Happy Birthday, Sophia! Happy Women’s Day!

Happy Women’s Day! Happy birthday to my mentor, my teacher, my adopted mother (her words, not mine)–Sophia Grojsman. She’s the reason I write about fragrance and not politics. She gave the ’80s and ’90s their scent–and even dared to perfume Paris. Generous, passionate, courageous. She’s a legend.

I first met Sophia in 2006 when I was still a political science student and Bois de Jasmin was a mere sapling. She met me at her Manhattan office at IFF. She had a fan of blotters in one hand and a cigarette in another. She told me that I’m too boring for wearing all black. I swooned. Mostly because of the smoke, but I was also captivated by her. Sophia took me under her wing and taught me everything she knew. She was the same way with everyone around her. I don’t know of another person with a bigger heart.

When Véronique Ferval, another amazing woman, brought me to IFF and gave me a chance to study perfumery, Sophia shared her knowledge freely with me. When I say that I don’t deserve it, I’m not being humble. None of us are deserving of her.

Sophia was born in today’s Belarus to Jewish parents. She emigrated to Poland, where she studied chemistry. In the US, she first worked on depilatory products and it was thanks to IFF’s Josephine Catapano that she received perfumery training. If you don’t know Josephine Catapano’s name, please don’t feel ashamed. The state of the industry was such that talented people, especially women, were not credited. But we all know her great creation Estée Lauder Youth Dew.

Sophia herself would never accept credit for perfumes she worked on but whose idea came from another perfumer. For instance, many sources list Bulgari Pour Femme as Sophia’s work, but she always gets annoyed about it. “That’s all Nathalie Lorson! I only made a tiny adjustment,” she says. That kind of generosity is rare in the industry.

Sophia didn’t have it easy even when she became a famous perfumer. People criticized her for using too much rose. She said that rose is the flower of love and femininity. People said that her perfumes were linear. She said that she liked to experiment with form. People said that her perfumes were too strong and loud. Sophia said that she put all of herself into perfumes and her creations captured her personality. She also said that people want a perfume that lasts, because money is difficult to earn. Despite the naysayers, people still bought her perfumes so much that fragrances like Calvin Klein Eternity and Lancôme Trésor are still among the best-sellers. I guarantee that many of you reading this often think “Paris” and then “Yves Saint Laurent.”

Sophia is genuine. She is bold. She is fearless. Seeing great misery makes you see the best in people. Those glimmers of humanity you encounter around you stand out even more. That’s why her perfumes are so uplifting and warm. And channeling your emotions into something creative and being open about them is healthy and positive. After all, some of the greatest art was created at times of crisis. So, all of us have more to learn from Sophia, myself included. As horrible as recent events have been, they have also been a sobering reminder of what’s truly valuable — and who the real heroes amongst us really are.

If you are in touch with Sophia, please don’t bring up politics. (This is mostly for your sanity, not hers!) She knows their consequences better than anyone else. But she would be happy to talk about perfume. Mostly, she would be glad to give you a big hug and feed you. After all, she is the perfumer who created the famous “hug me” accord.

С Днем Рождения! С 8м Марта, София!

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20 Comments

  • Tami: This was so enlightening! Thank you!

    And yes, she is the hand, nose, and heart behind so many iconic scents! This 80s girl loved (loves!) her Exclamation and Paris… March 8, 2022 at 2:48pm Reply

    • Victoria: She’s an icon! I really enjoyed our time together. March 8, 2022 at 4:34pm Reply

  • Old Herbaceous: Happy birthday, Ms. Grojsman! Thank you for the joy you have brought to so many through fragrance. And thank you for mentoring Victoria, who brings so much joy through her writing! March 8, 2022 at 6:51pm Reply

    • Victoria: Sophia would be delighted to read your wishes. And she would give you a big hug. March 9, 2022 at 5:29am Reply

  • Marianne: Thank you for sharing this, Victoria. I always love hearing about strong, fearless, generous hearted women. They have the warmth and insight to ‘walk in another’s shoes’ giving courage to those with more timid natures (ahem, that is, just like me!). How good to read of Sophia’s benevolent influence in your life, and how it brought you to combining your gifts, your genius, really, by creating Bois de Jasmin. Happy Birthday Sophia Grojsman, I wish I could meet you! You sound wonderful. March 9, 2022 at 12:39am Reply

    • Marianne: Just to clarify in my comment above; ‘just like me’ refers to my timid nature … I value the courage I receive from women such as Sophia. March 9, 2022 at 5:05am Reply

      • Victoria: Please don’t apologize! I’m also timid, but there are situations when you have to stand your ground. And you’re right, all of us have much to learn from Sophia. March 9, 2022 at 5:14am Reply

        • Marianne: When I reflect on you, Victoria, words like strong, diligent, dignified, compassionate, come to mind.
          Thank you for your kind words!

          I also am proud to have the same name as the Marianne who’s working so hard to help the people of Ukraine. March 9, 2022 at 5:21am Reply

          • Victoria: That Marianne would appreciate your support. This community is really amazing. To come together and create that incredible resource after 1-2 days. That’s really something unique. March 9, 2022 at 5:29am Reply

        • Marianne: Victoria, I don’t know what happened to my reply to you which seems to have vanished, and will recall as well as possible:
          When I reflect on you, Victoria, strong, diligent, dignified, thorough, are qualities that come to mind.

          Thank you for your kind words.

          Also, I’m proud to have the same name as the Marianne working hard through Bois de Jasmin to help Ukraine. Thank you. March 9, 2022 at 5:53am Reply

  • Figuier: Happy Women’s day! (belatedly!) – and Happy Birthday Ms Grojsman!! What an achievement to have created so many era-defining scents.

    I love and wear Paris edt (in vintage formulation) still, and it’s just the happiest, most effervescent rose I know 🙂 March 9, 2022 at 7:18am Reply

  • Hamamelis: Fearless women that create beauty! Much to aspire to. I wore Tresor a lot, as well as Paris.
    I think about your great grandmother Pasha’s boots often these days. What a great example of fearlessness.

    Just to let you know as I am not sure if you hear/read the Dutch news. Thousands of Dutch families have offered to lodge Ukranian people that had to leave their homes. So they can stay in a home. There was a huge TV fundraiser two days ago, everybody contributed, schools, pensioners on a tight budget, and children sold self-made bracelets in yellow and blue. In the end more than 106 million euro’s was raised, and money is still coming in. Not bad for a small country! Hopefully it inspires other countries too. March 9, 2022 at 9:21am Reply

  • Geraldine: Victoria, thank you for celebrating a wonderful, creative woman and mentor. I particularly appreciate your praise of her generosity, a virtue we don’t hear about much these days. And the photograph is absolutely stunning. You just know you would love to share champagne and perfume with! And you are such a supportive learner, sharing so generously with your own knowledge. I have gained so much through reading your blogs. Many thanks. March 9, 2022 at 9:52am Reply

  • Rhinda: That was a lovely tribute Victoria. I send my birthday wishes to Ms Grosjman but I will include a personal thank you.
    Sophia Grosjman helped me calm my grandchildren when they stayed the night and couldn’t get to sleep. Youth Dew dusting powder “magically” transformed into Granny’s Magical Sleeping Dust. Worked like a charm. They still talk about it. I enclosed a tiny shaker with the memory quilt my daughter and I made when the eldest just went to college. Smile. March 9, 2022 at 9:55am Reply

  • Abhi: Thank you, Victoria, for sharing such an heartwarming post. I loved reading about Sophia. My mother loves roses, no wonder some of her favorites are YSL Paris–she wore it quite a bit in the 80s. She still loves Eternity and Celine’s Magic. Have a wonderful day and many thanks! March 9, 2022 at 10:05am Reply

  • Jennifer Redmond: Happy Birthday Ms Grojsman! I wore Exclamation, my best friend wore Vanderbilt, and my mom and I both adored Calyx. Thank you for such treasures ♥ March 9, 2022 at 10:54am Reply

  • Kimberly: Happy birthday, Ms. Grojsman! Thank you Victoria for the lovely article and a beautiful introduction to Sophia Grojsman. March 9, 2022 at 11:44am Reply

  • Filomena: I loved this post! Happy Birthday to Sophia Grosjman and thank you both for inspiring we perfume aficionados. March 9, 2022 at 11:53am Reply

  • Kathy: I thoroughly enjoyed this article, Victoria! I join in offering Happy Birthday greetings, and many more, to Ms. Grosjman. White Linen was my first perfume purchase when I began to see myself as “grown up.” I laugh to think of her with the cigarette and the blotters; for those of us who lived before widespread smoking bans, many perfumes will evoke a memory of that perfume set in a cloud of tobacco smoke. March 9, 2022 at 11:54am Reply

  • Megha kyal: Beautiful article! Heartouching and inspiring! Wish I could meet her face to face and give her a big hug 😊 July 11, 2022 at 3:45pm Reply

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