FGI Wakes Up & Smells The Fragrance Industry

“Everything I’ve ever done or seen I relate to fragrance,” said the indomitable Annette Green, author of the new book “Spritzing to Success.” The 40-year executive director and president of the Fragrance Foundation, a non-profit educational organization (she’s now president emeritus since her 2003 retirement) and the 1972 originator of the FiFi Awards, was featured along with Kate Oldham, senior vice president and general merchandising manager of Saks at FGI headquarters bright and early yesterday morning.  Rose Marie Bravo, a veteran of the retail “trenches” (a nod to her time at Burberry for which she received her CBE) served as moderator.

“Years ago I was walking down Madison Avenue and passed Steuben (Glass) where they had snuff bottles in the window. They should be perfume bottles, I thought to myself. ” Later she made good on that idea with a production line of ‘Small Wonders’ as they were called. Then there’s the time that Green was on a bus coming down Fifth Avenue and saw people standing in line. “I wondered what they were in line for — it turned out they were having their hearing checked.  I thought why not do that for their sense of smell — people know even less about that.” Another Green brainchild was born leading to the one-time Fragrance Fun Day in Lincoln Center.

Yet another story revolves around the indefatigable Green trying in vain to contact a handsome Lanvin executive by phone — she wanted the company responsible for then uber popular fragrance Arpege to join the nascent Fragrance Foundation. After repeatedly being put off by his secretary, the gods of serendipity (or maybe the St. Patrick’s Day leprechauns) smiled on her. Encountering him in his office building’s lobby florist while she was buying a friend a green carnation, he relented and agreed.  All of these and many other stories are detailed in her memoir.

Why is scent important? Green’s offshoot of the Fragrance Foundation known as the Sense of Smell Institute ran a study that showed how fragrance can improve behavior, mood, make you feel better — even increase productivity in a work environment. Green mentioned how a peppermint scent gave more energy to factory employees — may be less need for that coffee break? Shimadzu fragrances (scents that do something for you) are being developed for use in various settings — Bravo mentioned Evelyn Lauder having developed fragrances for Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Oldham, wearing what appeared to be a Prada lipstick tube skirt (doesn’t anyone make a perfume bottle skirt?) was quizzed about the Saks second floor beauty renovation and move. “When I heard that Saks was going to move Beauty up to the second floor I said don’t do it!!! But now I say if you haven’t seen it yet, go!” remarked Bravo. In a quest for more space and that ever-present bugaboo known as providing an “exciting experiential environment” the beauty floor moved up the escalator and possibly upmarket. “We either could stay and keep things the same or move and do things differently,” said Oldham. “Some brands didn’t come with us.” Bravo mentioned the impressive Saks Beauty catalog while Oldham spoke of how women today want a “wardrobe of fragrances. Everyone is doing it, even McQueen — it’s here to stay. There’s no signature fragrance anymore leaving an ‘elevator trail’ wafting out. People don’t really do that anymore, as in, ‘Oh, Rose Marie was just here,'” she quipped to audience laughter.

As Saks has become known for “niche brands of the haute parfumerie” (such as Creed, Killian, Bond No. 9 and Le Labo), the sticker shock of fragrances has perhaps lessened. “Once a woman spends $300 on a fragrance, she’s not going to go back to spending $65. The Millennial interest in self-care is really good for fragrance and beauty.” There’s also more interest in personalization. Bravo mentions how back in the day we all wanted Opium (my fave ’80s scent). Chanel No. 5 and Joy. However, once the scent is in the wind so to speak, other retailers jump on board the trend for niche brands — “everyone’s catching up, so we need to think of something else,” Oldham added.

What of online sales for scent?  “Will we get to the point where our computer shoots out fragrance?” mused Bravo. “If it resonates as a story, people will buy it,” answered Oldham. ” We’re pretty particular — we try to make it about the fragrance versus the marketing. If it’s authentic, people will buy.” Oldham confessed to enjoying the movie or video clips found on YouTube and social media that introduce new fragrances as she finds them very effective.

Bravo returned to Green asking her how she managed to always have her finger on the pulse of the fragrance industry — recognizing trends such as the importance of musk, the rise of the celebrity fragrance, packaging, limited distribution and developing a quality product which raises the bar for everyone. “I once interviewed a child psychologist who said the most important thing in life is to learn how to hear the grass growing. I didn’t know what she was talking about then, but now I do. Being on the scene all the time feeds ideas to me.” When asked how does she succeed in bringing other industry types (her co-conspirators) along Green, a former journalist extolled the need to have communication skills. “It’s not easy to speak to a room of 1,000 people. Forget yourself, think of your audience and try to get your message across.”

Annette Green signing copies of her book

What of her general ebullience? “I eat a Mediterranean diet — I haven’t had meat in 30 years. I exercise with a trainer and go to Equinox. It’s important to be interested in life — I’m involved in women’s theater, I love ballet and opera. The one word used to describe me as a child is ‘curious’ so I guess it stuck,” Green, an FGI member since 1956 “(it was my ultimate goal at the time — you had to have two sponsors!”) remarked. “I would use the word ‘love.'” said Bravo. “She has love in everything she does, and it’s inspirational.”

After the panel wrapped up, Green sat and lovingly signed the large stack of books on the hallway table as attendees lined up to purchase their personalized copy.

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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