips touch the stone.

“Do you know what his last words were?”  A woman nearby said to her husband.

“No.”

“Well, he looked around the shabby hotel room he was dying in and said; ‘‘My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has to go.’.”

No chance of sun on this day and the cold he was fighting was growing worse. David took out his handkerchief and blew his nose quietly as he walked past the woman who had no idea the object of her fantasies was so near. It felt good and clean and wonderful to be alone with his thoughts. To be just a human looking at what was in store for everyone, the final escape into the anonymous.  He was tired of his life, of fame, of the unwanted beauty that brought so much pain. How he longed to be free of this body that held him prisoner, a body owned by every kind of camera on earth.

A few drops of dew fell of the Sycamore trees above him…or maybe it was the beginning of a spring shower. In any case it was getting late. He had better get back to the Plaza Athénée and the interviewers who waited there. On his way out, near the west gate David came across the grave of Colette. He stopped to pay homage to the writer he admired. He heard someone softly weeping. David turned to see a man crying a few plots away at a small tomb marked with a little soulless angel in white marble. He gently bent to replace rotted bouquet with fresh white flowers. David read the name on the tomb, it simply said VIBERT. A sneezing fit gripped David and he turned away to face Colette’s gave and jammed his handkerchief to his nose to stop the attack. Completely alone he thought about her and where she was now.

A police siren screamed at the west gate drowning out the click of a shutter from behind a mulberry bush.   That night the photo of him blowing his nose was splashed all over the papers, the internet and television.

 

“DAVID BLACK BREAKS DOWN IN TEARS AT FAMED WRITERS GRAVESIDE!”

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***

 From Berlin comes the perfume house of Biehl Parfumkunstwerke. This house created by Thorsten Biehl in 2006 presents to perfumers from around the world a chance to create unusual and beautiful perfumes free of marketing constraints or commercial expectations. Like Fredric Malle this is a house that celebrates the artist who create perfume.

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GEZA SCHOEN

GS03 is the creation of prolific perfumer Geza Schoen who has created perfumes for Clive Christian, Eccentric Molecule and Ormonde Jayne. GS03 is a swirling, exciting, lush and intoxicating magic spell that is disguised as a woody floral musk. Don’t let the modernity of the bottle or the house fool you. This is old style perfume glamour retrofitted for both men and women of the early 21st century. There is a citrus freshness that whispers of being more than that when it gets busy being dirty, sexy and a little kinky. It is like a great character in a film noir thriller, it starts off looking innocent but it ends up being dangerous.

Let’s look at the call sheet for the notes in GS03.

The Big Break: It burst on the scene camera ready with a crisp Neroli, photo realistic orange blossoms that radiate ingénue glamour as they share the spotlight with a tartly sweet mandarin orange that possess a bit more experience than the blossoms do at an opening. There is juniper and pink pepper that give this premiere a brisk cocktail shaker of oomph.

A Star is Born: Earthy and comfortable in its skin, the iris enters wrapped in a very mature rose. This star shines in the middle of the red carpet of this perfume and what is it wearing that makes it stand out from the merely beautiful? A sophisticated, chic white jasmine skin tight and just right finishes the picture perfect entrance. The heat is on baby as this perfume begins to mesmerize.

Legend: The third act, the dry down is where the mature, self confident sexy beast comes to play. This guy is no flash in the pan but a star with staying power. Tart and dry as a martini  the vetiver lies here warmed by a boozy benzoin. Castoreum and musk do a dark and dirty seduction of the senses leaving me hungry for more. A hint of tonka bean at the base of the woody rough cedar ignites in the night with a classy masculine oakmoss.  Fade to black.

AVAG ARDNER BURT LANCASTER

GS03 ~ Packs all the heat of Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster in “The Killers”

GS03 is one of those perfumes that falls squarely in the middle of the uni-sex camp. Anyone can wear it. On a woman it is darkly glamorous; on a man it is Noir, and dangerously sexy. In both cases it is mysterious and splendidly right. Long lasting at about 8 hours, for me and not bombastic in its sillage it never screams look at me. It’s too smart for that kind of immaturity.

I was so taken by this perfume that I had to wear it for a week trying to understand its complex beauty. It is as magnetic and charismatic as it gets yet deeply personal and mysterious. It is enigmatically beautiful and compelling. I truly have become a fan of this star from Biehl Parfumkunstwerke.

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GS03 by Biehl Parfumkunstwerke ~ Five Gold Stars *****

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