Rafael Horzon, furniture tycoon, apple pie magnate, original genius, and an enigma to many, granted us a rare opportunity to question him about his achievements in business and life as well as about his latest project, a gigantic skyscraper in Berlin-Mitte that has no other purpose than to house Rafael’s first fragrance, Horzon. For the unlucky few among our readers who haven’t yet devoured Rafael Horzon’s autobiography, Das weiße Buch, Rafael shares here seminal moments from his glamorous vitae, his encounter and platonic relationship with Yves Saint Laurent, for instance, or the thwarted existence of his Specialty Apple Pie Store, which was doomed from the start to be a failure of epic proportions.
PORTRAITS: Franziska Taffelt
1. THE BLIND TASTING
Siberian Snow by D.S. & Durga
We confronted Rafael Horzon with a mystery perfume in a neutral, opaque vaporizer. Only afterwards did we reveal the name of the scent. Follow Rafael on his journey into scent …
“Give Daniel Craig a call.”
I see myself on the large terrace of my huge house on the Côte d’Azur, walking to and fro, wafting perfume as I go, and admiring the marvelous view: cypresses to the left and right of me on an August evening, with the sun just about to sink into the sea. Although I am very shy by nature I’m wearing not a stitch of clothing, but then, my terrace is safe from prying eyes. Every time the sillage of my perfume threatens to fade I rush over to my square dispenser and splash some perfume on my brow.
Then I return to pacing to and fro. Suddenly, it hits me that this perfume smells exactly the way I do: exactly like my body odor. This discovery delights me. I even shed a few tears over it, in sheer happiness. Next, I sing a song that sounds like the twittering of birds. Finally, I go inside, for I am very afraid of the insects that swarm over the terrace at dusk. The rooms in my house are almost completely empty. There is only my escritoire, plus the few mementos I’ve arranged on it: trophies of my great sporting successes, in sailing, rowing, mountaineering, aviation, swimming, deep-sea diving, the long jump, the high jump …
And mementos of Berlin too, most importantly of course a model of my skyscraper project. Also, two books lie on the desk: one, a work of reference about histrionic personality disorder, the other a white book, my autobiographical tome, which I have just re-read, yet again, as I find it quite brilliant. This is my personal copy, the one I use on my worldwide reading tours. I take a seat at the escritoire and make a note: “Give Daniel Craig a call!”
I want Daniel Craig for the film version of my bestseller. We have the same physique as well as lots of interests in common. Plus no one could slip into my character the way he will. He looks slightly older than me, but digital technology can fix that. And he has put on a bit of weight too, of late. He loves cookies. He eats all-butter cookies all day long. Perhaps after all I should play the role myself — probably it would be for the best.
2. THE INTERVIEW
“Cookies with Yves.”
Scentury: What is your earliest olfactive memory?
Rafael Horzon: My mother. She wore Opium by Yves Saint Laurent — but only when she went to the opera. She’d come up to say goodbye, so the pain of parting was bound up with this scent — and likewise the joy of seeing her return. Later of course, I got to know Yves Saint Laurent personally, in Paris.
SC: How did that come about?
RH: He spoke to me in Café de Flore and took me back to his apartment. A paternal friendship blossomed between us. We shared an enthusiasm for the lyricist Lautréamont and in the poems we wrote together we’d try to imitate his style. I initially meant to launch my first fashion label under the name Yves Saint Lautréamont. But, unfortunately, Yves did not approve. Of course you know about all that already, from my book. I described it at length … Yves also collected art and it was I, by the way, who gave him the hot tip that the Marcel Duchamp perfume flacon was up for auction.
SC: The Belle Haleine flacon?
RH: Yes, that one. The name means “beautiful breath.” Yves successfully bid for the flacon and when in turn his own art collection was put up for auction, following his death in 2008, I spoke of it to my good friend Udo Kittelmann — the general director of Berlin’s museums. He was absolutely set on acquiring it but was not in luck. Kittelmann did manage to trace the buyer, however, and then brought the flacon to Berlin in 2011, where it went on show for 72 hours at the Neue Nationalgalerie.
SC: Were there also perfumes to be found in Yves Saint Laurent’s apartment?
RH: None at all, except for the Duchamp flacon set alongside an African mask.
SC: Not a trace of his own perfumes?
RH: No. Never.
SC: So how was the smell in his apartment?
RH: It smelled of cookies. Yves was obsessed with all-butter cookies, with Bahlsen all-butter cookies, to be precise. He had dishes of them lying all over the apartment, because he so loved their smell. In his final years he virtually lived on those cookies and nothing else. When he approved of a thing he didn’t ever say “bon” or “bien” but only “Bahlsen.”
SC: And how did he smell?
RH: Of cookies.
SC: Do you regularly wear perfume?
RH: Oh, no, I choose not to. I’ve discovered that my own body odor holds an incredible and almost magnetic appeal for women, and also for men. Of course once I realized that I instantly stopped wearing perfume. My next project is to launch my body odor in perfume form — Horzon: a simple and straightforward name. For the perfume presentation I’ve reserved the entire lower level of the Horzon Tower, which has a surface area of 1.5 km by 1.5 km.
SC: For the few not yet familiar with these plans, despite the press talking of nothing else for months now: How high will the tower be?
RH: 10.5 km, 3,500 stories: so the entire lower level will be around 2 million square meters and completely empty except for the flacon, which will be installed on a velvet cushion at the center of the space. On the floor. Modesty itself.
SC: A phenomenal plan. Is a marketing strategy already in place for the Horzon perfume?
RH: 2 million square meters of retail space and, at its very center, nothing but a totally plain, totally modest cushion with this perfume sitting on it — of course, that holds tremendous appeal. So I don’t need a marketing strategy, I just have to set up small automatic dispensers in all four corners of the tower. You just feed it your 100 Euro bill, the flacon rides up out of the storeroom, then you open the little glass flap, and help yourself. And once they have their flacons, people will be dancing for joy around the tower — they’ll be in heaven …
SC: You’ve founded countless companies but it all began with Horzon Furnishings, specifically with the Horzon shelving unit. How do your shelving units smell?
RH: The ones made of MDF smell of MDF. The ones made of birch ply smell of birch ply.
SC: That reminds me. We still have to talk about apple pie.
RH: That’s right.
SC: One of your business ideas was the Fachgeschäft für Apfelkuchenhandel [Specialty Apple Pie Store] gig. Apple pie smells pretty damn good, too …
RH: But the store was a flop. The chief confectioner was Rasmus Hansen, the legendary Danish entrepreneur. By then he had founded almost as many businesses in Berlin as I had, before mysteriously disappearing without a trace. His apple pie was very good but the “Specialty Apple Pie Store” also sold equipment, furniture, and fittings for specialty apple pie stores — and that was too ambitious a product range, to be honest, plus the name was a little confusing …
SC: To finish, please give us a brief glimpse of the future …
RH: I’m working with my development team right now on a new modular furniture series, which can be assembled with only a click, and for which we’ll be launching a whole new operation: Klik – Der Möbeldiskont [Klik – Discount Furniture]. Possibly the first stores will open even before the Horzon Tower.
SC: Thank you, Rafael!
Name: Rafael Horzon
Occupation: Serial Entrepreneur
ABOUT THE PERFUME
Perfume: Siberian Snow by D.S. & Durga
Perfumer: David Motz
This Post has first been published December 13th 2016.