Nov

THE CULTIVATOR: CAROL HAMILTON

THE CULTIVATOR: CAROL HAMILTON
Spotlight

THE CULTIVATOR: CAROL HAMILTON

THE CULTIVATOR: CAROL HAMILTON

Carol Hamilton, Group President of Acquisitions, L’Oréal

On October 30th, the Fragrance Foundation named beauty business icon Carol Hamilton the 20th annual Circle of Champions honoree. Hamilton’s accomplishments and contributions to the fragrance industry cannot be underestimated: She has transformed L’Oréal Paris as a company, not only by making it more successful and more charitable since she joined in 1984, but also by touching the lives of people she has worked with as a mentor and guide. She’s a crusader for women’s rights, a formidable philanthropist, a creative force to be reckoned with—and an extraordinary gardener. Here, she reflects on 35 years at the top of her game.

What does it mean to you to be welcomed into the Circle of Champions?

I’ve been trying to think about exactly how I would define a champion, but I think it’s someone who has made a difference in the world and who has championed ideas and people and causes. I think it means I’ve really pushed for things, and achieved something. I love it.

What have been some of the greatest moments in your career?

The greatest moments always involve people. To hire someone and mentor them, and then see them get promoted up the ranks and achieve their dreams—that’s one of the things that has made me most proud. I would say the other is being able to blend my love of business with finding related purposes that give back to the world. For example, the first philanthropic cause for L’Oréal was to join with the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund in 1995. That was before we bought Kiehl’s. I joined the Ovarian Cancer Research Board and started doing events, not only to raise money for the fund but also to create advocates of our employees and to have events that made survivors feel more beautiful and loved during their fight. I also got very involved with doctors to understand where the money that L’Oréal raised was being spent, which was tremendously rewarding for me personally and for the company. Over a fourteen-year alliance with them, we became the number one fundraiser on behalf of ovarian cancer research.

Then you went on to expand L’Oreal’s philanthropic work even more.

When I moved to the Luxury Division in 2008 in the depths of the recession, I thought if we just keep looking at the sales numbers, we’re going get really depressed. We needed to use the time more constructively. I asked each of the brands to select a philanthropic cause that was very closely connected to what they stood for. The Giorgio Armani brand, whose number one fragrance was Acqua Di Gio, decided to work with UNICEF and created a program called Acqua for Life, which is now ten years old. We’ve raised 10 million dollars to bring clean water to the most needed countries in the world. With Lancome, we partnered with St. Jude, because the fact that the brand was one that was transmitted from mother to daughter resonated with the importance of family relationships to the way St. Jude treats childhood cancer. I believe if you can couple the power of a brand and the passion of its employees with a cause, you not only give back but you make a much more purposeful brand, and that’s what consumers are looking for.

How did you get started with gender equality work?

I’ve always been a big champion for women, but in about 2013 it dawned on me that maybe I should understand gender equality more from a fact-based point of view and really study it, rather than just be the victim of a subtle, sometimes-unconscious bias. I found a course at Harvard called Women in Power. It’s a week-long adult course, and it really made me understand that there are true physiological and biological reasons why men and women are different in terms of the way they approach negotiation, networking, everything. It made it much easier for me to tackle conversations that before I had avoided. And last year I became the chair of the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard, so I’m responsible for leading the agenda for the next 20 years.

What advice do you give to young women who are just getting started in the industry?

It’s kind of trite because so many people say it, but follow your passion. Also be very serious about learning, and never allow yourself to be typecast because you look or act a certain way or you’re a certain gender. You will be good at what you want to be good at and what you choose to focus on. It’s really about being very strong and committed and not letting one-off situations derail you.

How did you find the transition into the Luxury Division after having worked with mass brands for so long?

I loved it. Now, it was most at the most difficult time. There wasn’t one number on any sales sheet that was positive, not one. And everything was different: especially the relationship with the retailer. I always say the most important word when work in mass is yes. The most important word in luxury is no. It took me a while to get comfortable with that.

You’re now Group President of Acquisitions. What does that entail?

My scope is to find American brands that can be globalized. It’s a job that has made my schedule much more external than my previous schedule used to be. I’m constantly out talking to founders, going to summits, going to forums and really just trying to spend as much time as I can either understanding the market and brands. And then of course, internally, I’m working with each of the divisions to understand what brands really fill the gaps in their strategy. It’s a very broad, all-encompassing role that is very exciting for me at this stage in my life and career.

What is your personal connection to fragrance?

It’s funny, I didn’t wear fragrance growing up, and my mother didn’t wear fragrance either. And because I grew up in my career in mass, where fragrances are not an important category, I did not have to study them or become an expert in them. I was much more of an expert in what I call the color categories, makeup and hair color. And then my second categories were skin care and hair care. So, when I joined Luxury, all of the sudden I had this portfolio of fragrances and I must admit that I was a bit nervous. It seemed very foreign to me. But Leslie Marino who was running our fragrances at the time came to my office and said, “What’s your favorite fragrance? I want to group our fragrances around and give you the ones that you will want to wear.” I had to admit in a very low voice, “I don’t wear fragrance. You’re going to have to help me.” I decided to choose one fragrance as my signature scent to really help me focus and understand the category. I chose Flowerbomb because I loved the fact that it was all about female empowerment. It wasn’t about the man or the girl trying to get the guy and vice versa. It was just this iconic visual of a powerful woman that was so beautiful. And I loved the designers, Victor and Rolf, who I found very interesting in kind of an exotic way. I also realized that I had a connection to fragrance in my garden.

I’ve heard you have a very special garden. How did you make that connection?

I do. We have a house in Litchfield, Connecticut that was designed and built by Marcel Breuer, the Bauhaus architect, in the early 70s. Breuer really celebrated nature and built his homes so that you could experience that. I spend all of my free time, from April to October, tending to my garden. It’s what I love the most. It’s the colors and the shapes, but also the scents. And I realized that I do love fragrance, I just wasn’t wearing fragrance. I started to use my garden as inspiration for my fragrance journey, and I realized that in retrospect that’s why I chose Flowerbomb.

Do you find gardening to be calming?

It totally stimulates me, especially my creative side. But it totally relaxes me at the same time. The only problem with it is that my wine consumption goes up extraordinarily high in the summer because I can’t garden without a glass of wine.

Is Flowerbomb still your favorite fragrance?

I still love it. I also love Giorgio Armani Si, and I really love Atelier Cologne. Especially Orange Sanguine, which is their number one.. I like Beach Walk of Margiela, because I grew up in California on the ocean.

What have been the biggest changes you’ve seen in the fragrance business?

I think the recognition that there is a place for clean, lighter fragrances. Especially with the American market growing, there is a difference between the very beautiful, historical French approach to fragrance and the way Americans are looking at really just having it as a lifestyle statement.

What do you foresee happening in the future?

I think that it’s going to continue to become very much a part of our lifestyle. Fragrances are going to become a bigger part of the wellbeing movement, in terms of being something that can alter our moods in a positive way. I think fragrance will be thought of more in terms of emotions than sexuality.

Oct

THE ARTIST: MATHILDE LAURENT

THE ARTIST: MATHILDE LAURENT
Spotlight

THE ARTIST: MATHILDE LAURENT

THE ARTIST: MATHILDE LAURENT

Mathilde Laurent is a true trailblazer—not only is her work consistently stunningly original, but as house perfumer for Cartier since 2005, she has also been a beacon of inspiration for aspiring female perfumers. A born and bred Parisian, Laurent is an advocate for—and living embodiment of—creative freedom: She has established her lab and office within the walls of the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, and is always looking for ways to communicate the true artistic potential of fragrance with the rest of the world. One of her most dazzling achievements to date was dreaming up a perfumed cloud, which she created in collaboration with climate engineers Transsolar, and first exhibited in Paris in 2017. On October 30th, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will unveil Laurent’s latest USO—Unidentified Scented Object—enabling museum-goers to once again immerse themselves in a floating cloud of scent. 

What inspired the perfumed clouds? 

It started with my perfume L’Envol, which was launched in 2016. The inspiration for that perfume was mead, ambrosia, the drink of gods. It immediately launched me in the clouds, because the gods are meant to live in the sky above the clouds, and when you drink mead you are said to be near them. Also the historic function of perfume was to link humans on earth and the gods in the sky. So when doing my research around L’Envol, I was always thinking of elevating one’s mind and spirit towards the sky. That’s how he original concept came about.

And then how did you make it happen?

I always try to help people who are smelling my perfumes understand them, not only from an olfactive standpoint but from an intellectual standpoint. So we were searching for something that would show the idea of L’Envol and give people an experience. This is how we started to talk about a perfumed cloud that smelled of L’Envol. We did some research and we heard about the work of Transsolar, so we contacted them, and that was the start of the adventure.

The cloud in Abu Dhabi will be at the Louvre. Do. You consider it a work of art?

When the cloud was presented in the Contemporary Art Fair in Paris, it took on an artistic dimension that I love because even if I don’t consider myself as a contemporary artist, I want to show that perfume is not just a product, a consumer good. I want to show that perfume is poetry, perfume is art, perfume is sensation, perfume is speaking of who we are and how we live. This is why I’m so glad to put it in Abu Dhabi. I think it also has such a great thing to say about where perfume is going nowadays. 

And where do you think that is?

I have always thought that perfumery shouldn’t be only industrial. I have always felt like there is a lack of consideration of the artistic aspect of perfumery. And there is also a lack of contemporary olfactory artists and we must help that exist, because that would make everyone so much happier. If there is more variety, more ways to wear and use and understand perfume, we will all be happy.

Your working space is within an art gallery. Why is it important to you to be near art?

It’s more than important, in fact. Being in Fondation Cartier gives me a relationship to art, and also an opportunity to meet artists, philosophers, and writers  – people who are very diverse and at the highest level of expertise. It’s a very lively, very sparkling environment. It gives me so many joys and so many ideas and so many friends.

You’ve talked about the idea of this kind of olfactory shock. How do you go about kind of having an element of surprise in your creations?

I think that I always pay a tribute to Mr. Edmond Roudnitska. He’s the first one who said, “A good perfume is the one that gives you a shock.” I want to follow that path and to make it feel alive. I think that it’s like love at first sight. Love at first sight is not something quiet. It’s something that makes your heart beat very fast and strong and it’s something which is violent but sweet, in fact. And I think perfume is the same. If you meet a perfume and it doesn’t make an impression, it will not become the perfume of your life. Very often, the perfume of your life is the one that you are just amazed or just sometimes disturbed by. You are just surprised, you are not used to the smell. This is why I have the strong belief that perfume can bring something to your life—it can create passion, desire, satisfaction. 

You’ve connected fragrance and food, drink, jewelry, and more. What are some of the ways that you think about these interconnections?

I think it’s just my brain, which is always putting things in the same box and agitating the box. In my everyday job at Cartier, we very often speak of the house, speak of the gems, speak of the history of jewelry, history of perfumery. But in fact I think it’s because my brain is rather kinesthetic. It’s a kind of game for me when I hear someone speaking of his job, or his passion. I inadvertently know what matches with perfumery and what doesn’t. I consider myself as someone who is playing with odors and smells and also nature and psychology.

What do you consider the most elusive, uncapturable scent?

The vibration of life, the vibration of truth, the vibration of living reality, living nature, living flowers, living trees. That’s really my quest in my work. It is to always try to do flowers as fresh as I can so that you nearly feel them living. 

What is your favorite smell in the world?

It’s a conceptual one. It’s the smell of peace. I think it would be wonderful if I could smell it everywhere.

Do you dream in scents?

I love that question. But I don’t have the memory of a scented dream, I must confess.

You are such an inspiring presence as a woman in fragrance. What kind of advice do you share with other women? 

First of all, it’s really important to me to create perfumes which are not an olfactory caricature of femininity – nor a caricature of masculinity. I try to offer flowers for men and woods for women. And to work in notes that are unusual on the market. So that people can choose what they want to wear and not what they are told to wear, I try to offer perfume with a very large and very open-minded vision of femininity.

And I think, nowadays, there are more female perfumers than male perfumers. Or at least it’s even. When I was in school, a long time ago, already there were five times more women than men. And at the moment there are girls paying attention and thinking they can reach the job of perfume designer, but I think it is very funny to see how there are more male perfumers in the media even though they are less numerous now. It is true that until Christine Nagel joined Hermes I was alone as a female in-house perfumer. Now we are two. But in the fragrance companies, there are lots of women. 

How do you want your creations to make people feel when they’re wearing them?

I want them to feel very free. Even free to wear perfume or not. I have just as much consideration for a person who doesn’t wear perfume as for a person who wears my perfume. What I want is to give people freedom to wear any perfume; you don’t have to wear a male perfume because you are male, wear male or female or any other sex because it’s very important to consider that nowadays that we have several sexes, several ways of considering yourself.  What I really want is for people to wear perfume because it gives them a real pleasure, not because it makes them feel clean. It’s really important to go back to thinking of fragrance as something like a jewel, and wearing it like an ornament. 

Sep

GRAND DESIGN: JASON WU

GRAND DESIGN: JASON WU
Spotlight

GRAND DESIGN: JASON WU

GRAND DESIGN: JASON WU

One might think Jason Wu especially charmed, if it weren’t clear how hard he works. The Taiwanese-born designer famously dresses the likes of Michelle Obama—for whom he whipped up the memorably stunning gowns she wore at both of her husband’s Presidential inaugurations—but he actually got his start creating doll clothes for a toy company. His signature aesthetic—ladylike, sophisticated, ultra-chic—also defines the two fragrances that he has so far unveiled for his fashion house, the eponymous Jason Wu and its follow-up Velvet Rouge. ACCORDS stopped by his bustling New York studio just before Fashion Week to talk to the down-to-earth, perfume-loving designer about inspiration, new experiences and old friendships, and how to sniff out a great party.  

Your debut perfume tapped into memories of your childhood in Taiwan. What was the process of creating that fragrance like?

I’ve always really enjoyed scent in every way, so it was a longtime dream of mine to create a fragrance. I grew up in Taiwan, where we had a really big garden, which was quite unusual because it’s mostly just apartment buildings. But my father had a lifelong interest in flowers and plants, and that was a big influence on me. 

I wanted the fragrance to be about the magic of my childhood. Smell is maybe more powerful than anything else when it comes to conjuring up memories, and I really just started in a very organic way. I sat down with Frank Voelkl, the perfumer, and we went through a bunch of different ingredients. He didn’t tell me what they were, I just wanted to have a pure reaction. And then at one point a smell stopped me in my tracks. It was the jasmine. I hadn’t smelled it in a while, because it’s not really a flower you see in the city, but I immediately remembered why I like it so much. There was a lot of jasmine in the neighborhood I grew up in, and my cousin and I used to go and pick the flowers. That became the centerpiece for the Jason Wu fragrance, which also has pink peppercorn, grapefruit, and lily-of-the-valley. I wanted create something that was light, feminine, and that really represents me and also the brand.

Is it challenging to embody the spirit of your fashion in scent?

I’ve done so many different products throughout my career, from the bathroom faucet I designed in partnership with Brizo to the sofas I recently did with Interior Define.  I always set out to design the life around her, and scent and beauty are very much part of her routine. I want to know where she lives, I want to know what kind of food she likes to eat, I want to know what she smells like, all of those things. It all comes together because it’s a whole lifestyle. 

Do you think of fragrance as an accessory to the clothing in the same way as a piece of jewelry?

Yeah, I think so. Some people have signature pieces of jewelry they wear all the time, and some people are going to have a scent they wear all the time. It’s something that is very subliminal but actually extremely effective. You remember those things, good or bad. Like, ex-boyfriend—bad. There are some things you just can’t smell again. But then there are others… like my mom used to use this lotion, and when I was little I used to jump in the bed with her, so I always remember that smell as a happy one. Things like that can be very deeply ingrained. 

What was the thinking behind Velvet Rouge?

I wanted to create a naughtier sister. The first Jason Wu fragrance was really clear, really transparent and light. And Velvet Rouge is mysterious and a little bit more sensual. Something a bit more of the night. I say most people have two sides, and these are two sides of my olfactory taste that I wanted to express. Velvet Rouge is about rose, cedarwood and incense. 

I grew up around woods. My parents had a lot of old furniture, and sandalwood and cedar are very important in Chinese culture. It’s also in a lot of temples throughout Asia. That became the accessory to the rose because I wanted to counterbalance the richness with something that cuts the sweetness of the floral smell. But what’s interesting is that when I was growing up I didn’t like the smell of incense, sandalwood, or cedar. And now, in my thirties, I love it. 

Do you think it’s partly because it reminds you of that time?

I don’t know, maybe. But sometimes your taste just evolves. I think there’s something inherently sophisticated about woods that I think people grow up to appreciate more. It’s like vegetables.

Why was rose a significant choice?

I love rose. When I was designing my fall 2019 collection, the whole collection was inspired by the rose. It’s just such a classic, and there’s something very special about this rose extract—it’s so exquisite. 

Do you have plans for the next scent?

We have a lot more plans. I’m really excited. More sisters are coming! I’m just having a lot of fun. We’re always in development and I have a bunch of samples right now that I’m playing with. Something that is really nice about this is that in two years we have launched two fragrances, which is really quite untraditional for designer brand fragrances, which usually take two, three, four years to do. I think the reason for that is that it’s something that comes from me, very directly. it doesn’t go through a consumer survey, it doesn’t get tested by focus groups. It’s really about what I like.

What are you most inspired by?

I’m always inspired by the women around me, the people I dress. I’ve been very lucky to dress amazing women from First Lady Michelle Obama to the Duchess of Sussex, Megan Markle, to one of my closest friends, Diane Kruger, to Kate Bosworth—all are women that have continued to inspire me with their own sense of style and what they do. I think ultimately being a man designing women’s wear it’s really important to surround yourself with women.

What else fuels your creativity in your life?

I would say travel, and it doesn’t even have to be international. Like I’m starting my fall concept already and I was here and I didn’t really have any ideas, so I took a taxi downtown to The Strand and I bought a bunch of new books. That was great. I spent like two hours there, getting inspired. So it’s every kind of travel, every kind of scene. As long as I’m just always being exposed to new things, that’s all that matters.

What are some of your favorite places to go, when it is farther afield?

I love Greece. I would love to create a fragrance based on my memories there, because you can’t really go wrong anywhere there, it’s just so beautiful. funny enough I was actually there in May and there was a whole wall of jasmine, so I had to take a picture with it. It’s interesting, those things follow you everywhere, but that’s the Greece edition of jasmine.

Being based in New York, I try to go to warm places. But another place I love to go is Japan. Japan is one of the most beautiful, rich in culture, but also just a culture that really appreciates beauty. It’s in every detail.

What have your experiences been in the fragrance world versus the fashion world?

It’s very different. It’s interesting having been to the Fragrance Foundation Awards for the second time this year—it’s actually quite a different crowd. You think fashion and beauty are so entrenched together, but it is its own machine. Having the chance to meet so many different perfumers, fragrance houses, and also people in the beauty-business side of things has been really interesting for me. It’s been a great learning experience and I hope to continue to learn and meet new people. 

What have been some of your other favorite scents throughout your life?

One of the first scents that I ever encountered was Geoffrey Beene’s Grey Flannel. I have flannel drapes all over my home and my studio, because it came in a little gray flannel pouch which I thought was really cool. That was one of my earliest influences. And then, of course, I grew up with CK1. It was the scent of my teens. 

In terms of ingredients, I love flowers. It’s apparent in my work, it’s apparent in the way we do our shows—it’s always been a very important part. I love the smell of a freshly cut stem. It’s that green, that crisp green. There’s another flower called the osmanthus, an Asian flower I grew up with. I’m looking forward to doing something with that. And I love lime, because it’s very citrusy and bright. I like to cook, so I use lime a lot. 

How would you describe the smell of the best party you have ever been to?

The smell of the best party is always champagne. Always, because that’s maybe the only thing you remember.

Speaking of parties, what did you enjoy most about the Fragrance Foundation Awards this year?

I loved it. Jane Krakowski, I absolutely adore—she’s amazing, funny, talented, engaging, and the best host ever. And of course having the opportunity to meet Linda has been really special. I love the Fragrance Awards because, as I mentioned, it’s a world that I’ve not been a part of for most of my fashion career. Getting to meet so many new people who are pioneers and influencers in the beauty industry is really great. That’s one part of it, and then the other part is that this year I got to present an award, and that was really special, because sharing the stage with Tom Ford, and all the famous perfumers, was very humbling. It was also special to see my friend Laura Slatkin get an award. I did a collaboration, in Spring 2012, with Nest Candles—one of my first scent experiences—and I was fortunate enough to meet Laura then.

How do you like to scent your home?

I have little pieces of palo santo that I light. I have it here in my studio too, it’s always burning somewhere.

Now that you like woods…

Yeah, now that I’m an old lady, yes, I like my woods very much. It’s really all you need. It’s really clean and really fresh.

Do you wear a scent yourself?

I do, right now I’m wearing Super Cedar by Byredo.

More wood!

I know! I like it. But I’m dying to make a fragrance that’s unisex, so I can wear my own. And, that might just be coming… 

Aug

THE EAU ENCYCLOPEDIA: MICHAEL EDWARDS

THE EAU ENCYCLOPEDIA: MICHAEL EDWARDS
Spotlight

THE EAU ENCYCLOPEDIA: MICHAEL EDWARDS

THE EAU ENCYCLOPEDIA: MICHAEL EDWARDS

Michael Edwards, author of the lauded 1996 book Perfume Legends, is something of a perfume legend himself. He’s been called “the perfume expert’s expert”—and yet the impact of his work has reached even those with a mere passing interest in scent. Not only is he the creator of the iconic fragrance wheel, he’s also the mastermind behind Fragrances of the World, an exhaustively comprehensive guide to every imaginable sniff that’s sold, now in its 33rd edition—while his digital database lists more than 30,000 fragrances, which can be cross-referenced by brand, perfumer, ingredients, or bottle designer.

For many, however, it’s Edwards’ scholarly—but wholly engaging—writing about the history of perfumery that’s been his most powerful contribution to the way that we understand and talk about scent. Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances, which chronicled the creation of 45 epoch-defining eaus, has become a coveted cult classic, especially as copies have grown scarce. Happily, he’ll be publishing an updated and expanded edition, Perfume Legends II, in September (with more tricks up his sleeve to follow). Here, the irrepressible raconteur shares the story behind his journey into the world of wonderful smells.

What inspired you to create your first guide to fragrance classification guide?

In the mid-70s, I worked for Halston. Halston was a great brand at that time, and it was just as the fragrance market was starting to take off. Charlie was the pivotal change: Fragrance reflects the times, and suddenly women were making their own money and buying their own fragrances. Before that, perfume had been a gift—but by the end of the 70s women accounted for more fragrance sales than men. I was in Paris at that stage, and I had watched the evolution of New World wines, and the way that they had been classified in order to explain them to customers. It wasn’t a new idea, but I thought it might be interesting to apply that idea to perfumes in order to help the customer figure out what she might like.

After I left Halston in the early 80s, I started up as a retail specialist. And our problem in retail is simple: People think that they can only smell three or four perfumes before their nose gets tired. So it’s important to choose the right ones for them to smell. I thought maybe fragrance families could be the key, because if you ask people for the names of their favorite three perfumes, almost invariably at least two will fall into the same family. We don’t know why this is, we just know it’s true. That’s why, in 1984, I started my first guide. It was tiny, and really just a manual for the training I did, to be used in store. I’d ask you to tell me the perfumes you like, I’d look them up in the back, and I would give you suggestions. Remember, there were only 29 new fragrances in 1984; so it was easier than today. In 1991, Nordstrom asked me to expand the guide, and it grew from there.

What led to the publication of the Perfume Legends in 1996?

I’d always been fascinated with the stories of how perfumes came about. There were so many myths, some of which didn’t ring true. And in the early 1990s, perfumers were invisible. There were books by artists, musicians, sculptors, but nothing by perfumers. And when I came up with the idea to tell their stories, I had the luck to interest two masters. One was Guy Robert, who was at that time President of the French Society of Perfumers. He became a very close friend, my mentor, and for the last 10 years of his life, the technical consultant for my Fragrances of the World guidebook. The other was Edmond Roudnitska, the great perfumer, who did relatively few fragrances but a number of them were masterpieces that changed the architecture of perfumery—Diorella, Diorissimo, Eau Sauvage. The problem was that when I started on the book, he was already a very elderly man in his 80’s. He had a reputation of being a very grumpy old man, so I didn’t expect anything when I wrote to him. To my surprise, he agreed to receive me. I thought I’d be lucky to get 10, 15 minutes. But in the first of our interviews, he spent almost three hours.

Those two opened doors for me, and in the end, I spoke with just under 160 people, from great perfumers to bottle designers to the heads of houses. I ended up including 45 fragrances in the book, starting with Jicky in 1889 and going right way through to Angel in 1992. The book came out quietly and then over time it turned into a cult.

What do you think made it resonate with people?

Many people write about perfumes, but they write from their viewpoint. I didn’t. I was trying to find history, so I wrote it through the eyes of the creators. I’ve always had the belief that if we don’t understand how things started, then how can we interpret where we’re going today? The nicest compliments I ever get are when younger perfumers come up and say, “I want to shake your hand. Your book made me want to be a perfumer.”

Why did you decide to update the book now?

I’ve been asked again and again to do an update. I got sidetracked by the sheer explosion of fragrances. Last year we tracked nearly 3,000 new perfumes. But I finally carved out the side time to do the interviews. The book is quite extensively changed. For Chanel No 5, I’ve rewritten an entire chapter, because over the past 22 years there’s been a lot of new research.

You’ve also added eight new scents. What fragrances made the cut?

I’ve included Fracas, Germaine Cellier’s fantastic tuberose. Feminité du Bois, with that unbelievable woody note. Flower by Kenzo, created by the genius Alberto Morillas. J’Adore, Coco Mademoiselle, Timbuktu, Guerlain’s 1979 Nahema. And then lastly, Portrait of a lady, Dominique Ropion’s masterpiece for Frederic Malle.

Were there others that you very much wanted to include?

Lancome’s La Vie est Belle. But I believe that you have to give a legend time. There are three criteria to make a legend: number one is an accord so innovative that other people copy it. Number two, an impact, so profound it creates a trend. And number three an appeal that is likely to endure. So I felt it was a bit too soon for that one.

There’s also been talk of an American Perfume Legends project. Where are you with that?

I’ve been talking about it for so long. But I’m well on the way. I’ve identified 42 legends, starting with Elizabeth Arden’s Bluegrass from 1934. It was the first international success, and I don’t think I can write about American perfumes without writing about the people who made it happen—Arden, Estée Lauder, Charles Revson, Calvin Klein. You’ll see Youth Dew, White Shoulders, Charlie, of course, as well as men’s fragrances, for the first time. I’ve completed the drafts for 31 of them, and I’ve got about another 18 months to work on it before I’m finished. After that, I should retire… don’t you think?

Jul

THE EDUCATOR: FRANCIS HEMBERT

THE EDUCATOR: FRANCIS HEMBERT
Spotlight

THE EDUCATOR: FRANCIS HEMBERT

THE EDUCATOR: FRANCIS HEMBERT

Fragrance education is critical for everyone—not only for the consumer, but for those inside the industry as well. That’s where Cinquieme Sens (French for “the fifth sense,” or sense of smell), comes in. The venerable school was founded in 1976 by Monique Schlienger, a former perfumer at Robertet and a teacher at ISIPCA in Versailles. Monique saw a need for a curriculum that would enrich the knowledge of all fragrance professionals, whether they are selling, marketing, or creating scent. More than 40 years later, guided by Francis Hembert, a former Firmenich senior executive who is now partner and president of the US affiliate in charge of international business development, Cinquieme Sens continues to lead the charge in teaching perfume pros how to contextualize and speak eloquently about the artistry and power of scent. In the US, Cinquieme Sens classes are offered in partnership with the Fragrance Foundation to its members and non-members, and its global reach is expansive, with programs in Mexico, South America, Singapore, Dubai, Mumbai, Seoul, Melbourne, and soon, Shanghai. “We want to be the educational partner of the key perfumery players in every region,” says Hembert. “And the need is stronger than ever in our increasingly complex fragrance world.” After all, the more we know, the better we can engage with each other and with consumers.

What are the specific Cinquieme Sens courses offered through the Fragrance Foundation in New York?
Since 2017, Cinquieme Sens has joined The Fragrance Foundation as their official partner for in-person perfumery training in targeting a wide range of professionals: Brand Development, Brand Marketing, Sales and Technical teams for Brands, Fragrance Houses, and Retailers. We have partnered with industry experts Kathryn Balcerski and Tami Katz of Serendipitee NYC, who are both former senior executives from fragrance creation companies, to deliver these programs to TFF members and non-members. They know fragrance from the inside out: everything about fragrance development and sales, but also about the products, the ingredients, where raw materials are harvested, and what types of extractions are used. We offer: The Techniques and Language of Perfumery; the Fragrance Development Program, and the Fragrance Sales Program. We also develop tailor-made programs for customers, depending on their objectives and needs, taking into account their budget and time constraints.

What are the key elements of each Cinquieme Sens class?
In the Techniques and Language of Perfumery Program, we introduce perfumery culture starting with history, then focus on olfactive knowledge of the key ingredients (naturals, molecules) and facets as well as their emotional impact in the fragrance creation. We also explain the sense of smell and its connection to memory and emotion, and how to leverage that to speak about perfumes. In the Fragrance Development Program, the focus is on the challenges a development team has to face (in fragrance houses and in perfumery makers) from the conceptualization of a fragrance to its finalization, and the important steps to evaluate fragrances. In the Fragrance Sales program, the main objective is to give the keys to switch from an analytical language (olfactive description) to an emotional language, as emotions drive the connection with consumers and lead to more effective sales.

Those are hard things to teach! Do Kathryn and Tami have a unique approach?
All classes are interactive. There are visual and olfactory elements to the courses. The tools include a workbook and ‘Olfactoriums’, which are miniature versions of a perfumer’s palette. Each Olfactorium is comprised of 48 vials of different scents which include raw materials, accords and perfumes specific to each training session.

What do you think is most important for the students to take away at the end?
Language is key in perfumery… The challenge is to identify what you are smelling and communicate it using the language skills we teach. It can be difficult to find that confidence, because fragrance description is so subjective—but like I said, the way to make a scent come alive is through emotion.

In addition to Retail Sales Associates, professionals working as account managers, or in marketing or development teams, or even in technical departments have to understand how fragrance is made. But they also need to learn how to speak about fragrance, to convey what they smell, or want to smell, and make that understandable for perfumers, for colleagues, and for consumers.

What has been the most rewarding feedback you’ve received from students?
When they come back and say that their Cinquieme Sens training has helped build their expertise and effectiveness in their careers!

For more information or to book these courses, please contact Mary Pelzer at the Fragrance Foundation at mary@fragrance.org.

Jun

Hall of Fame: Tom Ford

Hall of Fame: Tom Ford Portrait Courtesy of Tom Ford Beauty
Spotlight

Hall of Fame: Tom Ford

Hall of Fame: Tom Ford Portrait Courtesy of Tom Ford Beauty

If ever a man needed no introduction, it would be Tom Ford. The Texas-born, New Mexico-raised fashion titan has transformed what the world wears and what it smells like. His recent appointment as chairman of the CFDA cements his status as national icon and tastemaker par excellence, while the impeccable pedigree of his Tom Ford Beauty and Private Blend scents—which have received several Fragrance Foundation awards worldwide—have made this year’s Fragrance Foundation Hall of Fame an honor both well-deserved and timely. “Everyone in the fragrance community is looking forward to seeing Tom Ford accept this award” says Fragrance Foundation President Linda G. Levy. “When a designer creates a brand and stays true to its DNA, it really shows.”


Ford’s love of fragrance began in childhood, and his first scent memory is of the heady rush of his grandmother’s signature perfume: Estée Lauder Youth Dew. He approaches fragrance cinematically, working with perfumers to create olfactive panoramas— masterfully using the endless nuances of scent to create mood, to amplify seduction, to invite the mind to travel and to dream. “You can live a moment in life with one scent, and you can live the same moment in life with a different scent, and you can have a completely different reaction,” he says. “Scent is one of the things that alters mood, and it’s incredibly important to alter your mood.”


The designer created Tom Ford Beauty in partnership with The Estée Lauder Companies Executive Group President, John Demsey and launched in 2006 with the now-iconic Black Orchid—a scent originally positioned for women but adopted by men. This was followed by the introduction of Ford’s premium Private Blend range in 2007 with a selection of 12 scents, many of which remain best-sellers today: Tuscan Leather, Oud Wood, Neroli Portofino and Tobacco Vanille. Similar to the way that Ford had revolutionized fashion when he became creative director of Gucci in 1994 by bringing back sensuality and modernizing notions of decadence, the unveiling of Private Blend was groundbreaking: It shifted the dialogue around what a designer fragrance could be, and raised the bar on could be accomplished within the realm of luxury niche perfume. Tom Ford Private Blend represents creativity without constraints—the palette of exquisite ingredients and the storytelling behind each scent makes them compelling not for connoisseurs, but also inspires the fragrance-curious to explore, to begin to learn the language.


“The 1990s were all about minimalism,” Ford says. “All the architecture was pared down, everything was empty, and clothing was that way, too. Fragrances became watery and bottles were transparent. Now there’s a rediscovery of things that are more complex. I’m much more baroque in my tastes.”


Tom Ford worked closely with now retired senior vice president Karyn Khoury for over a decade and has partnered with many masters of their craft, including Rodrigo Flores-Roux, Calice Becker, Shyamala and Antoine Maisondieu, Sonia Constant, Nathalie Cetto and David Apel. “I feel fortunate that the perfumers that I have worked with are among the best in the business,” Ford says. “They are the best at what they do, and I feel honored to work with them. I take every opportunity to learn what I can from them in terms of quality of ingredients or in terms of inspiration to make people dream.”


Ford has always remained adamant that his fragrances defy preconceived notions of gender, playfully flouting and rejecting the definition of his-or-hers—whether his scent collections are inspired by the rarest oud, musk, or roses, they are meant to subvert stereotypes. “I love how classically feminine ingredients, like florals, can be blended to have a masculine appeal,” he says. “For example, Neroli Portofino balances floral notes with citrus notes and amber undertones to give it more depth and texture. The Private Blend customer doesn’t necessarily care if it is labeled as masculine or feminine. They want something that is precious and unique.”


Ford rocked the industry yet again in 2017 with the launch of Fucking Fabulous, a trailblazing—and slightly shocking—lush hit of bitter almond, orris, leather, tonka bean and clary sage that sold out in a single day and is to this day the top Private Blend launch.


“I think fragrance might be more important than clothes,” Ford has said. “Because, like music or food, scent is a very direct sensory stimulant. It provokes the senses, it brings up emotion and memory and feeling.”

May

RELEVANT RETAIL: KATE OLDHAM

RELEVANT RETAIL: KATE OLDHAM
Spotlight

RELEVANT RETAIL: KATE OLDHAM

RELEVANT RETAIL: KATE OLDHAM

In the more than 20 years that she has spent at Saks Fifth Avenue, Kate Oldham, the senior vice president and general merchandise manager of beauty, jewelry, and home, has proven to be a groundbreaker, a brand-builder, and a visionary. Since she began working with fragrances in 2002 she has revolutionized the category, and established Saks as a major player by being one of the first to recognize and celebrate the niche fragrance phenomenon. Throughout it all she’s kept her eye on the changing desires of the customer and has come up with endlessly creative ways to meet them—including the revelatory new beauty floor at the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship, which opened to much acclaim last spring. Here, the Fragrance Foundation 2018 Circle of Champions honoree shares some of her peerless, and ever-enthusiastic, retail insight.

How does Saks keep retail relevant?
We challenge ourselves to look at what we’re doing every day and see how we can do things differently with the customer in mind. Our ultimate goal is not to change for change’s sake, but to change for the customer’s sake. I think to stay relevant in retail is to engage with the customer in the way they want to be engaged with, which could be moving from communicating by phone to communicating by email to communicating by text if that’s what they prefer. It’s about making a meaningful connection and never ignoring what the consumer is looking for. As consumers ourselves, we know that we’re looking for advice. We’re looking for people to think about what we need to make our lives complete. Even now, after years and years of working in the beauty industry, when I go into stores and get a makeover, I always ask what I need. Women want to know what they are missing because they’re not the experts. And I think that’s how Saks stays relevant: by being able to tell a customer what’s going to keep them up to date and also what’s going to make them feel good.

How do you do that in fragrance, specifically?
A lot of different ways. One is that we train our associates to be experts on their brand and in the beauty space and to be able to give educated information to the customer. So if a customer is looking for new fragrance and they say, “I don’t want to smell like everybody else,” they’ll show them smaller niche brands, or show them things that might be polarizing to some people. We also have fragrance founders come in and give talks on where their inspiration came from. That gives consumers a deep connection with the brand, which I think is really different than the way that customers used to shop. Now they want to know who designed something, and what their beliefs are. Are they somebody who thinks about the world in a bigger way? I think those are the stories that the customers relate to, and of course influencers matter. They talk about why something makes a connection for them. And all this connectivity is vitally important in retail today.

The beauty floor at Saks Fifth Avenue was revolutionary. How has it resonated with customers and within the industry?
Most people embrace it fully. Before, you were sitting in the middle of a very busy, highly trafficked floor getting your makeup done. And we said, “we can do better for our customer.”  Moving upstairs was a bold move. But we felt like we could truly give people a reason to come up. For fragrances in particular we had niche brands that weren’t everywhere, and we were one of the first to really give a dedicated space to fragrances, and then to customize the fragrance area so that they were grouped together by their personality rather than by the advertising persona they created. So when we moved upstairs, we wanted to make sure that we continued to be leaders in that. The customers can now sort of meander through all the fragrances, and then discover them in new ways with a specialist who can really take them on a journey. We also put the fragrances by the window where the light comes in. It makes everything sparkle.

How has the world of fragrance changed, from the standpoint of scents and brands? How has the presentation to the customer changed?
The industry used to be a top down approach, whereas we’re doing a bottom up approach: We get to know the customer, and we stay connected to them and let them know when they need something new. But we did this slowly. We brought in Bond No. 9 in 2002 and we clienteled to the customer, so  they would buy one fragrance and then we would send them three more fragrance suggestions, so we would build the customer’s fragrance wardrobe up. We also brought in one brand at a time, and getting them fully developed before we brought another brand into the store.

You’re perceived as a nurturer of brands. What does that entail?
You don’t open the door and turn on the light and have a booming business. It’s one store, one customer, one brand at a time. If I believe in the brand, I’m in it for the long haul. And as a team we really believe that if we get brands that we believe in and we know who the customers are and we look for ways to develop that customer and that fragrance, then it will continue to grow over the years into a really prosperous and vibrant business. We don’t just think it’s going to happen in five minutes. But the world has changed and so has the speed in which the expectations are set. Before, a brand would come it, whether it was a treatment brand, a color brand or a fragrance brand, and you would expect it to take maybe two or three years to grow a really solid foundation. Now, because of the influencer world and the social media world, the expectation is that you should come in and grow double digits every year. So we’ve started to roll out brands faster and in more doors, and that’s been successful. I still don’t believe in bringing in hundreds of brands a year, I prefer being patient. But I also always want to be on the forefront of the curve.

What do you think makes a fragrance brand successful?
The authenticity of the brand. It’s that they have thought about who they are, where they want to be in the fragrance world, what they want to represent and why. And really sticking to it. I can name hundreds of them. Ex Nihilo, Bond, Creed, Kilian, Jo Malone, all of those brands know who they are. And they want to bring something to the customer that hasn’t been seen before. I love that. I think this is why fragrance is so interesting right now because people are not creating a story around a fragrance, they’re creating a fragrance, and that becomes the story.

As someone who loves to travel, do you also love to check out other department stores when you’re off the clock?
When my son was little, he used to say to me, “Oh please mom, don’t make me go into another store when we’re on vacation,” but I can’t stop myself. It’s exciting to see what other stores do, and I’m always inspired by their thinking. London department stores are different from department stores in Paris or in Tokyo or in Italy. I’d be a fool not to look at every single thing when I travel. It’s really fun.

Do you collect fragrances yourself at home?
I have a lot of fragrances, as you can imagine, but I don’t collect them per say. I have a lot and I love them all. It’s an interesting thing, I love the bottles so I always have several on my dresser. I don’t always wear them—but I love the way they look.

What does your involvement with the Fragrance Foundation mean to you?
I am so proud to be part of the Board of Directors at the Fragrance Foundation. I get to see the passion Linda and the board really have and how they are always thinking of ways to improve the fragrance business, both for retailers and brands.  



Apr

THE PIONEER: ANN GOTTLIEB

THE PIONEER: ANN GOTTLIEB
Spotlight

THE PIONEER: ANN GOTTLIEB

THE PIONEER: ANN GOTTLIEB

Industry icon Ann Gottlieb, the Fragrance Foundation’s 2018 Hall of Fame honoree, has forged a career as a true pioneer in the perfume industry—not only because she invented her own unique business as a fragrance developer, but because she was one of the first women to blaze such an impactful path. Now she’s committed to paying it forward and helping guide more women to leadership positions in the world of scent. Last month, Gottlieb moderated the Fragrance Foundation’s Women in Fragrance Panel, where she was joined by Emily Bond, head of the North America Fine Fragrance Division at Givaudan, Veronique Ferval, Global VP of Fine Fragrance Creation at Symrise, Ana Paula Mendonca, VP Regional General Manager for North America Consumer Fragrance at IFF, and Dara Quinlan, VP of Fine Fragrance Development at Firmenich, for lively discussion about the unique challenges they all faced on their ascent, and ways they can open the door for future generations. Here, the woman who started in an entry level job at Estée Lauder and went on to launch such mega-hits as Calvin Klein Obsession and Dior J’Adore shares some of her own stories as well as her vision for what lies ahead.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing women in fragrance?

Fragrance is a specific business model, in that there’s not a lot of departing and joining the business from outside industries. There’s also not a lot of movement at the top levels, so there aren’t many leadership roles coming up. That’s a frustration for everyone, but especially for women. We have to get more women into senior positions. Once it starts, it will grow.

You asked the women on the panel when they knew they had achieved a position of true leadership. What was that moment for you?

One of the reasons this all came about was because of the speech that I made at the Fragrance Foundation awards, when I talked about how long it took me to be able to own my success. When I went to work at Lauder, there was one other working woman there who had children. I was really a maverick—I didn’t know what I was doing, or what the rules were. And I just didn’t grow up in an environment where I believed that I was responsible for my successes, even with all of the wins that my fragrances had. Receiving the award really impacted my view of my relationship with the industry. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t feel that I was worthy, it’s that I always I measured myself against the men who handled business. And in acknowledging the award, I realized that the function I serve is just as important in terms of the success of our industry.

What came up in the panel conversation that surprised you?

Something I applaud and know is right is the importance of doing something that’s out of your comfort zone. You take something on that makes you miserable at first, but once you master it, it becomes a true success. When you see what you can do, it trains you to do more. Everybody agreed how important that was. And each one of the panelists had an experience of that happening in her career.

What was your big leap?

Starting my business and having to be on my own. I had done fine in corporate life, and was comfortable with not being the head of a company. Though I was on an upward trajectory, I never thought that I could do it on my own. But deciding to try it became the biggest moment in my career.

You also talked about how scary it felt to step away from your career and return to it after maternity leave. Do you think everyone has a similar experience?

Yes. Everybody’s scared about that because they don’t know if they’ll have their jobs when they get back. Because I was such a pioneer, I was scared to take time off. I was scared to tell my boss that I had a doctor appointment to take my child for a check-up. I wanted to be seen as somebody for whom having children did not impact my ability to do my job.

I’m hoping now that talking about it can help women who are going through this understand that they are not alone. I would love for them to know that this is something we are very aware of and that we, as women who are in leadership positions, are really going to focus on: what we can do to help the women rising through the ranks deal with work-life balance.

What are some of the things you think can be done?

There’s always safety in numbers, so I think that people knowing that there are so many people who have the same issues is helpful in itself. Also, there have to be a lot of tips that women can offer that might help somebody else. I have no idea what kinds of suggestions will come out, but I believe that every woman has her own set of recommendations. No matter what, it has to be positive because it goes from nothing to something. It’s all about keeping the conversation going.

—April Long

Mar

The 2018 Game Changer: Frédéric Malle

The 2018 Game Changer: Frédéric Malle
Spotlight

The 2018 Game Changer: Frédéric Malle

The 2018 Game Changer: Frédéric Malle

It’s no exaggeration to say that The 2018 Fragrance Foundation Game Changer award winner Frédéric Malle has changed the way the world smells. Not only has his house, Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle, affected the character of perfumes in general—which, with the birth of the niche category, have become more luxurious and complex since he introduced the concept of high-quality perfumer-led scents 20 years ago—his unique, individualized retail strategy has also revolutionized the way that consumers approach and appreciate fragrance. Here, he ponders the power of dedication and reveals what he’s most looking forward to.

What do you find most challenging in your work?
“It can take about a year, sometimes more, to get a perfume together, and it’s a constant back and forth between judging in a very instinctive way and then going back to a perfumer and talking rationally. It’s an exhausting combination of having to stay almost innocent, and also being very technical. And that grueling one-year effort is ultimately to please people who will judge your work in less than 30 seconds. It takes so much methodical work to create a perfume aimed at touching people’s hearts and instincts instantly. But there is another contrast in scale in perfumery, which is the intimacy of two people working in a lab and the amount of people that a finished perfume can touch. People have stopped me and said, ‘My life is different since I started to wear Portrait of a Lady or Carnal Flower.’ That’s wonderful.”

Why do think it’s so important to take this time for creation?
“Technique is very important—working progressively and rationally and checking each ingredient. The first step is to create a general sketch like a clay model of a sculpture, and then you refine that model slowly but surely. That way, you know each ingredient is in the right proportion. And if you have to do it again, because everything is relative in the formula, you do it again until you have the perfect shape. It’s a mixture of technique and patience. You can’t cut corners. That’s the way I’ve worked since I started perfumery 30 years ago. Every material is reviewed one after the other, until we find the exact balance. The quest is always to turn it into something as perfect as possible without making it boring or too perfect. You can talk to any artist in any field and they will say the same. Not everybody does this long process, but I think what gives depth to a perfume is this quality, even though when you are doing it it’s very tedious. People have a very romantic vision where they think these things are made on a whim or in a simple moment of inspiration. Great perfumes seem obvious, but in fact to appear that obvious you have to suffer through formulas that are very imperfect for a while.”

What do you think gives a great perfume its power?
“When you have a great work of art around you, it feeds you. It elevates you and there an energy that comes out of that piece on your wall—and perfume gives you that, too. It empowers you and also people who cross your path. When you see a painting by Picasso, you might think, ‘oh what a simple brush stroke,’ but in fact there are thousands of hours of drawing behind it, so there is power in the brushstroke, and confidence which speaks very loudly, and makes the painting very powerful. Even though you don’t know about them, those thousands of hours are speaking to you. And I think it’s the same with perfume. Great perfumes, like Portrait of a Lady or Musc Ravageur took thousands of hours that aren’t obvious in a little drop of liquid. But that drop of liquid has encapsulated all that energy that we put in it, and is released into the public, and that’s why these perfumes are so touching. That’s what we try to do, and every perfume is designed to become hopefully classic tomorrow, a little monument of its kind.”

What impact do you think Editions de Parfums has had on the industry?
“When I started out 20 years ago, we had arrived at a point where image was everything and perfume was put to the side. The idea was to put perfume back in the center and put perfumers forward, which is what the Fragrance Foundation is doing now. It’s a funny thing because it was a novel idea then and it was seen as a bit of a revolution, that people were talking about the real authors of perfumes. But for me then it was such justice and such a good story, that I always questioned why no one had done it before. I have this constant quest to tell the truth. And I think the business will in general win if we manage to do that. It’s so important to portray the perfumers and express the fact that they have different styles—like Picasso has a different style than Matisse. It’s talking about ingredients, it’s talking about the way we work, and explaining to people how we smell, and the benefit that scent can give you. We’re trying to do that every day in a humble way.”

What are you excited about for the future?
“There are so many incredible young perfumers. It’s a little bit like in music, where you see young kids playing astonishingly well. A few years ago, I was concerned that the perfumers that I started my business with, who were really the icons of this business, were slowly reaching retirement age. And I didn’t know was next because the following generation had just been given bestsellers and told, ‘give me one like this but more fruity.’ They didn’t really come up with something that started on a white sheet of paper. They worked too fast, and didn’t learn technique. But now there is a very strong generation coming up behind them. You have kids in their twenties who are super, super good. They were ten or sometimes younger when we opened our house, so they grew up smelling things that we made or smelling classics and then they started to work with talented perfumers capable of passing the culture on to them. So the exciting thing I’m doing now is working with this new generation who are having their chance. I think the future is going to be very good.”

—APRIL LONG

Feb

The Forecast: John Demsey

The Forecast: John Demsey
Spotlight

The Forecast: John Demsey

The Forecast: John Demsey

Anyone who knows John Demsey—and isn’t that everyone?—would call him a visionary. As Estée Lauder Companies Executive Group President, Demsey is the man who built MAC from a cult makeup artist brand to the global colossus it is today, and who ushered a staggeringly successful roster of brands into the Lauder fold, including Tom Ford Beauty, By Kilian, Jo Malone, and Le Labo. We sat down with the legendary business bellwether in his bright, book-bestrewn office to see what’s in the air for fragrance in 2019.

How would you describe the state of fragrance today?

We have a resurgent fragrance business in the United States, with changing dynamics, new brands, new distribution, new challenges, new opportunities. We’re seeing a resurgence in designer fragrances. We’re seeing what started as niche perfumery becoming increasingly more important to the overall mix of business and actually to the point of tipping the market dynamics. The stakes are different these days. You don’t see the frequency of the big media buy launches that you saw a few years ago. And a big launch today is a fraction of what a big launch was five or 10 years ago. There’s more focus on methodical brand building, test and learn, and scaling up businesses once they get traction.

What do you think will keep the upswing going?

We have a lot of success in the fragrance business today treating brands as not just fragrances, but worlds or destinations. We’re seeing a lot of brands that are based more on the craft or the luxury experiential components of the product, and less on the traditional promotion. Our fastest growing brand in North America is Le Labo, which has no visuals, no tester units, no advertising. We’re also going into our 11th year of Tom Ford, with unbelievable success. Unparalleled growth at very high price points with amazing juice and amazing digital storytelling and an amazing point of sale experience—and a decade’s worth of consistent Fifi awards. I like to think that we’ve had something to do with actually shaping the way that the industry is going. Because it feels to me that we’re returning to the most important things—the product, the package, and the emotional connection. I see a trading up, a focus on olfactive disruptions, and less a sea of sameness.

How has social media changed the way that fragrance is marketed and consumed?

It’s a bit of a pain point. The traditional fragrance business was about strategic sampling, getting the scent out, getting people in store, and telling a story. I’m not sure that the how-to-video influencer sensation that’s been the big driver of a huge acceleration of the makeup business lends itself to the same sort of multiplier effect for fragrance. Social media is very good in terms of amplifying brand stories, distributing films or publicity or ingredient or harvesting stories. But I haven’t seen the tipping point where it can replace some of the other techniques that are used to market and launch fragrances.

What’s your personal Instagram strategy?

I do it as therapy for myself. I don’t do it for anybody to follow me. People are always surprised that I actually have that subversive sense of humor, or that my impossible mashup of high low and culture even exists. They think I hire someone to fabricate it. But it’s truly authentic to me. I don’t show my daughter. I don’t go too far in. But I show what I like, which is part of who I am.

You’re a voracious consumer of pop culture and social media. How do you stay on top of everything?

I still try to buy every magazine on the newsstand, though there aren’t as many, which is sad. But the good news is, in the virtual world, there’s always a YouTube post. There’s always a new Instagram. And whenever I get together with friends, they always tell me about new people to follow. I find it incredibly exciting and fun. I like discovering, I’m curious. And I think my insurance policy for being in this business is I have a 10-year-old daughter and I’m experiencing the world through her eyes and her aspirations and her media habits.

The fragrance brands you’ve brought into Lauder aren’t just successful, or even merely cool, they have something more. What’s the secret sauce?

They’re all subject matter experts, artistic and creative at the core, and have an olfactive arc and a concept. Frederic Malle is the publisher of the greatest perfumers in the world. By Kilian is the master of perfume as art and perfume as seduction. Le Labo is the ultimate artisanal fragrance. Tom Ford is the new luxury and the new aspiration. They’re all rooted in something very authentic and very real. And they all have amazing products behind their successes, not just stories.

What qualities are you looking for in acquisitions now?

I’m looking for something that we’ll be talking about 20 years from now. We’re not in the business of just selling products, we’re in the business of selling and creating brands for the long term. Something that has the germ of an idea that can live generations past that idea—that’s what I ultimately look for.

What’s your biggest 2019 prediction?

What’s successful at this moment will continue to be successful. And what will be successful in 2029 is already out there, we just don’t know it yet. The world goes in buckets of 10 years.


—April Long

Bitnami