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.

THE STUFF THAT DREAMS ARE MADE OF ~ Cinema by Yves Saint Laurent

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Detective Tom Polhaus: Heavy, What is it Sam?

 

Sam Spade picks up the black bird and considers its history and all it has caused to happen in his life.

 

Sam Spade: The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.

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Fade to black.

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The stuff that dreams are made of, that is after all what Cinema is and always will be. Cinema is many things but the main engine that fuels the dream machine is love.

It began with the first flickering in 1896 when John Rice puckered up to May Irwin in, The Kiss. It became rapturous as a wordless Garbo  embraced her absent lover’s roses as if they were actually him. Epic in scope and passion when Rhett Butler’s kiss devoured Scarlett under a flame tortured Atlanta sky. It was no more heart meltingly satisfying as it was when Jennifer Lawrence surrendered to Bradley Cooper as he kissed her tears and came finally home to his true meaning of excelsior and a chance at a silver lining.

In the dark we as a world embrace the dream and surrender to the agreement to disconnect from reality and move into the art of the possible. Be it in an outdoor theater in the savannas of Africa, a neon modern moive-plex in Shanghai, that old movie house on main street or a grand place on the Champs Élysées everyone forgets nations and boundaries and we become one in the dream.

The faces of the luminous, the ones who live in that silver nitrate dream have many names, Valentino, Harlow, Mitchum, Monroe, Brando, Taylor. In truth they are our avatars, Dream catchers and soothsayers, the vessels that tell our mythic tales of love to us and promise if not a happy ending, then the truly bittersweet legends of the lost.

These cinematic dreams have shaped our perception of what love is, sometimes it falls near reality but most of the time we prefer our dreams to lie to us, to be unattainable and effervescently unwise to peruse. Unrealistic expectations aside and hearts broken over them, we always come back to the dark, to the Cinema to try and capture at last the stuff that dreams are made of.

 

(100 YEARS AT THE MOVIES – A SHORT FILM BY CHUCK WORKAMN FOR TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES)

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When I smelled it for the very first time Cinema by Yves Saint Laurent, Catherine Deneuve came at once to mind. Partly because I always remember her at his side at a retrospective of his work towards the end of his life, also because she was a muse to him, and mostly because she embodies my perception of the French Cinema Star.

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Cinema is a delicate Floral Oriental that plays with light on the skin as softly as a misty gauze filtered close-up plays across the screen. It is very refined and elegant but like Deneuve is on the screen; it is illusionary and just out of reach. This is not to say it is weak or watery, not at all. It is ethereal.  Aloofly beautiful it opens in blonde notes of sweet Clementine, and white almond blossom with a hint of honey rouge in the cyclamen. This flickers and fades into a sublimely subtle rose that finds the confident support of white peony and a flurry of windswept jasmine. The attention to refinement and lush expense is lavished here as it would be on the costume of a great star. The middle is really lovely and here is where it begins to blend with the skin as the vanilla comes up from the bottom notes. This vanilla is not heady and cloying but light and frothy.

All stars flicker and dye and for Cinema there is no escaping that the dry down comes too soon. Legendary star that it is, it lingers on and retains a memory of its former beauty with a little nip and tuck from the amber, musk and benzoin.

The longevity is moderate at about six hours (imagine sitting through a six hour film and that now seems not such a short time for a perfume). The silage is good in the first hour and then it moves in for its close-up and says there to capture the attention of anyone who is attentive.

The bottle presentation is breathtaking. A tall rectangular clear bottle topped with a simple square golden cap the juice is the color of the Palme d’Or of Cannes. And through the glass running in gold from bottom to top like rows of moving film is the name Yves Saint Laurent with CINEMA brazened across the front. It really looks like a star on the dressing table. With all this glamour going on can a man dare to wear Cinema, but of course he can. It would be a perfect fragrance for a elegant evening in a tux or for a late night dive along Mulholland Drive to a midnight supper with someone very special. Just like in the movies. Sounds kind of dreamy, doesn’t it?

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CINEMA BY YVES SAINT LAURENT ~ FOUR GOLD STARS **** 

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