Of the 90-plus fragrances Sophia Grojsman has created, it is Yves Saint Laurent Paris that the perfumer has adopted as her own signature scent. She keeps a bottle in the bedroom of her home in Hollywood, Fla., which she purchased in 2002 as a respite from her hard-traveling life as a perfumer and senior vice president with International Flavors & Fragrances — a job that took her on frequent trips back and forth from New York to Paris.
Grojsman, who is the recipient of this year’s Fragrance Foundation Lifetime Achievement, Perfumer award, has developed a staggering laundry list of award-winning scents over the course of her career that have stood the test of time — among them, Estée Lauder Beautiful, Calvin Klein Eternity and Lancôme Trésor have remained in the top five, top 30 and top 20, respectively, for the past 20 years in the U.S.
“It took me a long time to get out of [working],” says Grojsman of easing into retirement. “I loved it so much.”
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Grojsman’s peers in the industry know her just as well for her stellar résumé as for her effervescent personality, nurturing qualities, stubborn confidence and a keen intuition for knowing when a scent is exactly right.
Christophe Laudamiel, the president and master perfumer of DreamAir, who worked with Grojsman for eight years at IFF, likened her bold personality to her formulas.
“You have a base that is very strong, down-to-earth [and] reliable, [but] very comforting also. She really likes to take care of people, share her experiences,” he said. “And then it goes berserk, but we need that in personalities. We need that in formulas — otherwise everything is boring.”
“She’s expressive, evocative [and] emotional — all these things that kind of light up a room, but she also has this incredibly warm, giving, caring side,” says Karyn Khoury, creative director and senior vice president of corporate fragrance development at Estée Lauder, who worked with Grojsman on hits such as Calyx, White Linen and Beautiful. “She calls herself everybody’s Jewish mother.”
Ann Gottlieb, founder of Ann Gottlieb Associates, who worked with Grojsman on several fragrances, including Victoria by Victoria’s Secret, came to know Grojsman’s inclusive nature intimately when she took her daughter on a trip to Russia — Grojsman is a native of Belarus, and immigrated to the U.S. with her family in 1965.
“She put me in touch with her family there and they not only entertained us, they took us into their homes, and she was really loving and warm that way.”
Khoury noted that Grojsman went above and beyond the call of duty without trepidation, and wouldn’t stop until a fragrance was finally complete, recalling many late nights spent at the office, with Grojsman compounding fragrances herself and wearing pink slippers “because her high heels were hurting.”
Says Khoury, “When we were finishing Calyx, there was one little aspect that bothered me on skin. It was a little dusty and dirty after a couple hours and she saw it, too. One evening we were in that lab until I don’t know how late and she compounded that formula and after every ingredient was added we would smell it to see if we could smell the problem. She found the issue in a sub-compound and it was in the [last] ingredient she added. That’s Sophia — there’s not a lot of people who would do that.”
Grojsman’s former boss, IFF group president of fragrances Nicolas Mirzayantz, noted that Grojsman’s stellar track record extends beyond a passionate work ethic, stating that she possesses a unique ability to craft fragrances that “women want to wear.”
Mirzayantz believes the commercial success stems from her strong, powerful formulas comprising bold, simple accords containing only a few ingredients, a technique not employed by many perfumers in the Eighties and Nineties.
Grojsman has always done things her own way.
“The first time she wanted me to do rose, I showed it to her and she said ‘This is not the rose, it’s what everybody told you to do. Go back and do a rose the way you think a rose should be,’” says Honorine Blanc, a perfumer at Firmenich who worked as an assistant to Grojsman in the Nineties. “She didn’t believe in rules, she believed in her intuition.”
Grojsman’s trusted her gut so resolutely that she would often purposefully rebuke the wishes of clients.
“When I spoke to [clients], I felt the person and what they were looking for — that was my thing. And if the person is explaining to me, ‘I would love to have this [or] that’, I would show them two experiments — the way they wanted and they way I [felt was] better. They would, without knowing, [always] pick mine.”
The way consumers wear fragrance now has changed, according to Grojsman. Even she herself doesn’t apply her signature Paris as liberally as she may once have.
Grojsman says consumers are not wearing fragrance as heavily as they once were. “The atmosphere in the world is different now. It used to be clear and clean — it’s not the same. [You] put some on your arms and on your face so you can smell yourself but it doesn’t disturb anyone else.”
She also does not see as many of the long, complicated formulas that dominated the fragrance market in her heyday — the strong, simple accords she pioneered are now commonplace.
“She ends up creating the trend,” Blanc says. You pick up a fragrance [now] and you say, ‘this is Sophia.’”