Interview:up close and personal with the creator of 40notes, Miriam Vareldzis


How did you go from architecture to perfumery?

Serendipity: I actually started in perfumery. Growing up, I not only loved perfume but scent and smelling. As a teenager, working the department store gig, I walked-in and asked human resources if I could be in the fragrance department. Unknown to me at the time, the cosmetics department manager was standing outside the door.  She knew me as the tutor of her younger brother. She liked me, and for that I became a permanent ‘floater’ for the entire department.  It was there that I began to catalog in my memory each and every fragrance I smelled and sold. This went on for summers and holidays from school, before I began my architecture internships. The story picks up again several years later while I was living in New York City.  Once I decided to leave Interiors for a career in the fragrance industry, another set of serendipitous events brought me to an informational interview with a VP at Gryphon Development.  Owned by The Limited Inc., is was the company responsible for developing and launching all personal care products for Bath and Body Works and Victoria’s Secret Beauty in the ’90’s.  A particularly important moment was meeting the woman who would become my mentor, legendary industry nose Ann Gottlieb. Her guidance shaped my career and informed how I learned to evaluate fragrances. With her guidance and support, I moved into the fine fragrance division at IFF.  There, I met some of the perfumers who created the fragrances I memorized all those years earlier, bringing me full circle. From there, the rest really is history.

What inspires you?

Beauty. Music. Late-day light in the summer sky. The peachy scent of an heirloom rose. A eucalyptus leaf on a hike.  Vintage perfume, beautiful jewelry; anything that is aesthetically  pleasing. I recently found a whole, intact sand dollar on the Oregon coast. I brought it home, bleached it, and keep it on my desk. The perfection of the five pointed star on the round shell reminds me how perfect mother nature is. A girlfriend recently brought me an antique, hand carved, 100-year old Tibetan perfume bottle from a visit to India. I look at that and wonder who carried it, what story it holds.  It’s all beauty.

What is your fragrance philosophy?

My fragrance philosophy is quite simple: wear what makes you feel good. Wear what you feel like. It’s all about feeling.  Enjoy the beauty of those notes on your skin. Set yourself free from trends, fads, designers, labels. Experience the beauty of the notes and accords, the composition and how you relate to that particular scent. Create your own memories. Sometimes a fragrance can bring back an old memory; other times a fragrance will create a new memory. Notice how you feel when you wear a scent and let that be your barometer.

How does travel inspire your love of scent?

Travel memories are not always pretty! Although I have beautiful memories of the Frangipani flowers of Bali, the Sage and Chamomile of Crete, the Eucalyptus in Santa Barbara and the Meyer Lemon tree in my aunt’s back yard, I also recall the smell of Shanghai in 1984 as if it were yesterday. Wafting from a shadowy alley we passed, I recall a medley of fish, garbage, smog and concrete. Not lovely, but indelible and I wouldn’t trade that memory for the world.  From that same trip I also happen to recall the delicate smell of Jasmine Tea that was served, as well as little jasmine soaps in the bathrooms.  With these scents, I am instantly transported and get to relive a moment of my life’s history.

What is your oldest/best/fondest fragrance memory?

My mother would come in to kiss us goodnight after returning from a ‘grown-up’ party with my father. She would be surrounded by a halo of scent that I adored: perfume, usually Chanel No. 5, hairspray, and stale cigarette smoke from the party.  Since she did not smoke herself, it just added to the glamour of the image in my mind. Still one of my favorite concoctions to this day.

What perfume did your mother wear?

I was lucky to be surrounded by a cadre of perfume wearing aunts, grandmothers and mother. Among the arsenal that are now in my memory were Je Reviens by Worth, Shalimar by Guerlain, and of course, Chanel No. 5.  Also in the line-up were Estee Lauder’s Private Collection, Galanos, Hope by Francis Denny and an obscure French fragrance my mother purchased in Europe called Casaque, in a magnificent, opalescent white glass bottle.

Tell us something we don’t know about you?

Citrus notes run in our family! I only knew fresh-squeezed oranges, grapefruit and lemons until I was 8 years old, while growing up in Santa Barbara, California.  My grandfather was a Sunkist

Citrus distributor. He would drive from San Francisco to the lemon and orange groves, and stay with us where we lived in Santa Barbara. Every visit, he would leave a large box of oranges, grapefruits and lemons. It wasn’t until we moved north to Portland that I ever knew frozen juice existed. (and immediately disliked!). To this day I channel my grandfather while I select the perfect grapefruit and lemons at the grocery store.

What is the inspiration for the name of your cat?

Siri is named after the Star Sirius, which ironically, is referred to as The Dog Star. Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky, and at one point I heard that the ancient Egyptians believed they received information on how to build the pyramids from the star Sirius!  No proof, but a great story. By the way, I’m sure Siri believes this story since she walks around the perfumery like a royal cat.

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Photo:by LoriJo Daniels

Learn More about 40notes

Interview: Belladonna Marie Collection by Jenny W

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What is your design inspiration?

Woman! More specifically, the ocean – at least, for this collection.

Tell us more about Belladonna Marie collection

The SS2011 collection was inspired by the white foam of the ocean’s waves. So clean, so beautiful, so unique.  Using the white color as the backdrop, I incorporated silver, chocolate and varied blues of the ocean to make the garments stand out even more.

Tell us more about your background

I have been dabbling in fashion my entire life. Having an amazing seamstress as a mother, I began sewing at 10 years old.  Since then, I have designed everything from t-shirts to formal gowns.  I am finally launching my own collection and could not be happier!

Who is your audience?

My audience are women who want to feel unique and fashionable wherever they go. They appreciate classic, timeless garments and desire to stand out in a crowd.  Whether shopping, meeting friends for coffee, going to a formal dinner or event, they are the social butterflies whom all others are staring at.

Who is your favorite designer(s)?

I absolutely love classic designers like Ralph Lauren.  He is amazing.  Especially for having continued success for over 50 years, he is my style icon for a list of reasons. I also love Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Donna Karen and Anne Klein – they know how to dress women and keep looks timeless.

How would you describe your own style?

I am, without a doubt, a classic, leaning-towards-preppy woman.  I can rock any style, but one of my favorite looks is a conservative, above-the-knee dress that can be dressed up or down (like many in my collection).

Anything you wanted to share to the world? How about fun facts to know about Jenny W?

I have a daughter who will be 2 yrs. In August, so running my own company while being a stay-at-home mom, is challenging, to say the least. I am a world traveler.  I have been to 8 countries so far, and hope to visit every one, even the ones in warfare, before I die. I am usually very refined and sophisticated, but there is a crazy party animal that breaks out every once in awhile.

People watching is one of my favorite things. Without being too obvious or creepy, it is fun to try to figure out what people are talking about, or just making it up altogether.  Always a load of laughs! (When I was a little girl, my friends and I would mute the television and make up our own stories.  )

Whats next for you?

This summer we are going to be in Rock the Runway, on August 14th, the OC Thread Show on August 22nd, and hopefully PFW in October.

My plan is to be in every classy boutique on the west coast by next January.

Long term I aspire to be the next, classic American brand. I hope that when woman think timeless and fashionable, they think of Belladonna Marie.

It would be fun to show at New York, under those dreamed about white tents! After that…Paris and then who knows…I am going to ride the dream wherever it takes me.

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