Monday, December 17, 2007

Diane Haska: The Caron Boutique's Christmas Cupid

It’s a cold Friday afternoon in New York City, remnants of the previous day’s snowfall moistening sidewalks and streets. The neighborhood is bustling with determined shoppers scurrying along a stretch of Lexington Avenue between 56th and 60th Streets. Wisconsin natives Dr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Hollander step out of the crowd and enter the Caron Boutique. The air between them is perfumed with a touch of playfulness and a quality of warmth that noticeably emanates from their eyes. A luxurious and fragrant pre-holiday ritual is about to begin and boutique manager Diane Haska has quickly rendered her gilded bow and arrow invisible—leaving the rest of the magic to the contents of the boutique’s Baccarat perfume urns, which patiently await the seasonal visit of the Hollanders.

Dr. Jeffrey Hollander is a professional pianist whose mentor was György Sándor. Sándor, who was famous in his own right, studied under the tutelage of renowned Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. Hollander reconnected with Sándor at the urging of his wife Elaine, who while viewing a PBS broadcast of The Art of Piano - Great Pianists of 20th Century discovered that Sándor was living in New York City. The three would then meet whenever the Hollanders were in town. Trips to the Caron Boutique were part of subsequent get-togethers and Sándor found himself equally partial to Caron Pour Un Homme and Diane Haska, who he referred to as “the lovely woman of the perfume shop.”

When it comes to selling fragrance, Diane’s approach has a level of depth and caring that is not often experienced in traditional retail settings. The fact that she is situated in a boutique filled with time-honored classics infuses her approach with the charm of heritage. Her passion for people and the melding of their personal stories with the stories of Caron’s perfumes make her a sublime conduit for the art of perfumery. Haska describes her approach in a soothing voice marked by rich elocution, “When I first meet a customer, I will ask them what they have worn, what they can’t live without and how their tastes have evolved over time. We walk through the fragrance process together and explore several Caron scents to see which one best suits them. I gauge their reactions to the blotters to see how they respond to levels of spice and floralcy and it gets to a point where I can just look at someone and tell what fits. The process is very intuitive.”

The Hollanders rely on Haska’s fragrance expertise when it comes to choosing gifts for each other. The couple plays what Elaine Hollander refers to as “a little game.” They go about the boutique inquiring of specific items and when they’re through, share their personal favorites with each other. When concurrence is reached each one speaks with Diane in private and arranges for the gifts to be shipped to their home in time for Christmas.

Jeffrey is always the one who answers the door when the parcels arrive. “Elaine thinks that Diane purposefully arranges to have the packages delivered when she is not home, but it just seems to be the way it works out each and every year.” says Jeffrey, who enjoys wearing Le 3ème Homme. Elaine, whose favorites include Infini, Muguet Du Bonheur and Violet Précieuse, is just as enamored of French fragrances as she is of Diane, “When it comes to American fragrances the refinement just isn’t there. I enjoy the beautiful Baccarat crystal bottles and packaging as much as I do the perfume that fills them. Then there’s Diane. She positively sparkles and has so much joy for what she does.”

The Hollanders’ gift selections are especially sentimental as the couple became engaged on Christmas Eve of 1998. It is the second marriage for each of them and love the second time around has proved to be true love. “It’s hard to explain, but when I first met Jeffrey it was as if I had met my soul mate, like I had known him forever.” says Elaine. The Hollanders, who are seated opposite each other in the boutique’s parlor area, look at each other and smile, their eyes glinting beneath similarly bespectacled faces. After spending over an hour with Diane, Jeffrey and Elaine say their goodbyes and promise to return in the spring, when they will once again play their fragrant game of love.


Mrs. Hollander was partial to a limited edition Tabac Blond Coffret (available in a numbered series of 150). The Baccarat flacon holds 45 ml. of perfume and is housed in a luxurious wooden box. The collectible retails for $2000.

To make an appointment with the Caron Boutique's Diane Haska call 212-308-0270. Caron’s fragrances are available in packaged form or may be drammed from the boutique's urns. Silk ties and shawls are also available in-store. Phone orders may be placed at 1-877-88CARON. The Caron Boutique is located at 715 Lexington Avenue (at the corner of 58th Street) in New York City and is easily reached via the 4, 5, 6, N, R and W trains (59th Street station).