IDENTIKIT ~ A FRAGRANCE TO DIE FOR! CHANEL No. 19 Parfum

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“It takes one day to die, another to be born…” Elizabeth Taylor reportedly said those words to her director Griffi when she came on the set the day after she left Richard Burton for their first divorce. So with that mindset she went to work on one of her most unusual, daring and controversial films. From the moment “The Diver’s Seat” begins you know you are in a strange place. In Europe the movie was called “Idendikit” so, with two names tagged to it thus making it schizophrenic from the first it easily falls into the realm of the ambiguous art film genre of the late 60’s and early 70’s. It’s star, Elizabeth Taylor, appears here in one of her most remote and dangerous roles. She plays Lise a woman who is consumed by insanity and the desire to find the ultimate lover, the be all and end all of boyfriends you might say.

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As the film opens you are presented with a shattered view of a woman on the edge of something terrible. The camera moves in a disjointed way, past naked mannequins heads covered in tin foil. Is this Lise’s view of others or is it a reflection of her inner life? Or possibly her future.  Upon being told to take a holiday from work after causing a scene in the office the film opens with her preparations to take flight to Rome. The film jump cuts from past to present as the police in Rome try to reconstruct the mystery of her holiday in terrorist gripped Rome. Even Rome comes off as off kilter. This is not the Rome of Audrey Hepburn or Marcello Mastroianni but a city one hardly recognizes from the lack of typical filming locations one associates with “Made In Rome!” movies.

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(Lise meets Andy Warhol at Fiumicino International Airport)

Director Giuseppe Patroni Griffi succeeds in presenting a inimitably Italian cinema verite film of the Muriel Spark novel. This is a unique film and very much of it’s day. Its non-linear, experimental, almost documentary style will be hard to get into for any one not used to movies of this sort. But it is well worth the effort. So strange and challenging a film it is that it left the opening night audience at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival in stunned silence.

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(with Ian Bannan)

The cast is well chosen and gives some oddly memorable performances. Ian Bannan as the macrobiotic sex-nut who tires to pick up Lise on the plane to Rome seems almost as mad as she is. It is a wickedly off kilter wild-eyed performance. The charming and always wonderful Mona Washbourne is sweetly touching as the woman who befriends the mad Lise and in doing so leads her to meet the man of her dreams.

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(with Mona Washborne)

But the glue that holds it all together is provided by Miss Taylor who tops off her short list of insane characters from Susanna Drake (Raintree County) to Catherine Holly (Suddenly Last Summer) with this daring and shocking portrait of Lise. She opens up as an actress that at the time would have been unthinkable to most of her contemporaries from the old M.G.M. days. That’s one of the wonderful things about her film career. She came from an era in old Hollywood where she was trained and groomed to be glossy and perfect. But as times changed so did she and in doing so became much more than an MGM glamour girl, she became an actress with guts. In “The Driver’s Seat” she shows her chops as an actress and her willingness to accept challenges in her roles and in Lise she found a great one. One stunning image of her is when in her loud madwoman dress and raccoon painted eyes she challenges the airport security to frisk her. In that scene she seems totally there, totally gone, and totally in control as an actress.

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Even the sweetest perfume has a hint of madness in it. That darkness must exist in a perfume or it has no chance of being complex or perhaps even a classic in time.

Perfume played a huge part in the theater which was Elizabeth Taylor’s life. A life lived before us all which unfolded in a flurry of purple and glittering diamonds in the center of the strobbing glare of paparazzi press for the last half of the twentieth Century. She was famous for wearing Bal a Versailles when she conquered not only Rome in 1962 but but also the denunciation of her by Pope John XXIII. Later in the 1980’s she created Elizabeth Taylor’s Passion and thus launched “Celebrity” Perfumes in to a realm yet untested.  Her perfume “White Diamonds” is still to this day one of the top sellers on the market.

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(Elizabeth Taylor and Andy Warhol
at the 1974 screening of Identikit ~ The Driver’s Seat at Cannes)

It is interesting to ponder what perfume Elizabeth Taylor’s character Lise might have worn in the film “The Driver’s Seat”? Symbolism and nonverbal signals are an important aspect of her character, from her wardrobe, the way she applies her makeup and even the book she carries with her on her travels. Every visual aspect is covered in her quest. So, there must be a fragrance she employed to attract that which she seeks and in the end finds in the darkest part of the Borghese Gardens in the heart of Rome in the dead of night.

This fragrance must be green and full of life and promise and yet carry a dark heart and of the period, the early 1970’s.  For Lise it would be Chanel No. 19 Eau de Parfum (1970).  The last perfume made during Mademoiselle Chanel’s life, named for the date of her birth and a personal favorite of hers.

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It is known and loved as a superlative Green fragrance. It is in fact onion like in its layers upon layers of facets. Like enfiladed rooms opening one upon another leading to an unknown end. In fact, it is the marriage between the fresh crisp smell of grass and the opposing heavy indolic white flowers all wrapped up in a fine supple leather which only hints at its complex schizoid nature.  It is like slipping on a fine pair of white kid gloves be they for horseback riding in a French wood in spring or driving gloves for that mad getaway drive along the Amalfi coast in winter.  Both rides are just on the edge of losing control.

Then the darkness comes. It comes from the interior of that leather where deep under its folds you find nestled a dark dirty vetiver and a deadly serious oak moss. And deeper still below that there is the deeply sensual and frankly fleshy sex of Iris or perhaps full blown oris butter. Slipper smooth and intoxicatingly drenched over a softly sweet and green narcissus. The rose that lies in there near the heart is bleeding and barely alive encased in a coffin of sandalwood. And upon this coffin, is placed a wreath of lily of the valley and ylang-ylang. There under all that green rebirth in its beginning is the solemn promise that it will die.

No. 19  is in fact like Lise very beautiful and hides a complicated inner world of Belle vie et mort inéluctable. As Lise moved ever closer to her rendezvous in the dark gardens of her soul in the center of the eternal city she must have smelled the clean green of the grass and the bereavement in the decaying flowers where she lay down.

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One of the most wonderful aspects of No.19 is that anyone, man or woman can wear it. and at any age. It is timeless, ageless, classic and yet very modern.

OVER THE TOP ORGY IN ROME! (Movie Memory)

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Che bella citta Roma! Vincent Minnelli’s “Two Weeks In Another Town” is pure glamour, trash, camp and Hollywood glitz. In other words it is great fun. Don’t go into it expecting anything more than over the top soap opera with the suds on overflow and you won’t be disappointed.

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Rome takes center stage in the film and is shown in all its “La Dolce Vita” glory of 1962. So much was happening there at this time. The birth of the paparazzi, the filming of “Cleopatra” and the international “Jet Set” had just landed in Rome to make it the fun capital of the world. The film captures all of this with high gloss and a tip of the fedora to Fellini who had first shown a light on the goings on along the Via Veneto a few years earlier.

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Kirk Douglas plays a down and out movie star just released from a mental institution / rehab center when he is invited to fly to Rome by his old director and ex friend Edward G. Robinson to take a small comeback part in his epic being filmed at the famed Cinecitta Studios. Well I don’t want to spoil the fun so all I will say is that there are plenty of gorgeous Italians running amok and lots of fabulous jewels bedecking Cyd Charisse. Tons of locations throughout the Eternal City and even an orgy! But the highlight of the film is the climactic scenic drive through the streets of Rome that Douglas takes Miss Charisse on after the orgy. That drive has to be seen to be believed! Words fail me at the sheer joy of this over wrought fun fest.

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Trust me, it isn’t anywhere near the brilliance of “The Bad and The Beautiful” of which it is a kind of follow up on, But it is beautifully bad in the very best way.
The DVD says remastered. But don’t expect Blu-ray quality, it is fine nothing spectacular in it’s re-mastering. But the color is good and the picture is clear.

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All those jewels and great gowns on Miss Charisse lead me to wonder what perfume her character would have worn? Well, it has to be nothing less than, Caleche Parfum by Hermes, a heady floral aldeyhyde with seductive notes of Iris, Gardenia, Jasmine, Ylang-Ylang, Sandalwood and Amber. Those are just the notes that stand out to me. A lush, even cinematicly dramatic fragrance that is perfect of a night of abandon in Rome.

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THE POET ~ An Interview With Perfumer Mario Tomas

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It is always very exciting when a new perfumer hits the scene and doubly exciting for me when that perfumer is a local Bay Area artist. I have known Mario Tomas Gomez for about two years. I was privileged to be at dinner with him, Mik of Mik Moi and Hilary Randall when he decided to take the big leap and start his perfume house.

His official brick and mortar launch is this Saturday at Tigerlily Perfumery here in San Francisco. So to honor his blossoming as an olfactory artist I asked him a few questions.

Lanier: Where were you born?

Mario:  Born in Oklahoma City, OK raised both in OKC and Mexico City, Mexico

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

Mario: I always wanted to do something which allowed me to help others.

Lanier: who introduced you to perfume?

Mario:  I remember smelling different fragrances on different family members. These various olfactory experiences helped build my love for fragrances/perfumes.

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

Mario: It was the experience of blending my own creation at Perfumer’s Apprentice when they had a shop open in Santa Cruz, CA. It was a small shop that provided tea service while you created your own scent. Afterwards, I searched for a local perfume making workshop. I saw one offered by Yosh Han, the rest is history.

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Lanier:  what is the inspiration behind each of your scents?

Mario: El Poeta (The Poet): This fragrance conjures up another era; a time and place when debates on beauty, style and technique were hotly discussed over drinks at a crowded and smoky cafe. It too is unconventional. Artistic expression and flair is flaunted and appreciated. For those who walk a different path, it represents the cultural, artistic mavericks of a time gone by. It is Absinthe inspired, Bohemia in a bottle.

Corazon Blanco (White Heart): Corazon Blanco is my love note to my family and heritage of beautiful Mexico. I have deep and unforgettable roots in Mexico: the exotic flowers, spices and culinary delights of this region have lent themselves to my fond memories and recreation of such moments with this scent. They include my Grandmother making cinnamon tea, my Mother’s enjoyment of Cajeta (caramels) and adoration of gardenias, or the recollection of tequila from my cousin’s distillery.

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Lo Mejor di Mi #1: This citrus fragrance is homage to the citrus, aromatic family. Its great diversity of revitalizing notes will offer a fresh embrace that is meant to lift one’s spirit. It will envelop you in notes of bitter orange, pink and white grapefruit and blood orange that will delight and recharge your essence. Its hint of floral, woods and musk adds to its complexity and will have you fall in love at first smell.

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

Mario: It was Yosh Han and Shelley Waddington who helped me explore the art of blending.  Michael Coyle of MikMoi who gave me the helpful nudge to launch at the 3rd SF Artisan Fragrance Salon.

Lanier: What is your process in making a perfume?

Mario: Normally, first I will explore the single individual notes alone without any other notes.  Sometimes this can take less than a minute or sometimes days. Once I have all the fragrance notes I will be using, I explore fragrances already out on the market.  If I can bring something new, then I move to blending and testing out Jerry my husband or friends.

Lanier:  Do you have an idea of whom you are making your perfumes for. Who is that person, what is he or she like?

Mario:  I am creating scents for anyone who enjoys them. I may be inspired by a specific person, but I try to create scents that are enjoyed by both genders.

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

Mario: Getting my bottling and packaging finalized, transitioning from my State job into making perfume into a full-time event.

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20 smelly questions. (inspired by the ten questions asked by Bernard Pivot on the French television show “Bouillion de Culture”.

1.Who inspires you?

Anyone in my inner circle of friends and family.

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

My Nespresso machine.  Just kidding, gratitude for life.

3.What is your favorite sensation?

Smell and taste, they are connected.

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

Lovely.

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

Lovely

6.What is your least favorite perfume note?

I do not have one.  All notes can be blended to create a wonderful experience.

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

I think of myself as a very spiritual person and so that enters by thought process while creating.

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     8.What perfume turned you on this month?

Les Parisiennes Mademoiselle Eau de Parfum by Guerlain. If I was just to judge this perfume by only it’s notes or by the name alone,  it would be something I would have ignored.  Having experienced this scent without knowing what was being spritzed on me, I was able to enjoy the development without any prejudgment. I love wearing by itself or blending it with many of my other fragrances.

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

My biggest turn offs are acts in which one is inconsiderate of another.

10.Who excites you in the world of perfume?

The growth in interest of the art of fragrance making.

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

Some of the restrictions being placed on ingredients that have been used to create some of the most amazing perfumes.

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12.What natural smell in nature do you love?

I love the smell of cement and rain after a heavy rain in any season.

13.What smell in nature do you hate.

The smell of public urination one gets when walking out of some of the BART/Muni stations.

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

Either Cleopatra or Marie Antoinette.  Cleopatra was known to have the sails of her ships soaked in fragrance oils, so I can just image what “lovely” oil collection she owns. It was said that Marie Antoinette was know for her signature scent(s), when she tried to escape, it was her scent that was recognized which lead to her capture.

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(Conceptual painting by John De Cuir for Cleopatra’s Barge “Cleopatra” 1963)

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

Spanish.

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

Mierda

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

Ballet dancer.

18.What profession would you not like to do?

Anything that would not allow me to work with people.

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

“Welcome, you will enjoy this fragrant garden and all of its wonders.”

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

She will be wearing Guerlain’s Sous le Vent.

I would like to thank Mario for a wonderful and thought provolking interview The Launch for his perfumes witll be Saturday, November 1, 2014 from 5 – 9pm. If youi are in the San Francisco area do drop in and explore with me the wonderful olfactory world of Mario Tomas.

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TIGERLILY PERFUMERY

973 VALENCIA STREET

SAN FRANCISCO CA. 94110

510 230 7975

EMAIL INFO@TIGERLILYSF.COM

LE GRAND PRIX ~ Perris Monte Carlo Perfume Event San Francisco

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Fall is the time when fashion and film present there best works. The same is true for the world of haute perfume. At least it seems so here in San Francisco. Last week we had the launch of Penhaligon’s Iris Prima at Saks Fifth Avenue and yesterday amid the Beaux Arts splendor of Neiman Marcus on Union Square we very lucky San Franciscans had the great honor of being presented two perfumes from the house of Perris Monte Carlo.

The event began at one o’clock. I arrived with Hillary Randall, my muse extraordinaire and guide through the looking glass of perfume. The theme for us was old world splendor and in tune as always we both dresses accordingly for a very regal and warm presentation by our visitors from the principality of Monaco. As Hilary and I walked though the rotunda we were greeted as always with friendly smiles and hellos from the associates at the Creed and Jo Malone counters along with the always lovely folks at Tom Ford. The delightful Suzetta across the way at Estee Lauder waved to us. And of course the ladies and gentlemen of the Dior Boutique looked smashing in there signature black and made us feel welcome with great warm waves and smiles.  Going to Neiman’s is always fun and part of the fun is the friendly people who work there. I know that much of this charming atmosphere is due to the General Manager of Neiman’s Alan Morrell. I have even seen Alan on the sales floor bringing coffee to patrons of the store and seeing to there comfort. That’s warm friendly Neiman Marcus for you.

 Nieman Marcus Rotunda, Plate 3

   The Perris Monte Carlo event took place just beyond the rotunda in the heart of the fragrance department. The S.F. Sniff gang were already there and being introduced by our host Michal Gizinski to the stars of the event. The buzz was that of pure joy and excitement and it was infectious. Michal presented Hilary and me to Elisabetta and Gian Luca Perris. Elisabetta is a stunning blonde with a most beautiful smile. And Gian Luca is athletically handsome man with open warm eyes.  This brother and sister team  of the house of Perris Monte Carlo could not have been more gracious and kind to each person they met.

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Gian Luca, Elisabetta, and Michal

As the event began to unfold I broke off to take some photos then popped over to say hello to Mik from Mik Moi perfumes and catch up a bit with Tama Blough, Brooke Baird, and Mario Gomez from S.F. Sniff along with the rest of the gang. Good friend Mary Edington popped up and there were hugs for everyone. Mary and I insinuated ourselves next to one of the three tables displaying the two new perfumes being launched by Perris Monte Carlo, Rose de Taif and Oud Imperial. There was a bit of sniffing of perfume blotters but in no time flat we got down to business and hit the flesh with the spray. You know how it is with perfume lovers, there is no fooling around. Like Tama said to me “You just have to have it on the skin to really appreciate perfume.”

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Hilary, Mary and Mik

The Rose de Taif was one of the most wonderful and true rose perfumes I have ever smelled. Gian Luca explained to us how the rose oil is extracted. The delicate roses are picked at dawn in Taif Arabia to ensure there purest beauty in fragrance. Like Grasse Jasmine that is the only time these precious roses can be picked. They are distilled in an alembic water process. For this perfume this water process is a bit different than elsewhere. The flowers are placed directly in the water and not separated by a filter. This method is what gives the unique and beautiful quality to the Taif Rose oil which it produces. It takes thousands upon thousands of roses to create just a tiny amount of oil for the perfume. The notes are, lemon, nutmeg, geranium in the top. The gorgeous Taif Rose is the heart of the perfume and the base notes are Damascus rose absolute and Rose Musk.

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He also shared with us some pure oils to smell that are used in the making of the two perfumes. This was my first time smelling pure authentic oud. It was the most amazing fragrance full of mystery and fifty centuries of history. You could sense the ages shift and shimmer as visions of the Middle East came into view in the minds eye. It was a magic carpet unfurling before me filled with all the tales of the east from Algeria to India.

So of course my next stop was Oud Imperial. Cumin and jasmine open the fragrance beautifully; the heart is Oud, incense, patchouli and saffron. And in the base is a beautiful sandalwood, Virginia Cedar, Vetiver from Java and Blackwood. On my skin there is an initial blast of petroleum that mellows quite fast into a warm mix of woods and incense. It carried me off to the deep spiritual sanctuary of an ancient Imperial Roman temple filled with mystery, gods and grandeur. It reminds you of how the smoke and incense of the East came west to conquer Europe again and again.  It has both a religious and sensual aspect to it that I find fascinating. It is eastern, enticing, and enchanting.   Oud Imperial is simply the best oud perfume I have ever encountered.

 Perris Monte Carlo Rose de Taif and Oud Imperial

Hilary asked Gian Luca about the oil concentration in the eau de perfumes. The rose is twenty two percent and the oud is eighteen percent. Yet these eau de perfumes were like pure perfume. Simply put they are stunning, lush and long lasting.

At this point Michal directed us to a very comfortable seating area behind the presentation display and with sparkling water and delicious homemade cookies we got to talk and compare the two fragrances. It is always so interesting to me how different a scent can be on my skin as opposed to others. Elisabetta and I talked with Mary about this phenomenon. Elisabetta told us that the chemistry of the skin can enhance a perfume. One persons PH can bring certain notes to the fore where as on another person entire new story is told.

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Mario and Brooke

Slowly people began to drift away and the event began to wind down. Michal invited me to stay on and chat one on one with Gian Luca and Elisabetta. Well I was thrilled to be asked and charmed by them both so of course I accepted. I asked them how they got into the business of fragrance and discovered it is in their blood. The business has been in existence for fifty years and was founded by there father Michele Perris in Milan.  Gian Lucca entered into the industry in 1989 and Elisabetta early in this century. Talking to them I learned just how passionate they are about perfume when I asked Gian Lucca how he thought the sales for the event were going.

“That is not so important to us.” He told me. “What is important is the journey we are on. What we have learned along the way, and how much fun it is to create these beautiful perfumes.”  Now that was the answer of a true artist and visionary.

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Elisabetta and I talked about the history of gender in perfume and the changing perceptions of masculine and feminine beauty in the last five hundred years.  We both agreed that gender assignment to fragrance is a bit silly. Everyone should wear what they love. After all flowers are both male and female and the bees do the flirting and the hard work.

I discovered that Gian Luca is also an accomplished sailor in the team sport of Mach Racing. In 2007 he was awarded as helmsman of his team the UBS Match Race Award. The trophy was awarded to him by Prince Albert of Monaco. We talked a bit about sailing and he told me he learned to sail from his Father Michele who gave him his love of the sea. I told Gian Luca if he loved sailing he must take a look at the stained glass ceiling of the rotunda of Neiman’s. The rotunda and ceiling are all that remain of the old City of Paris department store that once stood on the site of Nieman’s. The central figure if the ceiling is the old City of Paris ship that brought the founder of the old department store to San Francisco from France in the 19th century and is forever commemorated in this work of art.

 Gian Luca and Prince Albert

Elisabetta and Gian both talked about how much they loved to visit San Francisco and how unique it is among American cities. We all agreed that it is very European in its style and feeling. The told me how much my city is like Monte Carlo in the fact that both cities are melting pots of many different peoples, cultures and cuisines. Throughout our talk Michal brought over patrons who were purchasing perfumes from the house of Parris. Gian and Elisabetta most kindly signed bottles for every person. One lovely woman told them how much she adores Quelques Fleurs Royale.

That reminded me as did Michal that the Perris’ also owns the house of Houbigant and 10 Corso Como. There were bottles of Quelques Fleurs, Fougere Royale (2010), Duc De Vervins, and Orange en Fleurs on the display behind us. So with their permission I asked them about there involvement in these perfumes. It was most interesting to learn how they went about recreating the famous 19th century Fougere Royale which was the first fougere in history created in 1882 and became the standard to which all fougeres are compared.

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Gian Luca told me they employed the considerable and brilliant talents of perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux who has created so many wonderful perfumes for everyone from Tom Ford to Arquiste. It was a long journey until they came to what is now Houbigant’s Fougere Royale. I asked them how they knew what the original smelled like. The Osmothèque at Versailles has samples of the perfume and were very generous in helping them in there quest to bring back this classic. Gian praised the talent and work of Rodrigo Floes-Roux and was very appreciative if his talents as an artist. You can’t speak of Houbigant without mentioning that it was the parfumeur of Marie Antoinette and it is said that during her attempted escape from Paris she had the coach stop at Houbigant to pick up a few bottles of perfume for the road. The house was also favored by Napoleon, Queen Victoria and Tsar Nicolas II of Russia.

 

Elisabetta and Gian Luca signing bottles of Perfume.

Before I left the event the wonderful Rami Zardeh who is always so welcoming and helpful in the fragrance department of Neiman’s assisted me in my purchase of a bottle of Oud Imperial. With my signed bottle of Oud Imperial in tow I bid a fond and reluctant farewell to our guests of honor and with many thanks to them and to Michal for a most wonderful afternoon of perfume, stories, and new friends. We all agreed as we shook hands that perfume has the unique ability to bring people together in the most wonderful way.

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Thank you Michal for a wonderful event!

Perris Monte Carlo Facebook :  https://www.facebook.com/PerrisMonteCarlo

Houbigant Webpage: http://www.houbigant-parfum.com/

10 Corso Como Webpage: http://www.10corsocomo.com/

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