The perfumer’s art is usually the province of experts, passed down in traditional guilds or from father to son. Known as “the purest art,” the field is associated with poetic theories of scent, high-saturation advertising and well-known presenters who sell everything but the scent itself.
That’s why it was surprising to find a new perfume store in the Jaffa flea market that looked like a pharmacy filled with plain glass bottles. A small sign above the door reads “Zielinski and Rozen Perfumerie.” The owner, Erez Rozen − who came to the perfume-making field by accident in Eastern Europe more than a decade ago − returned to Israel to open his shop, where he creates individual scents for customers and avoids ostentatious advertising.
Rozen, 39, studied business management in Israel. Twelve years ago he went to Sofia, without knowing what he wanted to do there. At that time, stores such as Laline and Nerot BeShenkin began selling scented candles and perfumes, and Rozen thought it would be a good idea to import the trend and sell similar products there.
He found people who taught him the trade, did research on the Internet and opened a small store that sold homemade candles and soap that he created on his own. The store was successful and grew into a chain of 27 branches in several countries, including Greece, Cyprus and Austria. He set up a small factory for candles, soap and cosmetics, and became a manufacturer during the economic boom in Eastern Europe, providing the products for the Israeli Laline chain, until it was sold to the owners of the Fox fashion chain.
“I actually sold scents. It was my favorite part,” Rozen recalls. “Everything that has happened to me over the past 12 years revolved around scent, candles and soap. I discovered that I had a good nose. It’s true that the field has lots of rules and there are schools that teach the art, but in the end it’s all based on intuition, a good nose and a great deal of ability to work with people. Maybe that was the reason I missed Israel so much − the connection with people, and also the language and the fact that I had to run the business and spend less time in the store creating scents.”
For Rozen, returning to Israel was a return to his starting point. In his shop, he creates and mixes individual perfumes for customers, using a small laboratory nearby and local production that he does himself.
“What is perfume?” he asks, delving deeply into the topic. “Perfume is a story that a person tells, a memory, part of what we wear. It’s an invisible but very important accessory. We can make a mistake in the color of the shoes we wear or in matching a blouse with a pair of trousers, but a bad odor is inexcusable. Perfume-making usually has rules, but not for me. As far as I’m concerned, the perfume has to be one that you find pleasant.”
Plain and inexpensive
The process of creating perfume in the shop includes a long conversation and smelling many bottles of scent. “I don’t tell people what they’re smelling,” he says. “Forget about names and titles. We sit with the person and build him a scent − something that’s suitable for him and that has no brand. He’s not buying the models or the bottle. Our bottle is plain and inexpensive − it looks just like a bottle in a pharmacy − and the branding work is minimalist. During the process, we smell raw ingredients without my revealing what they are. I ask only that the customer tell me what he likes and doesn’t like. It’s only after he tells me that I tell him what he’s smelling. The perfume is individually tailored, and it can be tweaked. Tomorrow, if you want more jasmine, it can be added. I want to create a perfume your nose will love. In addition, if you change your mind, you can always return the perfume. I’m aware that people’s tastes change, and I don’t want my perfume to stand unused.”
How is perfume created?
“Perfume is created like a pyramid. It has high notes, middle notes and base notes. The high notes are the most acidic: grapefruit, lemon, lemongrass. The middle notes are more floral and fruity: lavender, jasmine, lilac. The base notes are deeper − vanilla and patchouli, for example. When we wear a perfume, we smell the high notes right away, since they evaporate quickly. After that we smell the middle notes, and we smell the base notes only at the end.”
Which perfume do you use?
“What do I use? That’s a tough one. The cobbler goes barefoot, as the saying goes, because the only time I’m not dripping with scent is between the time I shower and when I get here. In principle, I can’t wear perfume. I mustn’t become accustomed to the ingredients. If that happens, you lose the ability to notice the scent, or you begin to develop feelings for it. That’s why I don’t put on perfume in the morning − because right when I get to the store in the morning, I have to spray scents on myself.”
How should a person put on perfume?
“You have to know how to wear perfume. The best places to put it on are the pulse points. The pulse brings it to the rest of the body. It’s important not to rub it onto your skin, but just to touch.”
Is there a specifically Israeli taste in perfume?
“That depends. Laline’s soaps, for example, were different from what I sold in Bulgaria or Cyprus. We hear the muezzin here, and that has an influence. Every environment has its own scents and flavors. Israelis like jasmine, for example, while a wonderful scent like lavender is off-limits because it’s used as a bathroom spray. Vanilla and patchouli are too common, so I prefer to steer clear of them. In general, Israelis go less for sweet scents and more for the floral ones, but not too much. It depends, because Israelis don’t like to be pigeonholed. The French community here, for example, goes in a completely different direction. No Israeli would be willing to wear their perfumes.”