Some people are easy to roast, notably those who wear their foibles on their sleeve. Then there’s Art Spiro.
Known for his humble and self-effacing, low-key style, he seems fireproof. That was the impression at least when the executive vice president of global fragrance marketing at Elizabeth Arden was recently honored at the Fragrance Foundation’s Circle of Champions award dinner at the St. Regis hotel in New York.
“It’s truly like an out-of-body experience; you have no idea what this means to me,” Spiro said when he finally got his turn to speak late in the evening on Oct. 8. “I know I’m not the most prestigious champion in the circle, but I’m truly the most appreciative. To be able to celebrate and be recognized by the people you care about and to share it with your family is priceless.”
As for the “roast,” five of Spiro’s friends and industry colleagues took turns digging for embarrassing material and they didn’t come up with much. Camille McDonald, president of brand development & merchandising at Bath & Body Works as well as a former Circle of Champions honoree, admitted being frustrated when she took her turn at the microphone.
“It was nearly impossible to find a roastable negative about this man,” she declared. She settled instead on “talents he’d like to have but didn’t” — such as his unlovable love of singing and questionable dexterity with power tools. During the evening, there also were cracks about his low-key style. “Yes, I speak in a monotone,” he later admitted. “But I’ll try not to put you to sleep.”
In the end, McDonald turned to Spiro’s good points, like: “He invented loyalty.”
And she wasn’t alone. Nicolas Mirzayantz, group president of fragrances at International Flavors & Fragrances Inc., called him “a truly wonderful human being. Art Spiro is without a doubt a champion on every front. He is a champion in his life, a champion to his family and a champion to everyone who knows him.”
It was a long night of very good-natured tributes and gentle digs. As usual, the roast format presented an awkward dilemma of having to ridicule someone at night, then do business with him in the morning. During an early round at the mic, Cos Policastro, executive vice president of fine fragrances at Givaudan Fragrances Corp., called out to his fellow supplier and fellow roaster, Mirzayantz, who was still seated in the audience. “Firmenich [their competitor] is not roasting anyone,” Policastro warned. “We are the only ones at risk here.”
Not to worry; it was a night of no harm, no foul. Ann Gottlieb, president and founder of her own product development and marketing agency and another past honoree, played the role of designated “toaster’ with gusto, praising Spiro for the fragrances he has created, his mentorship and support of the industry and devotion to his family.
Don Loftus, president of Parlux Ltd. and executive vice president of Perfumania Inc., has made a specialty in recent years of leading the charge at these events as the roast master. He kept floating back to lectern between the other speakers to keep the edge sharp.
Spiro, who paid tribute to his presenters, later singled out Loftus’ performance when he finally got his turn to speak. “I’ve admired Don for many years and he is a very clever gentleman. I appreciate the humor he brought tonight and I really have no hard feelings,” he said, shaking his head slowly and rolling his eyes, while the audience roared. “I do know where you live,” he darkly added. Spiro then praised Loftus for the effort he made in helping to strengthen the Fragrance Foundation and pointed his talents in writing plays.
He took the opportunity to publicly thank McDonald for giving him a helping hand in a critical moment in his career and he praised the other presenters as well. Spiro also thanked E. Scott Beattie — Arden’s chairman, chief executive officer and president — as well as executive vice president and chief marketing officer Kathy Widmer for making his current position possible. But he reserved his greatest thanks for his family, his wife Beth and two children. “There’s nothing in my life that has meaning that Beth didn’t have a contribution in.”
As for regrets, he called out to his daughter Allison. “I’m truly sorry I didn’t take you to Sesame Place,” he said, adding with his deadpan delivery, “It’s something I have to live with.”