For several years, Jerry and I attended watercolor workshops in Umbria, Italy, with Honolulu artist George Woollard. More specifically, we lived and painted in a farm house outside Nocera Umbra, Italy. Nocera Umbra is a tiny hill town, most of which was wiped out by an earthquake in the 1990s. It remains largely shuttered to this day. The only way we could see it was to walk through, as a group of artists, and sketch the deserted streets that looked as though life had been halted mid-sentence. There are bicycles overturned in the streets, plates on tables and toys on floors, all bleak and deserted. It’s really eerie.
It seems no one, even many Italians, has ever heard of Nocera Umbra. So imagine my surprise when I read the label on Fresh Cosmetics’ Umbrian Clay Purifying Treatment Bar and it said the clay was sourced from Nocera Umbra. Apparently the co-founders of Fresh, Lev Glazman and Alina Roytberg, have a close friend who lives in Italy. She suffered from severe acne until she discovered pure Umbrian clay in an herbal store. After a few weeks of daily use her skin cleared up. “We traced it back to the small Italian town of Nocera Umbra, the sole source of this naturally-occurring clay, and learned that it has been the basis of therapeutic treatments” since the sixth century BC, Glazman said on a recent visit to Nordstrom Ala Moana. (Nordstrom has just introduced Fresh to the Ala Moana store.) So Jerry and I could have been enjoying therapeutic mud baths all those weeks in Italy as a relief from toiling over our sketch books and palettes? Who knew!
This story is indicative of how far Fresh’s founders will go to source the ingredients in their skin care lines. They use sake, a legendary secret of the Geisha of Japan, who bathed in it to detoxify their skin. They employ Seaberry, a centuries-old Russian home remedy, as well as Goji and acai berries mixed with mangosteen and noni juice. The use of chocolate was another innovation, as well as lotus flower extract, maca root and blue-green algae. Just to name a few innovative skin care ingredients.
Lev, who is originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, fell in love with Honolulu as soon as he stepped off the plane. He appreciates our gentle waters and the importance of flowers – and their fragrance – to our culture. He is the “nose” of Fresh cosmetics. I’ve always wondered if a nose is something one is born with or if a “nose” can be developed and trained. The answer is: a little of both.
Lev likes to tell the story of his introduction to fragrance. At the age of six his mother took him to the black market in St. Petersburg. This was during the time of the Iron Curtain, when consumers could buy only one fragrance, called Red Moscow, which Lev said “Smelled horrible. I was sensitive to smell and it smelled like Lysol. It was terrible. And to me the whole world smelled one way.”
In a gesture that showed Lev how much fragrance meant to his mother, “She took out 100 rubles from her pocket and bought a bottle of Climat by Lancome. “She chose to take a chance on being arrested because of the black market, but the moment she put it on, she was transformed,” he said. “It was unbelievable to me, and as I was growing up I grew to admire what fragrance could do to people – that it could make them happy, so it became something I needed to explore.”
It was during his 10 years in Israel that Lev “Discovered all sorts of fragrances and learned I wanted to be a part of this world,” of beauty and fragrance. He came to understand that “Fragrance offers a kaleidoscope with layers and layers; a story told through fragrance. Every great perfumer has a story in his head that becomes a fragrance.” Fragrance triggers memories and returns people to a moment in time that was meaningful. “It’s subliminal and people can’t always pinpoint it, but something triggers the mind and it’s powerful,” he said.
Lev’s first impression of what scents would be appropriate for Hawaii: “Clean, effervescent scents such as citrus and flowers like freesia, jasmine, honeysuckle, wisteria and lilacs.” For the tropics he likes a base of patchouli, but not the hippie-esque patchouli of the ’60s. Rather, a fragrance derived from the root of the patchouli. The tropics make him think of overripe fruit such as mangoes and persimmons, velvety and warm.
Asked whether fragrances follow trends, Lev said they can’t help but be somewhat influenced by fashion. What’s trending now: “More complex and sensual scents such as cannabis, chocolate and patchouli, Turkish Rose and jasmine.” His current favorite is Fresh’s Cannabis Santal, featuring what he describes as “Pheromone accords with salty notes.”
There are 200 fragrances in Lev’s library now. Sometimes a new fragrance is developed in three months; sometimes it takes three years. Pink Jasmine, for example, took three years. “Cannaibis Santal was so clear in my head that it only took less than a month,” That’s because Cannabis Santal, for Lev, described a single moment in time, a moment that was filled the scent of a lover.
“Fragrance, for me, comes in the form of colors. It’s almost internal, like eating,” Lev explained.
– Paula Rath