What perfume should you wear when going to interview a creator of fragrances? I choose Jo Malone’s Pear and Freesia fragrance, wondering if master perfumer Erez Rozen will allude to its fruity notes.
I soon discover that the nose behind the Israeli brand Zielinski & Rozen — which has three stores in Israel and five in Europe — does not once mention floral, spicy or fruity or any other adjective commonly used to characterize perfume.
Rozen prefers to talk about the feelings a scent arouses, or as he says: “Perfume is emotion. I can’t remain indifferent to it. It’s like a song playing. It sweeps me away, and it brings up associations and memories.”
Zielinski & Rozen’s Rosemary and Lemon fragrance, for example, is “an optimistic scent,” he says, when I mention it’s one of my favorites.
There is a rakish look about Rozen; he wear multiple pieces of jewelry and has a scarf tied dapperly around his neck.
Creating fragrances, he says, can even be inspired by “seeing two people at a table in a café and developing the story around them.”
“Story” is a word that comes up often in our conversation, which takes place in Jaffa at the local offshoot of Soho House, the global members-only social club.
The first story: a family connection
Around the 1900s, the perfumer’s maternal great-grandfather (named Zielinski) manufactured and sold his perfumes in Polotsk, Poland.
A book of his formulas came to light by sheer luck, while Rozen was going through a box of old documents before going on a post-army trip to Eastern Europe. The only problem was that it was written in Polish and a translator would be needed.
“Perfume is emotion. It’s like a song playing. It sweeps me away, and it brings up associations and memories.”
Rozen went off to find a volunteer at a nearby café where a “parliament of old guys” were regulars.
One of them did speak Polish and translated one of the pages on the spot. Then the man took the rest home to complete the task. This was the last time Rozen saw the treasure he had unearthed, as both disappeared without a trace.
The one formula he managed to write down is still used as a base in the collection.
The post-army trip turned into 10 years of living in different Eastern European countries.
“I feel lucky to have experienced the region before it modernized. And living in a beautiful old apartment was like being in a romantic novel, especially when it got dark early and it snowed. It still inspires me,” Rozen says.
His “obsession with scent” began while living in Skopje, Macedonia. He soon began to collect raw materials wherever he traveled, settling for a time in the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia.
Rozen does not speak of the world-famous roses for which Bulgaria is known. All he lets on is that a relationship he was in at the time has made it impossible until today to include roses in his perfumes “as too many memories start to surface.”
Soon after returning to Israel, Rozen opened his first artisanal perfume store, Zielinski & Rozen, in the Jaffa flea market. The choice of location was in line with a philosophy that runs through his life and his creative spirit.
“I felt comfortable in Jaffa as it’s a place in which things seem to always be evolving. The buildings are often half-finished and there is a diverse blend of people. It’s the same with the perfumes I create; I always alter and develop them and this can be done over a period of years.”
Zielinski & Rozen perfume is packaged apothecary style, in brown glass bottles with black-and-white labeling. Partly it seems, as a nod to his great-grandfather, but also to indicate the genderless character of the fragrances.
Rozen insists, “It’s like with any work of art — from the moment the perfume is created, it is perceived and interpreted differently by everyone. There is a sense of freedom about it.”
The brand spreads its wings
If Rozen is the creative force behind Zielinski & Rozen, then Lea, his wife of 15 years and with whom he has three daughters, is the business and marketing powerhouse.
She has driven the expansion of the company, which opened its first store abroad last year along a canal in Amsterdam. Soon more followed in Ibiza, Paris, Courcheval and most recently Vienna, with Barcelona about to be added to the list. The company also supplies restaurants and hotels around the world with signature scents.
This is, however, no cookie-cutter chain store. “In each location we try to use local artists and designers who have the freedom to express themselves and their culture,” Rozen tells ISRAEL21c.
Each customer base also has different preferences.
“Israelis like a complicated and spicy scent. In Courcheval, which has a villagey feel, more gentle notes are preferred. And in Paris, the black pepper, cinnamon and leather fragrance has taken off in a big way.”
Rozen’s own preference is for complicated fragrances that use pink pepper and vetiver, “a root smell that makes you feel you have entered a cave.”
And has he designed a fragrance with his wife as a muse? He has, but she doesn’t wear it as it’s something that is kept for himself, an olfactory memento of sorts.
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