NEW YORK — Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne treated his fellow executives to a lighthearted jolt of reality.

Harvey Fierstein, fresh from winning a Tony Award for his role in “Hairspray” the night before, gave the beleaguered fragrance industry the laughs it desperately craved after one of its worst years in a decade.

By winning with Chance, Chanel demonstrated that the old guard is not ready to step aside to make way for a feisty crop of brash new upstarts, even one with the undeniable sex appeal of Jennifer Lopez.

Welcome to the post-Annette Green 31st Annual FiFi Awards ceremony, which was held Monday night at Lincoln Center.Green, the driving force behind the Fragrance Foundation for the last three decades, was succeeded by Rochelle Bloom as president, who credited her successor’s accomplishments as she navigated through her first FiFi night.

Bousquet-Chavanne, Fragrance Foundation chairman and a group president at Estée Lauder Cos., asserted that the organization has embarked on a year of new directions, with a new president and a renewed mission. He thenset the evening’s tone with a razor’s edge. “We’re here tonight to celebrate innovation and creativity,” he said, “and a great year for fragrances. I guess it was a great year, if you don’t count the results.

“We’ve launched more…but sold less,” he continued. “We’ve sampled more, advertised more…and spent more, but we sold less. We’ve made holidays memorable…but not because of sales. We’ve been more creative ...but the consumers don’t seem to care. I guess, like Franco-American relations…this year, we just didn’t seem to get it right.

“And yet fragrance remains an extraordinary bridge between cultures,” Bousquet-Chavanne added, “the stuff of dreams, the inspiration for romance, for personal expression and so much more.”

In her first awards ceremony as president, Bloom took an editor’s pencil to the program, consolidating the number of awards.The result was a running time of an hour and 15 minutes, compared with last year’s two-and-a-half hour extravaganza. While many executives praised the pared-down program, at least one executive griped that there is room for improvement. Calling it “2002 redux.” he expressed disappointment that the format had not changed more dramatically.Despite a year so bruising that flat business is considered a plus, Avery Fisher Hall seemed to overflow with executives ready to party. A foundation spokesman put attendance at 1,500, far outstripping last year’s 1,200.

But as Bousquet-Chavanne pointed out, the evening was about awards and the winners included Coty, which took home three FiFi statuettes; Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang and Marc Jacobs, all with two FiFi’s each, and Calvin Klein, Kate Spade, Tiffany and Risdon-AMS, with one apiece. The magazine FiFi went to Allure.

Chanel’s Chance took home the most hotly contested FiFi — for women’s introduction of the year in Luxe distribution of over 500 specialty and department store doors — beating out Coty’s Glow by JLo, which was the surprise hit of last fall. Lopez, however, did manage to cart home a FiFi for Celebrity Fragrance Star of the year.

Chanel’s victory, however, was the result of a long process that did not come easily, prompting Laurie Palma, vice president of fragrance marketing at Chanel, to remark, “It was easier giving birth to my son than to this fragrance.”

Although the field included Elizabeth Taylor, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Elton John, the toughest competition that Lopez faced in winning the celebrity FiFi came from Vera Wang, according to sources. Jacobs and Spade also placed in the celebrity balloting. Wang won forwomen’s introduction of the year in Nouveau Niche, or specialty stores under 500 doors. She also won for women’s packaging of the year.

For the first time, a man, Carman Ferraioli of Nordstrom’s Paramus store,got a perfect score on the certified sales specialist exam and took home a FiFi for his trouble.

Bloom may have condensed the program, but the acceptance speeches tended to run on, primarily because some of the winners seemed compelled to give credit to everyone in memory.One of the more grateful and loquacious winners was Laura Lee Miller, president of Unilever Prestige, which has the Vera Wang license. She started with a lavish, heartfelt tribute to Wang, who was standing nearby, then launched into an exhaustive list of names that made the crowd squirm. It also emboldened Fierstein to come wheeling to the microphone, firing off a barrage of zingers. “I think Eugene O’Neill wrote that speech,” he began, apparently referring to “A Long Day’s Journey into Night.” Fierstein then mockingly thanked “the people who built the building,” and after getting a few more licks in about how much time had passed, Fierstein reintroduced Bloom to the stage with the crack: “a little older but still beautiful, Rochelle Bloom — in a wheelchair.”Reacting to an aside made by a recipient that it is an honor just to be nominated, Fierstein appeared to sum up the feelings of many in the audience when he said, “I have to tell you that being nominated means nothing.”

He then salved the wound with the comment, “I who am not only a nominee but a winner, I want to congratulate each one of you, just as I congratulated Antonio [Banderas] last night.” He was referring to his achievement in beating Banderas for best actor in a musical at the Tony Awards.

Throughout the evening, Fierstein alluded to his experience with fragrance. Noting that he once dated a man who used different flavors of Herbal Essences on different parts of his body, Fierstein exclaimed, “He was just a fruit salad.”

Attesting to the power of scent to recall memories, he said, “the smell of dog shit always means spring to me.” In watching all the designer brands win awards, Fierstein joked, “my suit came from Rochester Fat and F---ked…because in this city, if you lookfat, you’re f---ked.”

But amid all the levity and expansive thank you’s, there were also incredibly poignant moments. When Andrea Robinson, president of Ralph Lauren Fragrances Worldwide at L’Orèal USA, accepted the men’s advertising award for Romance for Men, her remarks turned into a moving tribute to the late Sandy Carlson, the ad woman who was central to the development of the campaign. Robinson spoke of Carlson’s brilliance and passion and concluded that “she would be thrilled at this honor.” Lauren also won for best men’s fragrance introduction in Luxe distribution of over 500 doors. When Jacqueline Singer, group marketing director and John Galantic, president of Coty Beauty U.S., accepted the FiFi for women’s fragrance of the year mass appeal, Singer paid tribute to the late Dr. Braja Mookherjee of IFF.

In accepting the Hall of Fame award for Eternity, Hilary Dart, president of Calvin Klein Cosmetics, not only cited the “vision of Calvin Klein,” but she also credited International Flavors and Fragrances for “creating a timeless scent” and even praised “the original team” which conceived and launched the fragrance in 1988.Linda Wells, editor in chief of Allure, paid tribute to her friend and colleague Art Cooper, the recently retired editor of GQ, who died earlier that day.

Perhaps the winner with the most conflicted feelings was Camille McDonald, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. divisions of Parfums Givenchy and Guerlain Paris, who found herself in the awkward position of accepting two FiFi’s for a brand, Marc Jacobs, that her parent company, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, recently sold to Coty. Jacobs won for best men’s introduction in upscale distribution under 500 doors and for best men’s packaging.

“We thought we might be sharing this with the new owners, who take over on June 30,” McDonald explained. Then shejested, “It was between me and Bob Cankes [president of Coty’s U.S. Lancaster division] to accept this award, but I had the prettiest dress.”

She then added, “It has been a wonderful short journey for American Designer Fragrances.” Thanking her boss Patrick Choël and LVMH for their support in the creation of her fledgling American designer fragrance business, she said, “Our brands will live on with their superb new owners.”

Later, however, McDonald seemed sadly philosophical. “It’s always good to win, no matter what the status of the owner, and it’s good to go out with a bang.”

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