The celebration of the finalists and winners of the 2019 Fragrance Foundation Awards — they will always be the “FiFi’s” to me — brings back bittersweet memories of the 30th anniversary ceremony in 2002. It is all a blur now, but it was there that I announced my retirement as president of The Fragrance Foundation.
As the years have flown by, my mental meanderings inspired the former journalist in me to record what had happened to give perspective to the fragrance industry as it was, is and may become. My book “Spritzing to Success With the Woman Who Brought an Industry to Its Senses” was published last September with a grand kick-off reception hosted by Leonard Lauder. The book and I have been in a whirl ever since!
Looking back, I could never have imagined when I agreed to helm the Fragrance Foundation (pro bono) in the late Fifties, that I was committing to a lifelong run which would eventually galvanize the small French fragrance industry in the U.S., which racked up a measly $500,000 annually, into a multibillion dollar behemoth.
For me, the task was to give women a reason to shed their reluctance to wear — or buy — fragrance for themselves. Back then, perfume was considered a luxury to be given as a gift by a man to the woman in his life. Only the best-selling fragrance from each house received support and promotional commitment. Predictably, this was limited to special occasions, which were few and far between. I realized that an industry upheaval was going to be necessary to change the status of fragrance in the minds and hearts of consumers.
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My vision for the industry was about to get the impetus it urgently needed. A social revolution was brewing. As the Sixties unfolded, women found themselves willing and able to enter the workforce. Their attitudes about fashion changed. I saw the opportunity to tie fragrance to this and introduced the concept of a “wardrobe of fragrance,” which could meet the needs of work, play and romance. Companies slowly saw the potential and began to deepen their fragrance portfolios.
In the intervening years, the fragrance industry became a participant in the fashion, art and entertainment worlds. We led a drive in the Seventies and Eighties to embrace the potential of women in the workplace, and expanded the industry’s commitment to professionalism by helping to develop and support bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in fragrance and beauty marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
Today, disruption has become the driving force in every facet of the business; business leaders are grappling with the onslaught of unrelenting technological, environmental and social upheavals. The impact is being felt at every level.
As I have interacted with the public during my book signing forays over the past year, I’ve been told over and over again that perfume enthusiasts are confused about the multitude of fragrances on the market. The general feeling seems to be that it is a chore rather than a pleasure to shop for a new scent.
There seems, too, to be an over-riding desire for experiential relationships with the products and services they are willing to purchase. Yet, with rare exceptions, fragrance is still being marketed as it was in the early Sixties. Sales specialists are confined to fanciful stories, sprinkled with bits of information about ingredients and what they mean. Advertising offers passé verbal and visual interchangeable tales of “romance in a bottle.”
To give fragrance an immediacy, which will enchant the public, I am convinced the industry must commit itself to an all-out integration of the social and technological changes which continue unabated. What an opportunity for the industry to claim its right to lead a sensory revolution geared to the public’s obsession with well-being and a desire for fun shopping experiences.
The importance of the sense of smell, regardless of sexual orientation, I might add, must be lifted out of last place in the public’s mind into a position of leadership. After all, it is only through our noses that our odor experiences travel through a pathway to the brain’s center for memory, sexuality and creativity.
Thanks to the commitment by fragrance suppliers and their innovative perfumers and much of the research funded by the Sense of Smell Institute in hospitals and universities around the world, the science exists to drive the wellness challenge into successful strategies for the fragrance industry.
Despite a small cadre of “toe in the water” marketers, most product development, advertising and promotion of fragrance have not moved off dead center. This, despite the overwhelming onslaught of fragrance bloggers, influencers and high-tech savvy consumers who continue to initiate changes and perceptions of the importance of fragrance in their lives.
The moment of opportunity is at hand to commit to the sensory revolution. It could — and should — bring unimagined growth to the industry. We all know change is constant. The trick is to train ourselves to “hear the grass growing,” so we keep a step ahead of unexpected surprises and challenges.
Today, I see The Fragrance Foundation, under the upbeat baton of Linda Levy, as pivotal in providing a provocative entertaining platform coupled with programs to help drive fragrance to a new high in the wellness arena. Bon Chance!