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Despite failing lights, errant music and an envelope missing its winner’s name, the Fragrance Foundation’s 39th Annual Awards Wednesday night in Manhattan still powered through to the end, due to a half-dozen or so celebrities and the gravitas of a lineup of executives.

This story first appeared in the May 27, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Mary J. Blige, Halle Berry, Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson, Kate Walsh, Paz de la Huerta and Desirée Rogers were among the winners, nominees and presenters at the ceremony, held Wednesday evening in Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center.

Despite all the glitter, a series of technical glitches and miscues punctuated the evening with a surreal sense of comedy worthy of a Fellini film. As the Fragrance Foundation’s chairperson, Jill Belasco, chief executive officer of the Maesa Group, began speaking, a wild flourish of music played over her words; slightly thereafter, the microphone cut out. After that was fixed, Walsh took to the stage to present the Fragrance of the Year — Specialty Luxe Men’s award, whereupon the generator blew out and left the tent in the dark.

Alas, Walsh had quite a time regaining the incessantly talkative crowd’s attention once the lights came back on. “I’m going to start talking. Pretend you’re interested,” she said to the crowd. As she read the nominees, the crowd quieted, especially when she mentioned nominee Tom Ford’s name five or six times — including as the winner.

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Blige, who picked up two awards for her debut fragrance, My Life by Mary J. Blige, told the crowd that she felt “truly blessed.”

“I’m a baby in this area, but with God we can do anything,” said Blige, also thanking husband Kendu Isaacs, branding impresario Steve Stoute, HSN chief Mindy Grossman and Carol’s Daughter founder Lisa Price. “My Life has blessed me to be able to speak directly to my fans, and to you all, let’s keep uplifting each other.” Earlier, Blige told WWD she is working on a new fragrance called Blossom, which she was wearing — along with a white-beaded Marc Bouwer gown — at the awards. “It’s coming in August on HSN,” she said.

“It was a great year for our industry,” said Gina Sanders, president and chief executive officer of Fairchild Fashion Group, who presented Blige with her award for Fragrance Sales Breakthrough of the Year award. Sanders acknowledged that the award is usually given to a retailer, but was given to Blige in recognition of her blockbuster My Life launch on HSN.

Josh Duhamel pulled a fast one on his wife, Fergie, telling her he was going on a golfing trip. Instead, he surprised her on stage with her FiFi for New Fragrance Celebrity of the Year, given to a celebrity whose very first fragrance enjoyed instant success with the consumer and brought recognition to the fragrance category. Fergie’s debut fragrance, Outspoken by Fergie for Avon Products Inc., launched in 2010. “When this girl decides to do something, she is all in,” said Duhamel. “I couldn’t be more proud of the most talented, beautiful woman I’ve ever met. She is the ying to my yang, the froth to my cappuccino and my partner in crime.”

After hugging Duhamel, Fergie turned to her husband and her agent, and said with a laugh, “You fu–ers! Sorry, I’m outspoken.”

“I’m so humbled, honored and delighted to be at the FiFi’s for the first time” said Fergie. “Every time I get on stage, I thank people who helped to make it happen, and I want to thank the 6.5 million Avon representatives around the world.”

Tamara Steele, senior vice president of global fragrance marketing at Elizabeth Arden Inc., gave a heartfelt tribute to Elizabeth Taylor, who was inducted posthumously into the Fragrance Hall of Fame. “She called herself the ceo of the House of Taylor, and considered her garden to be her inspiration,” said Steele, noting that Taylor’s White Diamonds fragrance is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Berry, who picked up the newly renamed Elizabeth Taylor Fragrance Celebrity of the Year trophy, said, “You will never be replaced in this industry, Elizabeth. You have inspired me in so many ways.” Turning to her scent, she added, “Fragrance is a new love for me. I never thought I’d be here four years later. And I’m inspired by Mary J. Blige and Fergie — let’s keep lifting women up.”

Presenter de la Huerta wasn’t happy to find that the name of the latest inductee to the women’s fragrance Hall of Fame wasn’t in her envelope. “They didn’t give me the name,” she said, as producers scrambled to provide the answer.

Don Loftus, president and ceo of P&G Prestige U.S., was pragmatic about the room’s plummeting level of interest as the evening ground on and the decibel level continued to swell from the floor. “For the three of you who are still listening, thank you,” he said dryly as he picked up the fourth FiFi for P&G’s Gucci Guilty.

The final award of the evening, Perfume Extraordinaire of the Year, was given to Givaudan, honoring aesthetic beauty of a fragrance identified by its design, signature, creativity and quality, in this case for L’Oréal’s Untitled Maison Martin Margiela scent. “Holy mackerel,” said a jubilant Cosimo Policastro, executive vice president of fine fragrances for Givaudan. “I love you all.”

The evening’s uneven pace was preceded by high hopes on the red carpet by the arriving celebrities. Presenter Trey Songz, navigating the FiFis with Firmenich’s Theo Spilka, turned coy when asked if he was considering creating his own fragrance. “I won’t be making any presentations yet of my own, but I’m very much looking forward to my place in the fragrance world. My ideal fragrance, for myself, would be masculine, yet sensitive — strong, sexy, with a little mystique. For a woman, it would be moody with an aura of beauty — a kind of secluded feel to it as well. There’s nothing more precious than a woman’s fragrance — when there are no clothes, it’s just the essence of them and how you identify with them.”

A bubbly Fergie, in a sunflower-hued custom Max Azria gown (“and Harry Winston jewels — although I turn into Cinderella at the end of the night and have to give them back!”) spoke on the red carpet about changing her hair color to a sandy blonde (“I wanted something new for summer — it’s so much fun to play with hair!”) and had a long list of summer pursuits: “going on vacation with my husband and decorating my house, cleaning out my closet some more, going to art shows — things that I don’t have time to do when I’m working so hard.” She was also wearing Outspoken Intense, her newest fragrance, set to launch this summer. “And we’re already working on the third,” she said.

Walsh, in David Meister, noted that her second scent is on its way: “Yep, there’s another Boyfriend coming for Valentine’s Day,” she said. “Who doesn’t want a boyfriend for Valentine’s Day?”

Padma Lakshmi was wearing her own blend of essential oils: “Neroli, jasmine and rose. But it’s never the same mix. It’s different every day.”


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