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.

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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.

FALL FRAGRANCE FUN! ~ A Day With S.F. Sniff

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Saturday October 19th was the semi-annual meeting of the fragrant Facebook group known as SF Sniff. The day started off for me at 8:30 am at Café de la Presse where I met Hilary Randall for breakfast. Lovely Laura my new favorite waitperson at Café de la Presse (and in all of San Francisco in general) took great care of us. Café de la Presse is my morning hang out on weekends when I am downtown. With its authentic Parisian ambiance and the incredible magazine stand in its center it is like a slice of Paris with American waitpersons. They are so attentive bright and cheery at the Café and serve in double time the best breakfast in town. (The almond croissants are killer!)

I walked Hilary to work at Barney’s (we would see her later on) and then headed over to Fresh on Grant Avenue to meet up with the SF Sniff gang.

Our itinerary for the day was Fresh, Gump’s, Hermes, Diptyque, the Chanel Boutique then a break for lunch (a scrumptious ironic twist back to Café de la Press). After lunch we hit Neiman’s, and finished off with a real party at Barney’s where we ran into Mario Gomez and his partner and Mik of Mik Moi and his soon to be (this coming Monday) husband Jasper. We wound down the day at the fabulous food court at San Francisco Center. To my surprise everyone pulled out bags of samples and unwanted perfumes and there was a huge swap! Our feet may have been barking like dogs but our hearts were full of friendship, joy and the mutual love of great perfumes.

I got to meet some old fragrance acquaintances from SF Sniff and some new ones too including Sebastian Jara from Man Loves Cologne dot com. I have to thank our great leader of SF Sniff Tama Blough for organizing the event and being ever graceful and charming throughout our olfactory adventure. And we could not have had all that fun with out the glowing, welcoming participation of everyone at the stores we hit, including Hilary, Christina, Chase, and Sue at Barney’s as well as Irene, Rami, Suzetta and Fati at Neiman’s. And the wonderful folks at Diptyque were a highlight  And of course a very special shout out and tip of the hat to the entire team at Fresh who gave us not only tea and cookies but a spectacular beginning to our fragrant journey across the perfume palaces of San Francisco.

What follows is a photo essay of the epic ten and one half hour day.

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GRANT AVE. EARLY MORNING

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THE MANNEQUINS WORE PRADA

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THE DRAGON GATE ENTRANCE TO CHINATOWN

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MARATHON RUNNERS ON GRANT AVE.

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THE BEST PLACE TO GET FRENCH AND ITALIAN MAGAZINES

CAFE DE LA PRESSE

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THE ENGAGINGLY BEAUTIFUL HILARY

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MY FAVORITE MADEMOISELLE LAURA

FIRST STOP, FRESH!

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TAMA, TEA, AND COOKIES AND FABULOUS FRAGRANT FRIENDS!

WHAT COULD BE BETTER?

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IF I AM NOT MISTAKEN THIS IS TRISH FROM FRESH WHO WAS SO HELPFUL

AND INFORMATIVE ABOUT THE FRESH LINE.

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HERMES

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CHANEL

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ALEXANDER SAMPLES DIPTYQUE, SEBASTIAN FELL IN LOVE WITH VOLUTES.

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A PEEK AT BULGARI! ON THE WAY TO NEIMAN’S a9o

THE DOORS WERE WIDE OPEN FOR US AT DIOR.

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SMELLING THE ATKINSONS LINE AT BARNEY’S NEW YORK.

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THE SWAP!

IN THE END WE ALL GOT TO GRAB SOMETHING WONDERFUL.

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PHOTO STOLEN FROM B.B. BAIRD (FORGIVE ME SWEETIE?)

Sebastian Jara’s blog Man Loves Cologne:  http://www.manlovescologne.com/

Sebastian’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZZFHNMNvhKOefgISblmxuw

VOLUTES MAKES A SPLASH! ~ Diptyque premiere party San Fancisco

VOLUTES

Travel…within a journey

“Diptyque is delighted to invite you to the exclusive preview of the latest fragrance addition to its fragrance range”

September 12th 2012

171 Maiden Lane

San Francisco

 

With great excitement my friend Lane and I rounded the corner off the clattering hubbub of Stockton Street into the cool shade of the little shopping canyon of   Maiden Lane on our way to an olfactory party!   With our noses set on ready we came into view of the red Diptyque banner fluttering lightly in the early evening breeze. This was our very first perfume event and we had no idea what to expect.

Upon entering Diptyque at five thirty we found the boutique alight with many of their famous fragrant candles which added to the wonderful unique scent of the store. So unique is the smell that they bottle it as “34” or by its formal name of 34 Boulevard Saint Germain (the address of the original Paris boutique). It is a wonderful smell.

Beautiful in a smart little back dress, Bo welcomed us and directed us down the stairs to where our hostess and store manager Madeline Thies was serving drinks. Always chic and smiling Madeline welcomed us and proceeded to make us feel that our arrival was the whole point of the evening! Now that is hospitably San Francisco style.

(MADELINE ABOUT TO HAVE HER HAND KISSED!)

In the center of the lower level was the star of the evening, a beautifully designed table where the new fragrance Volutes stood center stage in its classic clear oval Diptyque bottle. It was surrounded by bowls filled each with a raw sample of the ingredients that go into making the juice. Tobacco leaves, iris, frankincense, pink and black pepper, saffron, hay, immortelle, myrrh, opopanax and some others I am sure I missed.  What a clever and great presentation. Lane and I smelled some of the samples yet nether of us was quite ready to test the fragrance we need a little time to get our olfactory bearings.

Our noses lead us back up to the street level where we met up with Bo again. Lane explained to her that he had been doing his research and wanted to test a few scents, L’Eau de L’Eau, L’Eau des Hesperides and L’Eau de Tarocco.  Miss Bo was so wonderfully helpful and informed on the scents. She amazed me when she told us that construction workers in the area really love Hesperides. Now that is some incredible information and why shouldn’t construction workers love to smell nice too?  We smelled it on paper first but before long each scent found its way to three different spots on Lane’s arms. We stood there for some time enjoying the smells and trying to decide which suited him best.

Madeline checked in with us and replenished our drinks and enticed us both to try some of the very delectable assorted sweets at the bar. Wonderful tiny fruit and chocolate tarts that were scrumptious. We found ourselves back downstairs and at the Volutes table where we met the handsome Gregory from the Pairs boutique. He filled us in on the history of Volutes. The fragrance was inspired by the childhood memory of one of the original founders of Diptyque. Who in fact at 95 still lives in an apartment on the third floor above the boutique at 34 Boulevard Saint Germain. The inspiration was a trip he took with his parents by ship from France to Indochine. He was fascinated by the ship with its swirls of smoke from its toweling smokestacks and the glamorous women who came on deck each evening to smoke their exotic Khedive cigarettes, the blue smoke swirling about them like exotic veils. Add to that memory the smells of the spices of the ports of Alexandria, and Bombay, Colombo, Bangkok, and finally Saigon.  Decades later the journey became Volutes.  With that incredible tale from the effervescent and charming Gregory it was time to try a sniff of the main attraction.

(SNIFFING BLACK PEPPER)

It opened like a box of aromatic Egyptian cigarettes and then began to unfold like a Scheherazadian tale of the orient, smoky mystery layered with danger and romance. Volutes means swirls and it does exactly that! Over the evening it bloomed and created a wonderfully rich vale of incense. Even with his three fragrances on Lane had to try it too. That is when we discovered that it smells different on different skins. At this point we found ourselves huddled over the table in exclamatory delight which caught the ear of two other guests at the event. And so Volutes introduced us to Hilary  and her friend from South  Africa, Adrienne.  The four of us set off on a conversation of what we found delightful and interesting in this new fragrance. We all agreed that Volutes is perhaps the most complex and exotic of the line. As for me, I have to say that I enjoy Diptyque and I am still exploring their line but when I smelled Volutes I flipped! Sold to the tall guy with the red shirt! Lane noticed that on my skin it smelled very masculine yet on Hilary it was wonderfully feminine. This amazing transformative aspect of the scent by this point in the evening did not surprise me.

Hilary told me that she works at Barney’s NY here in San Francisco and also represents the Diptique line there as well as L’Artisan Parfumeur, Arquiste, Aedes de Venustas. She graciously invited me and Lane to stop in for a visit. I have only been into Barney’s once and I can tell you there perfume department is amazing. So there we have another story in the making with the beautiful and gracious Hilary. If you are in the area do stop in to Barney’s and say hi to Hilary.

 (WITH  NEW FRIENDS ADRIENNE,  AND HILARY)

Before we knew it the evening regrettably was winding down and we had to say our goodbyes to the lovely Hilary and her equally beautiful friend Adrienne. I met Madeline at the bar and told her that she had just made a sale with me of the Volutes. It was so captivating that I had to have it on the spot. As Madeline bagged my purchase she informed us that there will be another event in October and that we were invited. Thank you Madeline! It will be a holiday candle event and a whole new area for my nose to explore! Just as we said goodbye to everyone who had been so kind and gracious Madeline did the sweetest thing. She gave us each a surprise goodie bag! Like I said before, San Francisco hospitality at its best, and I have to add Parisian charm grace, and style too!

Thank you to Madeline, Gregory, Bo and the other sales associates we didn’t have a chance to meet (Next time!) for a wonderful and unique evening in the heart of the sweetest smelling street in San Francisco.

When in San Francisco be sure to visit Diptyque at 171   Maiden Lane 94108

Phone: 415 402-0600

http://www.diptyqueparis.com

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