On a sunny afternoon, we met with internationally acclaimed actress Lisa Ray in Toronto to discuss her latest project: Lisa Ray Jasmine of India, a fragrance created in collaboration with The 7 Virtues.
The story of the scent is intriguing. Five years ago, Ray met Barb Stegemann (The 7 Virtues’ founder) through Stegemann’s investor Brett Wilson. They discussed a potential collaboration, but were both not ready for it. Five fragrances later, serendipity stepped in: Ray’s licensing agency called Stegemann and asked if she would be interested in doing a celebrity fragrance, without even knowing that she and Ray had discussed it a couple of years earlier. From planting the seed to the release of the perfume on the International Day of Peace last week (Sept. 21, 2016), the fragrance has been five years in the making.
We spoke with Ray about style, life achievements and her new fragrance.
DARINA GRANIK: You have partnered with The 7 Virtues. Can you tell our readers more about the fragrance?
LISA RAY: I’ve been tracking Barb’s progress for the last five years, and I’ve been a huge supporter and admirer of her work. I love what she’s done in terms of what it means to give back to people, how to heal the world and how to change conflict zones—and how to do it in a meaningful yet entrepreneurial way.
I’ve been spending most of my time in India for the last two years, so I’m bridging the two worlds of India and Canada in a scent.
The bottle kind of represents Canada and its many intersections and influences. It’s got that “be an activist” intention behind it. It combines all the notes [from previous The 7 Virtues fragrances], and we added jasmine to it. It has the notes of Afghanistan Orange Blossom, Vetiver of Haiti, patchouli, cardamom, ginger, spices of India, frankincense and myrrh. The plants are grown organically by local farmers. No parabens, sulfates or bad chemicals are added.
You know, scent is a very personal thing, very evocative. But I also like that there is a collective consciousness [behind it], the collective nose of all of us [including Barb and the management of Hudson’s Bay]. I love the scent, it is very sexy and alluring. And I love the idea that we’ve co-created something that cuts across boundaries. It has not only numerous influences from a fragrance point of view but also the intention behind it. The main intention of this fragrance is to do good, to empower others to do good too, to stop the cycle of violence. This fragrance is desirable and still does good.
What role did you play in creating this perfume?
Barb sourced the growers. Unfortunately, we were not able to align our trips to India, but I took the creative lead in creating the box and the scent. Also, I selected the final scent.
Why jasmine, for you personally?
Jasmine, I call it an unofficial flower of India. It is widely available there. In India, “sacred” and “the everyday” coexist. Threading flowers in your hair is not just for special occasions, it is an everyday thing.
India is much more complex than a single country, it is more like a continent. What connects it is not even a ritual—it is a jasmine flower, which exists in every temple across the country. There is a sacred connotation to it.
People tend to buy garlands of jasmine in the afternoon or early evening when it comes to full bloom, and they put them in cars, arrange them on their wrist. An Indian woman threads fresh jasmine flowers in her hair every single day, and the scent brings you back to yourself after a long, hectic, busy day.
For me, aside from my childhood associations with India, it is also about connecting with the sacred and the everyday. It’s about finding that stillness. And scent can help because it can be really healing.
What is your preference in perfumes and make-up in general?
I am a cancer survivor and I’ve been fairly public about it. So, one piece of advice that I got during the treatment was to throw out everything that was remotely toxic. That involved a lot of beauty products.
For me, it is non-negotiable. I am obviously still in the business, and I enjoy putting on beauty products and enhancing myself, but it is most important that it is as non-toxic as possible. It is actually another draw to the Jasmine of India perfume, which is all natural.
I don’t really have a set routine because I travel so much. I don’t have a set lifestyle, for that matter. I’m commuting between Hong Kong, Bombay and Canada right now. I like to keep my routine very minimal. It is very much about hydration and keeping it natural. I’ve recently been turned on to coconut oil, like going back to basics, something that is nourishing and real, and I am very conscious about what I put on my skin. To be perfectly honest, I don’t wear lots of make-up when I’m not working. And when I do, I work with a make-up artist, and I’ll go with whatever they have in their case.
Aromatherapy is also important to me. Even though there is an idea about “the personal fragrance,” the world is so diverse now. Why wouldn’t your wardrobe of fragrances be more diverse too, so you can blend and mix according to your mood, your outfit, the seasons?
Still, everything that the improved version of me—I call myself Lisa 2.0 after the cancer—uses and stands for now has to be aligned with what I believe in, including the beauty products I use or have a privilege to co-create.
Since you’ve mentioned your travels, can you share with our readers what your travel essentials are?
First, it is basic water. (laughs) Hydration is a real challenge.
I take a good basic moisturizer. I use a lot of Neal’s Yard [Remedies], a natural, organic product line that I sourced from the U.K. And, as part of my routine, I drink a lot of hot water with lemon, which is good for maintaining the alkalinity in your body. It is about eating light and walking around the airplane a lot, as I take lots of long-distance flights.
How would you describe your personal style? How have your background, travels and life experiences shaped it?
My personal style … It has evolved. I’m glad that you discuss style as opposed to trends and fashion.
My style is a mixture of, I hope, easy elegance. Ease and comfort are number one [priorities] for me today. As I’ve been working since I was 16, I am not going to sacrifice [comfort] for fashion or put something out there that is uncomfortable.
It is really hard to describe your own personal style—it’s like you have to ask someone else. (laughs) It is intuitive, it blends East and West, because this is also what I stand for. Even though I’ve been working in the fashion industry for more than 20 years, fashion is not something I propagate now. I propagate finding your own individual style, using your instincts, developing yourself inside out and letting it shine through.
What are your thoughts on diversity in the fashion and film industries?
That’s an interesting conversation. I think it has come a long way. Canada has been one of the trailblazers in this. The face of Canada has changed drastically.
I’ve had my challenges as an actor and an individual growing up in Canada in the ’70s, when people would ask, “What are you? What box do we put you in?,” “Are you this or that?,” “Are you East or are you West?,” “Are you Indian or are you Polish?”
How is this relevant? I am part of both worlds. Take me as I am. The conversation has progressed a lot now, but there are still challenges in North America. We’ve seen a huge leap forward, but there is still a lot of work to be done for actors from different ethnic backgrounds, who are working in the industry. We want to be accepted on the basis of our talent.
I am working in Bombay now, and sometimes there I am not seen as Indian enough. In your life, you will always find someone who will say, “You are not quite enough this or that.”
My point is: be confident in who you are. My difference is my strength. At one point in my life, I was fed up with this debate and said, “I am very proud of who I am, and I don’t want to fit into the perceived crowd.” I built my own persona, professionally and personally, on what makes me different.
Your have plenty of career and life achievements and amazing honours, including hosting a lunch for Queen Elizabeth II in Toronto. What do you personally consider to be the highlight of your life that you are most proud of?
I think that my greatest achievement is who I am today. Of course, honours are lovely, they mark the path that you are taking. Again, I started when I was 16, so I was a very different person back then. I am just proud of who I am today and the peace and the equilibrium that I have cultivated.
I am grateful for all the honours, but they don’t matter anymore. There are lots of other things that matter much more.
Considering your experience with and victory over cancer, what is your life-assuring advice to our readers? Some words of wisdom from Lisa Ray?
I’m bad at throwing out one-liners—I feel they do not quite capture the whole experience, you know. What I can say, though, in a sense of going through cancer as a deeply challenging and traumatic experience, is that it clarifies things for you.
We tend to overcomplicate our lives. For me, there is one simple formula: understand what is important and what is not important. Concentrate on what is important. And for me, it’s made my life so simple—both professionally and personally. And that is what cancer has helped me do—burn away everything that is unnecessary in my life.
None of us know how much time we have, but we have to squeeze the most of it into every moment.