Susie Sheffman is a veteran of the Canadian fashion community. Until…
By Deborah Fulsang
A couple of months ago, at a press event for the launch of a new fragrance called Life by the brand Fresh, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the brand’s founders, Lev Glazman. Not only is his fragrance terrific—an airy yet lush spritz that distills the essence of earth, sun, water and sky—but Glazman made a lasting impression himself. Not just for his charm and centred being but for his storytelling. You see, it is Glazman’s very personal story of why and how fragrance affects him so profoundly that moved me. It is stories like his that have, in fact, inspired me to work in this world of fashion and beauty, and that have inspired me in fact to launch The Whale & The Rose. These stories have bowled me over, given me goose bumps and have felt like a push from another world or consciousness telling me to share the tales—their romance, their power, their humanity; this is what I’m supposed to do.
So, dear reader, please read on and enjoy Mr. Glazman’s amazing story of perfume and how it has changed his life:
“Some of you have never met me; I’d like to share a personal story. I always want people to understand how I started in the business. You don’t wake up one day and say I want to be in the beauty business because I’m going to make a lot of money in that business and it’s great. That didn’t happen for me. It goes back to when I was in Russia when I was six years old.
We were living in St. Petersburg. First of all, it was the iron curtain. Nothing penetrated in the country. People wore basically the same clothes. There was no colour. We lived in a colourless world. Even people who wanted to look pretty, they had a hard time doing it.
The worst thing was that there was only one fragrance available in Russia at the time—one for men and one for women—believe it or not, it was called Red Moscow [Krasnaya Moskva], and it smelled horrible; absolutely horrible. But the worst thing was that you would get on the bus, you would get on the train, you would go to the theatre, you would go to birthday parties and everybody smelled the same. I thought that the world only had one smell, and the world had only one colour. Not that I was questioning it, but I didn’t know anything else until one day.
It is such a clear clear moment for me because I relive it all the time, because I tell the story all the time. It was late October—and St. Petersburg in October is not pleasant. Any time after August is not pleasant. It’s cold, damp, gets dark early; you go to school it’s dark and you come back from school it’s dark.
So [it was] Saturday. My mother and I were sitting—my mother with her rollers in her hair, she was a beautiful woman—and I’m sitting there playing and drawing. I don’t know exactly what I was drawing at the time but I remember we were living in the communal apartment and in the communal apartments in Russia you would share your apartment with three or five other families. You share one kitchen; each family had its own table; no bathrooms. There were toilets but no bathrooms. You would have to go to public bathrooms.
We were sitting on the ground level and all of a sudden my mother’s friend starts knocking on the window. So my mother opens the window and she says ‘what happened? What’s wrong?’
And [her friend] says: ‘You have to get out of the house now because Antoine is here. He is back from France and he says he loves you.’
So here I am, my father is away on business and literally two days after he leaves, the windows are opening up and my mother is invited to meet a man who comes from France and says he loves her.
And leave it to my imagination—I actually thought ‘this is interesting, not bad: A French father, I like that. Cute toys.’
My father’s memory quickly faded to the background. I wasn’t sure if he was coming back or not.
The next thing I remember, we are in a cab. I threw on my house slippers with my pajamas. I had a coat on. My mother somehow managed to put something on my head to make sure I didn’t freeze to death. She was wearing a negligée with her coat on and her rollers.
I was asking, ‘who’s Antoine? Where are we going?’
And she said, ‘don’t talk, don’t talk.’ For half an hour of the ride, I had been all over the world with Antoine already, I had seen every amusement park and all of the things that I ever imagined from pictures and magazines smuggled into Russia.
Finally, the cab driver dropped us off.
We walk and I turned the corner and I see a lot of stands made out of cardboard and a lot of people. There was commotion. And I feel like everyone was looking the same as I. Mothers also with rollers, as if they [had all been] alerted that something was going on.
I was in the black market. And all those people that sell things, smuggle. This was the day of beauty. They smuggled creams, some clothing, things that they could smuggle from Europe. These women who were absolutely amazing and brave, they all talk in code. These markets are never in the same place, always changing locations. And [they’re] open for like an hour and [then] it closes down and everyone goes away. Because it’s a crime. Because you would be arrested. If you were caught in the black market it would be the equivalent of buying cocaine. The smugglers are illegal. They are criminals. And you are equivalently a criminal and could get five years in prison.
So my mother’s friend points in the direction and says ‘there is Antoine.’ So we run to that corner and luckily, he was not the man [I had imagined]. He had no teeth and I would have been very very disappointed [had it been her boyfriend].
In any case, we approach him, and my mother spoons 100 rubles out of her pocket. One hundred rubles is equivalent to one month’s salary. We paid 20 rubles a month for rent, so it is almost five months’ rent. She pays him for a bottle of fragrance and she walks away.
All I remember is that she opens it so quickly and when she put the fragrance on herself, I felt that the rollers in her head fell out, I was no longer sitting there in my slippers, she [was] like a princess. It was something so transformative. Something magical happened there. I thought oh ‘my god. It’s a hunger for something that people don’t have. She is willing to risk a lot of things for it, even taking me with her! But it was so important to her.’
So something happened to me. The whiff of the fragrance was something so magical, something I’d never smelt before. I smelt flowers: Something so different from the Red Moscow. I think that this was a moment that I [would] remember for the rest of my life.
That seed was in my head and it continued growing over so many years. I developed a very genuine interest in beauty; I developed a huge interest in fragrance. Because I started understanding that there is a whole world out there, which I knew existed, because I was always told, but I didn’t know how actually amazing it was. I felt that I have to be part of it because if it makes people so happy. There is a sense of enjoyment.
My mom put it on and she would be wearing it, and she would come to school. I always wanted to make sure that she had a lot of the fragrance on, so she was not like any other woman there. I wanted to make a point that she doesn’t smell like Red Moscow.
We left Russia when I was 10 years old; my father and my mother had separated at this point. We were in Budapest on the way to Israel. No passport—because you couldn’t take one with you. You know that Israel is taking you but it’s only going to happen in several days. You don’t belong anywhere.
We were stuck in this airport for six hours and I was begging my mom because we were going through this tray of fragrances—everything was standing there—Madame Rochas, Dior, Chanel. All of those fragrances were standing there on the counter. Out of the six hours we were there, four hours we were going back and fourth and it took me another hour to convince my mother to buy herself a present. It was $20 and she said ‘we only have 150 [rubles] with us. Nothing else. I have no job. We are going to a new country.’
And I said to her, ‘You’ve got to begin a new life with a new fragrance.’ I convinced her. She bought a Madame Rochas fragrance. After a lot of deliberation, I decided that this is what she should have.
Years later, I’m in Grasse—it was a year before we partnered with LVMH; I used to go to Grasse every two months; I was obsessed with the perfumers. I am the architect of the fragrance. I create a fragrance. They chemically help me do it. I sit together with them. I outline all the notes, the story, the inspiration; I direct the whole process and the fragrances in my head.
One day they asked me, ‘why I’m not a perfumer because I basically do everything they can do.’ And I said, ‘I like to be the architect and the evaluator. It keeps me in a very creative moment. I never feel like I’m on the other side of it. I feel a little bit more spontaneous.’
They asked, ‘how do you have this sort of sense?’
‘What happens is it’s an emotion and if you feel in touch with your emotions and you pay attention to what is happening around you,’ I said, remembering things with my mother in the black market, ‘you remember things more and become more aware. And by becoming more aware, the mechanism is being triggered all the time: When you are with someone in an intimate moment, when there is a sad moment, when there is a happy moment. You start being more aware of that and that is how you develop this heightened sense of scent. I think this is what happened to me.’
And as I am explaining to them why I wouldn’t be a perfumer, I’m telling them this same story I’m telling to you.
The perfumer said, ‘one second,’ and goes away and comes back in and this older man walks in. He comes into the room with tears in his eyes because he had [been] briefly told the story on the way there.
So they introduce me to [this older man] and he is looking at me and says ‘I can’t believe your story because I am the perfumer [whose perfume] that your mother bought, who paid 100 [rubles for in the black market]. The perfume was Climat by Lancôme: It was very big in [the 1960s]. It was never allowed to be brought into the United States because there are several ingredients in it that are banned, and it’s really not in production anymore.
He [was] the one that created the fragrance. And I said to him ‘you have to wait one second because I need to call the United States.’ I think it was 12 in the afternoon and 6 o’clock in the morning in the United States. So I wake my mother up and said to her ‘you can’t believe who I’m with here.’ And she says ‘who?’
And I said ‘I’m going to put someone on the phone.’
I know what happened next because she was crying on the other line. That was a moment where it was taking them 30 years back. And then there is me, in France, with the perfumer that created this—that was a major moment.
So, that’s why I think [that] in life, everything happens for a great reason. Life opens opportunities for you, which could be very lucky. That’s really how I got into the business. And I was lucky enough to meet Alina [Roytberg (his partner)] who I was obsessing over in my early twenties. And I always said I wanted my own beauty business. And in my early thirties, we opened up a store.