SPOTLIGHT: CIRCLE OF CHAMPIONS HONOREES VIRGINIA BONOFIGLIO + STEPHAN KANLIAN
This year’s Circle of Champions event was the first in the Fragrance Foundation’s history to honor educators. Reflecting TFF’s firm belief that access to education is key to building a flourishing and diverse fragrance industry fueled with fresh ideas, the two honorees are top-of-class veteran educators with unsurpassed knowledge about what makes the scent business tick. Virginia Bonofiglio, assistant professor and head of FIT’s undergraduate program in Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing (CFM), and Stephan Kanlian, professor and head of the college’s graduate program in Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing and Management (CFMM), share their insights on the importance of FIT, its relationship with TFF, and education for all.
This was the first time that educators have been honored with the Circle of Champions awards. What did that mean to you?
I have always believed that education is the path to success.
The recognition by the Fragrance Foundation of the importance of education for the fragrance industry is a confirmation of the importance of educating the next generation, which is FIT’s mantra. I was deeply honored by this award and thrilled that the Fragrance Foundation and its membership values the work we are doing in preparing students for the role they will play in this fabulous industry. I applaud the Foundation’s forward thinking in making education an important part of their ongoing mission to support fragrance as a business, an art form and a societal touchpoint.
What is unique about the programs at FIT?
FIT’s Fragrance and Cosmetics programs, CFM and CFMM, are built around academic excellence and industry know-how. There are very few college programs that follow the industry as closely as these two programs do. In order to provide the fragrance industry with innovators and game changers we need to offer students a profound understanding of the industry’s current toolkit while providing a pathway to where the industry should be going in the future.
What has always been most important for you to teach your students about the fragrance industry?
We live in an opti-centric society. Our main way of relating to the world and things around us is by using our sense of sight. This has become even more prevalent during the time of Covid, where our reliance on screens has escalated and our world has become two dimensional. I always start every fragrance class with a review of all of the sensory experiences we need to have in order to enrich our lives. My focus is to drill down to the importance of the sense of smell and the role of the fragrance industry. I confirm for my students that in addition to covering malodors and providing pleasure, fragrances can define a decade and delineate a culture.
What unifies the undergraduates coming into the program?
The great unifier for our students is their passion for this industry. While there are other universities that offer similar programs FIT has three distinct advantages: cost, location and a fragrance laboratory on the campus.
Our students are a unique brand of college student that has made a choice about their field of study at the beginning of their college career. Many of them have taken high school classes on the campus and this solidifies their desire to come to FIT for the Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing program. We find that students who do not get in the first time they apply, will return and apply the following year.
What is so special to you about your relationship with The Fragrance Foundation?
The Fragrance Foundation has been an integral part of the Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing program at FIT since its inception. Annette Green, President Emeritus of the Fragrance Foundation, was one of the original founders of the CFM program. It was her vision to create a course of study at FIT that would prepare the next generation of industry leaders. The Fragrance Foundation supported the creation of a Fragrance Studio on the campus of FIT to ensure that the curriculum included a strong commitment to fragrance knowledge.
Linda Levy, current President of the Fragrance Foundation, and her team continue to support the CFM program at FIT, and CFM’s relationship to the Fragrance Foundation remains strong. We share common goals and ideas about the fragrance business. The Fragrance Foundation’s dedication to DEI mirrors FIT’s devotion to the same objective. The Fragrance Foundation FIT Diversity Scholarship demonstrates this mutual commitment. We are both ardent about education and its importance for moving the industry forward.
We will continue to partner with the Fragrance Foundation to build a like minded community of fragrance enthusiasts including members of industry, students of fragrance, and ardent supporters of the Fragrance Foundation and its mission.
What did being a Circle of Champions honoree mean to you?
It meant everything to me. FIT educators have been very honored over the years to be the “first educator” to represent the beauty industry in many roles, all owing to the investment the industry has chosen to make in not only educating talent for industry, but “educating the educators.”
What attributes do you think are most important for a graduate to succeed in fragrance?
First: the dual competency of being both analytic and creative, is a foundational benchmark, given the sophistication of consumer science and competitive nature of the business. Second: a global perspective and appreciation of global culture, both for consumer understanding and inspiration. Success in fragrance depends on having the mind of an entrepreneur and the heart of a poet!
Why and how is a global perspective especially important for your students?
The intimacy of fragrance and all beauty products, and their representation of individual expression requires a deep knowledge and nuanced understanding of global culture. As a former business diplomat, that seemed elemental to me when I became an educator. We normally take the students to six countries in two global regions on their academic field studies.
What do you think are the greatest achievements of the CFMM program?
Two things stand out as the lasting legacy of the CFMM Program: the leadership of its graduates as change agents in the re-shaping of industry, and the prescience of the student research in accurately predicting coming shifts in the marketplace and recommending ways to future proof businesses.
What have been the biggest changes you’ve seen in the 22 years of heading the program?
Change is a constant in the consumer space – as fundamental as change in individuals themselves. I like to think of these 22 years as a “generation” and the changes have been generational, indeed: the development of lifestyle marketing, the growth in the sophistication of behavioral and consumer science, the evolution of retail, the blurring of lines of distinction in distribution, the importance of people & planet in measuring profit, the importance of supply chain to innovation, globalization, and the advent of technology have been the hallmarks of this particular epoch of change.
What do you find most gratifying about teaching?
I deeply admire the intellect of the fragrance industry, and to be entrusted with educating it’s best and brightest is a great honor. But the gratification of teaching itself, and the joy of watching students discover their leadership voice, is an exceptional privilege. There is no more important role in society to ensure its future than that of “teacher”, whether it is in families, schools, the workplace or volunteer organizations.
What is so special to you about your relationship with The Fragrance Foundation?
Without the Fragrance Foundation, these programs at FIT would not exist. It was the support and “push” of industry and President Emeritus Annette Green that established the Bachelor’s program, and her successors have all been believers in education who have partnered with FIT in creating a unique collaboration and the only working fragrance laboratory on a US college campus. Before Linda Levy led the Foundation, for example, she was an Advisory Board member to the Master’s Program in the early 2000’s while at P&G. That combination of industry insight and academic expertise is the future of education, in my opinion, and what makes the FIT/Fragrance Foundation partnership so visionary and so special in the world of academia. In my heart I am an entrepreneur, and the limitless possibilities of this industry/academic collaboration, and its ability to push the boundaries of normal academic pedagogy, are what feed me as an educator.