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.

A LETTER FROM VERSAILLES ~ Fleur de Louis by Arquiste

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Réception du Grand Condé à Versailles (1878) by Jean-Léon Gérôme

 

My Dear Louise,

I hope this letter finds you well in Venice. Much has happened here at court since you left for Italy and the less demanding attentions of the Doge over those of our King.

The Queen is dead; of this I am sure you are by now quite aware. Sweet and lovely Queen Marie Theresa passed most painfully into Gods care on July 30, 1683. My dear friend the Queen expired in my very arms and I am bereft.  Upon her death his Majesty said. “This is the first trouble which she has given me.”  I was told he had the cologne he wore the day of his meeting her, L’Eau d’Ange sprinkled on his mourning dress and wig and placed into all the Oiselets de Chypre infusers to perfume the chateau.

Subsequently Versailles is in an uproar! Dressmakers, wigmakers, perfumers, cobblers are arriving in droves and the corridors are crawling with them as they rush like mad bees from apartment to apartment of all the quite hysterical ladies of the court. The hunt is on and I do not mean for foxes or deer in the Versailles Forest. No matter how young or for that matter, decrepit some ladies may be they are all casting there nets to catch the kings eye. It is a comedy worthy of that charming Monsieur Moliere. (The King has ordered a revival performance of “Les Fourberies de Scapin” to ease his mourning, or so I am told)

In any case my dear is it a madhouse here in the palace. While the King is sniffing orange blossoms from the trees he brought from Spain in the Orangery for the Queen’s pleasure the lines are being drawn in the sand for a war of silk fans and lace garters. His Majesty’s current mistress, Madame de Montespan is on her way down, down, down. The king is so obviously tired of her. I can hear the convent bells tolling her name or at the very least a rustic forgotten chateau far from court is very much in her cards.

Madame du Ville, is pushing her overdressed idiot thirteen year old daughter before her everywhere like a bread cart in Paris. She might as well be shouting “Fresh young virgin (I doubt it) for the taking!” The Madames Helene Dampierre and Josephine Joussineau de Troudonnet are in open but silent battle over a certain jeweler from Pairs who has for sale the most stunning earbobs in emeralds and diamonds. They both want those jewels to lure his majesty to there beds. As if earrings could catch a king over charm and style and a perfectly powdered bosom.

As for me I am standing back and watching the entertainment from a safe distance. I did not come to court to make a fool of myself. No, on the contrary I came to court to make a name for myself and to better my lot in life. In other words I shall find small ways to comfort his majesty’s grief, to be of assistance in any way I can. In short I shall dab a bit of “Pommade de Florence” in a few well chosen strategic places, bide my time and in so doing become indispensable to the King.

Other than that, not much is going on at Versailles.

I hope all is well with you? Don’t lose your head to some rich Venetian and keep your sights on the Doge. We must make our way in this world the best we can with the talents that god gave us as women.

Yours ever and always,

Madame de Maintenon signature 3

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 Louis-XIV

Photograph of young Louis XIV – The Sun King  by Alexia Sinclair

Fleur de Louis by Arquiste is inspired by the moment when King Louis XIV first laid eyes upon his young Spanish bride Marie Theresa of Spain. They met at the Isle of Pheasants near the city of Irun on the border of France and Spain in 1660. The meeting was not only to present the young princess to the King but to ensure peace between France and Spain. As it is today it was not considered good luck in the 17th Century to see the bride before the wedding but Louis being bold and of an entitled nature presented himself to King Philip IV and his daughter. To avert the awkward moment the Spanish King pretended not to see Louis and his daughter being a proper catholic princess blushed and lowered her eyes. But not before she got an spectacular eyeful of her future.

This perfume created by Rodrigo Flores-Roux for Carlos Huber’s Arquiste line captures the splendor and elegance of the age of the Sun King. It opens with a gorgeous African Orange blossom that Louis who was known as the sweetest smelling monarch in Europe loved. This orange note also brings in a touch of Spain and the Infanta Marie Theresa. Rose, jasmine signify the favorite perfume of the King, L’Eau d’Ange. Under this is a warm iris note supported by an earthy deep royally rich Orris which gives a nod to the ladies of the French court who wore Pomade de Florence which the king loved.  In the base is a sturdy cedar note that blends with a fresh bright pine note. These wood notes add a strong masculine support the waning notes in the dry down. I find that even though it is marketed to women Fleur de Louis is very much a uni-sex fragrance fit for a King and his consort (and however many mistresses he may have).

It is delicate, refined and quite beautiful and falls in feeling somewhere between a classic eau de cologne and a fine perfume. One might expect that description to mean it smells old fashioned. Not at all in fact, I find this perfume to be youthful, bright and full of colorful nuances.  Both the sillage and  longevity are of a moderate nature. It projects at about arms length which I find perfect and lasts on my skin around six hours.

This sophisticated and beautiful perfume is indeed a royal treasure to be enjoyed by all who wish to share the moment of promise that once enfolded a king and queen at the dawn of the Sun King’s reign.

Fleur-de-Louis

FLEUR de LOUIS BY ARQUISTE FIVE GOLD STARS *****

THE LADY JIMENA ~ Infanta en Flor by Arquiste

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(play me)

The thumb of god smudged the Moorish moon across the twilight splendor of the eastern sky, and Spain wept. The very soul of Spain wept for the lady Jimena.

Donna Jimena sat alone and imprisoned in in the cold stone garden of the nunnery waiting for Don Rodrigo’s return from exile. She worked at her needlepoint absently. A small tapestry of the battles of her husband to unite Spain and drive the invaders back to North Africa. Her hand wavered and stopped its fine work and she recalled how when she was just a girl,  she had first loved Rodrigo upon first sight of him in her fathers house all those years ago.

The scent of immortelle blooming on the hills beyond her father’s garden blended in the honey gold noon heat with the orange blossoms all abuzz with bees. She held a small goat in her arms and brushed it to extract the lovely labdanum from its wool. A deep baritone laugh drew her young eyes to the gate where a tall striking man clad in rough leather stood talking to her father. His cerulean blue eyes slid over the flowers and the fountains to find hers and in meeting awakened the girl to womanly desire. In his quick crooked smile she knew him to his core and recognized her destiny.

Now years later and separated from him by civil war and by King Alfonso’s betrayal and treachery, she waited and prayed that once more he would be victorious. He would return with his armies of Christians and Spanish Moors to free her. He would come to take her once again into the safety of his arms. Arms that felt like home to her.  But until that day, the day of the return of her lord, all of Spain wept for the lady Jimena, and her lost love for El Cid.

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INFANTAENFLOR

Infanta en Flor by Arquiste is a lovely romantic perfume created by this wonderful house know for gorgeous niche perfumes each with a great story attached. The inspiration for Infanta en Flor was the border of Spain and France in 1660 and the meeting of King Louis XIV and his bride the Infanta of Spain. But for me it seemed a medieval fragrance and all about Spain. No hint of France at all. Romantic, melancholy, a perfume full of longing and loss but with the promise of reunion breathing life into its soul. It smells to me like what I imagine a 12th century perfume might be like. Simple and elegant and something a lady of the court of Spain might wear.

The perfume opens with clean bright notes of orange water and immortelle flowers. There is a richly smooth leather, Smooth polished and old. Not suede but real, heavy duty expensively worked leather that is rounded out nicely with a sensuous slightly skanky labdanum. This takes what would ordinarily be a soapy clean ordinary floral to an interesting place. Yes it is “Fresh” but not laundry fresh but rather nature fresh of the flesh. It is a liner simple fragrance tha strays true to itself from first to last.

A fine silage that gets attention and lasts well on my skin up to about seven to eight hours. This Infanta is a lady fit for any lord as well, but one with the cojones to sport a floral in a Aqua Di Gio world.

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FIVE GOLD STARS *****

FLOWERS OF THE GODS ~ Flor y Canto by Arquiste

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Covered in blood sacrifice the god of the dawn drew back his bow and with eternal ease shot his arrow over the great city of Tenochtitlan. Thus by his grace the first rays of the sun once again touched the top of the temple Mayor. Snaking through the city were the aromas of the chocolate brew and maze tortillas which was the morning breakfast. Mothers up before light roused there husbands and children with laughter and songs.  It was a new day in the heart of the Aztec empire.

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  Near the great causeway famers rowed their long boats along the canals to tend their floating flower gardens; they spoke of rumblings from the East.  Daily there is news of the approach of strange fair skinned men with four legs who came out of the Eastern Sea. Could they be gods?  Or are they demons come to eat alive the inhabitants of the city in the center of the lake?  What sacrifice would they demand, flowers or blood?

Such thoughts were forgotten when the farmers were met with the brilliant golden shimmer of the god of the dawn’s blessing upon the canal.  There hearts leapt to their throats as they always did at the first sight of the gardens overflowing with the blossoms of the gods. These were sacred flowers grown only for the Emperor and the temple of Xochipilli, the god of love, dance and flowers.

As the famers worked and sang well into the mid-day they were ignorant to idea that these were to be the last days of the flowers of Mexico, the last days of peace, the last days of their world. They only knew this morning the embrace of the thick intoxicating dream educing aromas of the flowers of Xochipilli.  How could anything ever change when the gods had blessed them for eternity?

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Flor y Canto was created for Carlos Huber, the founder of Arquiste by the brilliant nose Rodrigo Flores-Roux. It was envisioned and created to capture a day in 1400 pre-Colombian Tenochtitlan of the most fragrant Aztec festival of the year. It is a resounding success for this floral is so very reminiscent of the gardens of Mexico I have visited in Guadalajara.

It is very linear and stays true to its opening all the way through. The eau de Parfume opens with a brightly romantic and lovely Mexican Tuberose. This is a soft and enveloping tuberose and not at all overwhelming. There is Frangipani of the Plumeria family to add a generous touch of the exotic. A fleshy rich Magnolia lends strength and presence to the mix and all is bordered by a very green note of golden marigold.

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The splendors of this ancient garden are not epic but rather soft and close to the skin. This perfume draws one in close and like a furtive kiss brushes your cheek with the promise of more.

It lasts about four to five hours on my skin and then whispers of memories of that romantic tryst in garden last summer for about another two hours.  This is a scent perfect for meetings set outdoors on a warm evening with someone special. Made for a woman it can work on the right man. After all there was no goddess of flowers for the Aztecs, No he was a big sexy tuberose wearing God!

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