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Snapshots #5
by Jilliana Ranicar-Breese

It was 1980 and I was in New York for a month with my French Rimmel embossed original 1900 perfume and toiletries label collection. I had created a presentation book with my samples as I held a small stock having bought them direct from the elderly family owners in Paris.

The labels were stunningly beautiful in mint condition. Little works of art. Art Nouveau designs embossed, chromolithography depicting women and floral wavy designs so typical of the 1900 period.

I was the house guest of Jean Feigenbaum a large lonely Jewish NewYorker I had befriended when she came on her biannual antique buying trip to London for her eclectic shop in a New Jersey antique Mall. Jean shuffled around Portobello market where I had a stand, on very swollen ankles carrying her immense weight but she had a generous heart of gold and offered me a bed on my first business trip to get me going in unknown territory.

Jean was keen for me to do well and very encouraging having years of experience selling ice to the Eskimos! I told her I had a contact at Eli Lilly, the global pharmaceutical company but found out they were not interested in my glorious Ephemera. However, the contact there gave me the name of the marketing manager at Revlon, George Buckley.

I rang, got an appointment and met the fatherly George but my labels were not suitable for Revlon either. I returned dolefully to motherly Jean who wanted to know how my days went. She immediately brought me the thick Yellow Pages. In fact she slammed it down on the kitchen table.

‘Why stop at Revlon? Call all the big companies and get the names of the advertising and marketing directors! Estée Lauder, Coty, LOreal, Max Factor etc’. She shouted at me as if she were speaking to the daughter she had never had. A real larger than life dominant Yiddishe Mama!

Commanded, I picked up the phone and dialled with a rush of excitement and energy with dominant Jean sitting across the kitchen table watching and waiting.

‘I’m Jilliana Ranicar-Breese from London and Paris!’ Said I.

The ruse worked using George Buckley’s name saying he had suggested I call Mr X. Bla bla. I had the gift of the gab too. In America the door is always open to opportunity and risk taking, especially to a well spoken British voice!

I met several advertising executives but still no sales. No one had seen such beautiful little pieces of art but did not have the foresight as to how they could be exploited. Finally someone suggested Avon. Avon! I had not thought of such a Ding Dong Company. I believed my labels had to find the right home because they were so beautiful and sophisticated. Far too posh for Ding Dong Avon!

I called and made an appointment with the marketing director. On arrival I was ushered into the large board room and told to wait. And wait I did. No one came. My self confidence was dwindling, Jilliana was not used to being kept waiting! Finally a smiling 40-something good looking man named Perry Zompa walked in and shook my hand. He watched with a surprised expression as I opened my sample book to give him my well rehearsed spiele. He looked puzzled but interested.

‘You mean you’re not here for the interview?’

Seeing my crest-fallen face, he perked up apologising profusely for the error. Perry Zompa was only the assistant advertising and marketing manager. His boss was too busy to see an interviewee!

‘Avon will be 100 years old in 1986. It was originally the California Perfume Company (CPC) founded in 1886.’ He announced, proud of his company’s heritage. Thankfully he gave me a substantial order saying that he would be organising a big centenary exhibition and my labels would be certainly used as inspirational artwork for their packaging.

‘Thank you so much for stopping by. Apologies for the interview error, Jilliana’. He said, shaking my hand firmly with his inevitable cosmetic American smile.

Perry Zompa, a name to remember, turned a negative into a positive and I felt on top of the world that day.

New York, New York!

Written in Brighton at home in March 2019.


Wikipedia. Avon history.
Reuters. Timeline key dates in Avon’s history.
Google. The Ding Dong Avon advertising campaign.
Google. Rimmel London - brand history.