This story first appeared in the June 17, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“Being a woman was never a factor at Firmenich, and if it was, I never felt it,” Buzantian said. “I always felt embraced by the love and support of [the company].”
The modest Romanian-born fragrance connoisseur has continuously racked up an array of accolades, as Buzantian will be honored as the perfumer of the year at The Fragrance Foundation Awards. “For me, it was not a question of if, but when she got this award,” said Jerry Vittoria, president of fine fragrance at Firmenich for North America. In 1970, Buzantian’s first job was a lab assistant at Universal Oil Products, which became known as Quest, and today as Givaudan. In 1972, she was recruited by Firmenich to start its gas chromatography lab. There, Buzantian became Firmenich’s first perfumer trainee working alongside master perfumer Elie Roger. Within a year she created her first scent, Love’s Musky Jasmine. “As soon as I started as a trainee perfumer and began discovering more about perfumery, I fell more and more in love with it,” she said. “When I was a lab assistant to my mentor, Elie Roger, he told me that I should start training to become a perfumer. I asked how long the training would be, and when he told me it would take 10 years, I said ‘No way, I promised my father I would go back to college.’ However, [Roger] eventually convinced me.”
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It’s a good thing he did or the industry wouldn’t have pillars like Estée Lauder Pleasures, Ralph Lauren Safari for Men or Tommy by Tommy Hilfiger.
Although she has created these top-grossing scents, recognition doesn’t always come easy to perfumers.
“The chance of winning a project for a perfumer is well below 10 percent,” Vittoria said. “But Annie is always in a positive frame of mind and she’s always optimistic. Even her formulas are a work of art just to look at. In fact, she’s a true master of formulating fragrances with few materials.”
To that end, Buzantian has created more than 90 fragrances and her niche lies within green notes and florals.
“People have an easier time with certain things than others,” Buzantian said. “For me, it’s the floral family. But my challenge is always to defeat my fears and to try something new. That’s what I like about my job. I never do the same thing twice.”
Joanne Halev, vice president of fragrance sales at Firmenich, said Buzantian has created some of the top U.S. scents. “She did Marc Jacobs Honey and she did Dot, and she’s also done the one that’s going to be launched in the fall. But that’s the point, Annie is not done yet. Annie is right up there and still highly successful and very current.”
As for inspiration, Buzantian’s free spirit lets her muse rise in all forms. “I have been inspired by my daughters, especially when they were young and they wanted to make their own fragrances,” she said, adding that her children are both in the fragrance industry. “You look outside, you walk in a garden, you smell a flower or you see something, we are surrounded by inspiration. You just have to take it. Just be open, it goes for everything, [not just fragrance]. Just be yourself.”
“When you work with Annie, you have to be prepared to go on a journey,” said Karen Khoury, senior vice president of corporate fragrance development for Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., who worked on many scents with Buzantian including Pleasures. “The word ‘brilliant’ encompasses a lot of what Annie is. It is quintessentially creative. It is this ability to connect to the consumer who’s going to wear her fragrance in a new way. It is this amazing ability she has to think of combinations of ingredients and notes that nobody has thought of. And also she’s brilliant because when you look at her fragrances, they are amazingly successful across cultures — globally — and across age ranges.”
Meanwhile, the humble perfumer explained that there is no such thing as the best fragrance. “The best fragrance is what you like,” Buzantian said. “You should always wear what you love and not wear it for anyone else.”
That mantra has guided Buzantian through her career and leads to one of the many reasons why she is being honored at this year’s Fragrance Foundation Awards.
“To receive this award is a privilege and unexpected because you do what you love,” declared Buzantian. “You don’t think of the rewards. Plus, I have a ball every day.”