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.

DEJA VU ~ Portrait of a Lady by Frederic Malle

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Year after year she looks with serene beauty toward the horizon of eternity. She has been doing this for a while, long before the museum acquired her. In fact she has been facing oblivion peeking out from under that charming hat since 1782. She has hundreds, maybe thousands of tiny hairline cracks. But you can only see them when you are inches from her and they make her all the more beautiful. She has been spellbinding men for two hundred and thirty two years.

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     But there is one man, Nilson Quigley to whom she spoke to as to no other. He first saw her on a school field trip in the winter of 1934. That day when his eyes first met hers he recognized her. The effect of her gaze instantly rooted him to the foundations of the earth. His teacher had to drag him away scolding him to stay with the group.  As he looked back over his shoulder with tears staining his school blazer he knew he would never marry, have children or love anyone but her.

He has been coming back to see her ever since the day he fell in lover with her in 1934. He always goes on Sunday and sits on the bench across from her.  With twenty feet of highly polished hard oak floor between them, he would sit and think and try to remember. She had that effect on him. She whispered from behind the veil of receding years of time past, of meeting, parting and many goodbyes. None of them were ever a happy farewell. Now at 91 Nilson could feel another goodbye coming for him.

“Who is she?”  The young voice came from behind him.  With out turning around he answered.

“Lady Hamilton.”

The young lady came around the bench and sat next to him. “She is very beautiful in a surprisingly modern way. I think I remember an old movie about her, with Sir Laurence Olivier.”

“And Vivien Leigh, yes I have seen it too.” Nilson looked at the young lady. “Have we met?”

She squinted her pretty cornflower blue eyes, “I don’t think so. I just have that kind of face. Do you come here very often?”

“Every Sunday” He said looking back to the painting.

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“That may be why I look familiar. We probably pass each other all the time. I come on Sundays also, to meet a friend.” She laughed. “He never shows up. I keep coming back, never the less hoping to meet him.”

“That is not a very nice young man to stand you up like that.”

“Oh he doesn’t know he is standing me up. You see, I don’t know his name. We haven’t met yet.”

Nilson looked back at the young lady. She was smiling like a thousand suns right into his eyes. It was almost blinding.

“My name is Emma….” She held out her hand.

“Pardon me Sir the museum is closing.”  Nielson turned to the guard. “It’s time to go home.”

“Oh of course, I was just talking to Emma here….” He turned to find she was gone.

“Sir?” The guard leaned down. “Are you alright?”

Nilson’s eyes darted around the gallery in momentary panic. And then he smiled. “Perfectly fine young man. Time to go home.”

As he walked toward the doors that lead into the enfiladed galleries beyond he looked back at the painting of Lady Emma Hamilton. She was glowing like a thousand suns.

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LADY EMMA HAMILTON C. 1782 BY GEORGE ROMNEY

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Frederic Malle presents Portrait of a Lady by perfumer, Dominique Ropion who has created other perfumes for Malle including the famous Carnal Flower and Geranium Pour Monsieur. It is an inspired perfume that for me it goes beyond the bounds of its inspiration. This rose perfume when it touches the skin becomes a portrait of whoever is wearing it. Man or woman, young or old, it is a dark mysterious floating veil that billows off the skin revealing aspects of romance and danger that is rooted in a solid perfume past which looks forward to the modern age.

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FREDERIC MALLE AND DOMINIQUE RIPION

Like a great painting its opening is in layers, Skin warming clove, cinnamon with a light touch of raspberry that is not jam but leafy. These  are the first notes that create the under painting. The introduction of black currant gives the perfume an animalistic touch that echoes the notes of great old perfumes from the early years of the 20th century. French boudoirs littered with memories of randy romps on a velvet chaise lounge are hinted at by this dirty little note.  Rose is the dominating center of the painting here and never gives up its place as the imperial note, the masterly brush stroke that leads the perfume on.

The rose is born aloft through the central structure of the perfume by a gorgeous blend of sandalwood, and earthy patchouli. Mystery and glamour are added in here by a luscious smoky incense that darken the patina of this olfactory painting.

There comes in the dry down sumptuous amber that is highly polished with notes of white musk and a glaze benzoin bring golden hues to the final touches of what is now an impressionist portrait of the wearer. The perfume lingers now close to the skin and is not diminished in its mystery one single bit as it finally recedes into the past leaving your skin and your brain wanting to revisit the experience all over again. It possesses the grand silage and longevity of perfumes from a bygone era.

For me this is a wonder because in nature I love the smell of roses but in the perfume world they rarely move me. Here I find that the rose is truer than most and quite stunning. This is a portrait for the ages, a modern classic that whispers of the past and promises a glorious future for a long time to come.

Vivien Leigh as Lady Hamilton

VIVIEN LEIGH AS “THAT HAMILTON WOMAN” 1941

I do want to thank Chase Roberts my go to Sales Associate to for Frederic Malle at Barney’s for pointing me toward this perfume. Without her guidance I would have passed this one right by. Chase is every inch a beauty and quite the portrait of a lady.

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PORTRAIT OF A LADY BY FREDERIC MALLE FIVE PLATINUM STARS *****

NIGHT LILY ~ Lys Mediterranee Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

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Noël Cherubin was shy shopper, in fact he only felt comfortable going out at night to make his purchases, and to dine. To those who noticed the pale handsome young man as he passed, he seemed to float along the avenues of the Left Bank the bright cheery widows reflecting off of his dark glowing eyes.  On this particularly beautiful July evening he was on the hunt for a new perfume and had heard from some very old friends that there were now wonderful shops on this side of the river that sold the most interesting fragrances. What did they call them? Niche perfumes? He smiled at this new word for to him niche meant something quite different. Like a hiding place in a cathedral in the daytime.  He felt a small yet very sharp pang of hunger. He decided to wait to eat until after he had found his new signature scent. A late night supper was always more scrumptious than one just taken after sunset.  His thoughts returned to the task as hand, the perfume hunt. It seemed like he had been wearing Jicky for decades. Noël had a very poor sense of time these nights so in the end it might as well have been a hundred years or so since he last bought a new perfume.

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He turned off Boulevard Raspail onto the charmingly austere Rue Grenelle. As he passed number 37 with an awning of the most perfect blood red he sensed something and turned back to look in the window. There was a low warm glow from inside the shop. Noël raised one hand to touch the black lacquered window frame. He stood a good five minutes staring in and feeling the sensation that had first grasped him as he passed.   She was glowing golden, the woman behind the counter. She pulsed with youth and life. She looked like a goddess to Noël, like an immortal being of pure light. He watched in fascination as she helped a young man and woman complete their purchase.

As the couple turned to leave Noël stepped back into the street and looked up at the awning which now seems to glow an oozy red of its own accord under a sad lamp in the dark street.  He saw the words, “Editions De Parfums Fredric Malle”. How perfect, just what he was on the hunt for. The door to the shop swung open and the young couple left leaving it invitingly ajar behind them. Every single floral, animalic, vegetable, and spice scent held captive in the shop shot out that door and washed over Noël with memories of life, love and desire.  In the clamoring center was one smell that nearly sent him into a swoon. The fleshy, earthy almost rotting lovely smell of the lily, the smell of death and rebirth in one, the scent of a woman or a man’s inner thigh. It was irresistible.  He opened the door and waited on the threshold until the beauty behind the counter looked up.

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“Oh!” she was startled by his sudden appearance. “I didn’t hear you.”

He smiled showing his perfect white teeth. “Bonjour Mademoiselle May I come in?”

“Please do….” She said half mesmerized by how handsome he suddenly was.

“May I show you something? Is there a particular…..?”  He crossed the room to her so quickly it left her breathless.

“Lily.” He said leaning ever so slightly toward her over the counter. “I love a good lily perfume.”

She smiled and felt she could not take her eyes from his. “I have just the thing. Lys Mediterranee. It has a major lily note that is quite lovely and…..”  His cool fingers hovered over her hand as she reached for the bottle of perfume. “Would you like to try a sample?”  His hand infolded hers and the bottle of Lys Mediterranee at the same time. Slowly he drew her close to him.

“Mademoiselle, I would like to sample everything in your shop. And, I mean everything.”

“Yes… of course Monsieur it would be my pleasure.”

The shop seemed suddenly filled with the smell of lilies, lilies as white as his sharp beautiful smile.

“And maybe after, if you are free, you might join me for a little bite of supper?”

Noel the Vampire

 NOEL CHERUBIN KNOW AROUND PARIS AS “THE CHRISTMAS ANGEL”

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FREDERIC MALLE

Lys Mediterranee is a seductive, mesmerizing, bite of the night full of romance and a hint of danger. This perfume by Editions de Parfums Fredric Malle was created in the year 2000 by the nose Edoaurd Flechier who also created such perfumes as C’est La Vie by Christian Lacroix and Poison for Dior.  Here with Fredric Malle as in all cases with this perfume house the nose gets his or her name in lights along with the perfume. Usually the Parfumeur is never mentioned.  It is the house or the celebrity who gets the name in up front and center. So Bravo to Fredric Malle for giving the Nose its due.

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EDOAURD FLECHIER

The perfume is a sensual and subtle uni-sex fragrance that really is perfect on both men and women. There is a fleshy sexiness in the mix that I find most enticing. It opens with a salty wave of an oceanic note that is spiced up with a strong dose of ginger. This opening is as bright as a spring sunrise in Saint Tropez. It sparkles and jumps off the skin for a moment and then it sinks down very fast into the wet earthy heart of the perfume. Like a vampire at dawn, it goes to ground.

Here in the heart notes is the star, the lily full of fleshy ripe indolic sensuality. The note is ripe and rich bordering on the verge of a delicious sumptuous rot. Not to worry, it never tips into compost but stays airborne above the skin curvy and lush and ready for almost anything. It smells a little dirty too and naughty as well. This might be aided by the pungent dirtiness of the Angelica but never tips into nasty boy or slutty girl territory due to the buoyant beauty that comes from the water lily note and a sweet spray of orange blossom.

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The lily note hangs in there throughout and into the dry down with finds its support from a curling and creamy vanilla that elongates the sultry aspect of the perfume. There is a musk note but it plays way in the back more as a longevity aid than anything else.

The projection on this perfume is not too strong. It is a romantic scent that demands closeness not a boisterous hey come up and see me sometime fragrance. More of a lets get cozy and intimate perfume. The longevity is very good at about eight to nine hours.

Lys Mediterranee is of the three S’s in my view, Sultry, Sensuous and Sexy. I find it to be full of life and utterly inviting. I must thank the charming and very beautiful Chase at Barney’s NY in San Francisco for leading me to this wonderful perfume and for sharing her expertise and time with me on the house of Editions de Parfums Fredric Malle.

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LYS MEDITERRANEE ~EDITIONS DE PARFUM FREDERIC MALLE 5 GOLD STARS *****

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