NEW YORK — It only took a moment at the microphone to end an era.
Annette Green, president of The Fragrance Foundation, announced her imminent retirement at Tuesday evening’s FiFi ceremony. Green, who became visibly emotional during her speech, will step down at the end of the year and remain as a consultant to The Fragrance Foundation for the next two years.
The announcement, which came at the very end of the ceremony, stunned industry members, many of whom thought Green, who is in her late 70s, would never retire.
“No one has more love and infectious passion for fragrance than Annette Green,” said Evelyn Lauder, senior corporate vice president of the Estee Lauder Cos. “No one has done more to establish American fragrances as major players with high worldwide reputations than Annette Green. She better not retire too far away from everyone in the fragrance world. We still need her.”
Eric Thoreux, president of Coty Beauty Americas and third vice chairman of the board of The Fragrance Foundation, first met Green four years ago when he arrived in the U.S. to assume his current position. Green, he said, “helped him better understand the market. “She is an extraordinary person who has dedicated her life to developing this fragrance business,” he said. “She is a unique combination. She is a living memory of the past and a crystal ball for the future, and she has an incredible knowledge and intuition. With her incredible level of energy and curiosity, she really kept reinventing The Fragrance Foundation.”
Green herself already has a game plan for the future. “I just spent 41 years as savior of The Fragrance Foundation and what I really want is to prepare the Foundation for the next 40 years,” she said.
First on her list is finding her replacement. “There are a lot of qualities that are necessary — overall management and financial skills and a certain star quality — someone who can get up in front of 1,200 or 1,300 people,” she said. “Most importantly, they must have a passion for fragrance, which I don’t think you can learn.”
As for the future of the Foundation, Green said she agrees with Foundation chairman Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne that the fragrance industry needs a generic television campaign, like the `Got Milk?’ advertising, but in the past, money has been an obstacle. “This is what is needed,” she said. “Otherwise we’re talking about bits and pieces.” Second on the list is to go back to her first love — writing. “I’d like to [write] a book about my experiences in the industry,” said Green, who started her professional career as a reporter. She’d also like to write a book about career development for young people and, in the fiction arena, a children’s book based on Elian Gonzales and his experiences with dolphins on his way from Cuba.
Green, who was born in Philadelphia and grew up in New Jersey, discovered her own passion for scent early on, first through her mother’s love of fragrance and then later as a fledgling journalist in the Fifties. Green worked for American Druggist, where she was assigned a column to report on teen preferences. As research, she went to work in a local drugstore on the weekends. “I became fascinated with the psychological element of selling cosmetics and fragrances,” she said.
Throughout the years, she never lost that fascination.
In 1961 Green, who by then had created her own public relations firm, became aware of industry executive Jack Mohr’s quest to save The Fragrance Foundation, which was founded in 1949. “I had covered The Fragrance Foundation as a young journalist in the late Fifties,” Green recalled. “I covered a television commercial they did. I was young and didn’t know much, but I knew that commercial was awful. It showed a big clock and said `Tick tock, wear fragrance around the clock.”‘
Mohr, a former employer of Green’s, brought her on board to save the foundation. “They told me they had no more money but had lots of files, and that if I wanted to try to save it I could. It was up to me.”
Green, who never backed down from a challenge before, welcomed the opportunity.
“My main concern was to make it a membership organization, to get a board of directors, to make it legitimate,” said Green, who worked pro bono for the first five years.
That meant generating more awareness.
“I was trying to think of something dramatic to do for the industry so we’d get a lot of press,” she said. The result was the Costume Promenade Gala, a competition where companies created costumes that reflected fragrance. The idea was discontinued after two years. “People spent so much money on these costumes that they got very violent when they didn’t win,” laughed Green, who said she was actually pushed across the ballroom floor by an unhappy competitor. “I thought, `You know, my life is in danger, I better think of something else.”‘
Her next idea was The Fragrance Foundation Awards, which later came to be known as the FiFi’s. “This is a very creative industry and they deserve to be honored as much as people in the movies or the theater,” said Green, who patterned the concept after the Oscars. “That first one, I had to beg people to come,” she said. “It was in the ballroom at the Plaza — I managed to get 250 people to come. We had three or four categories and Chanel No. 19 was the winner that year.”
The rest is FiFi history.
“My hope is that [the FiFi’s] get to be important to the public,” said Green, who was elected president of The Fragrance Foundation in 1992. This year’s FiFi award attendees totaled about 1,200 people, including 200 members of the general public.
Green’s contributions to the industry are not just limited to the FiFi’s. Among other accomplishments, she introduced the “wardrobe of fragrance” concept, coined the term “aroma-chology,” helped found the Sense of Smell Institute (formerly the Olfactory Research Fund), initiated the Cosmetic/Fragrance Bachelor’s Program at FIT and co-authored a book, “Secrets of Aromatic Jewelry.”
“Annette Green has singlehandedly been the driving force behind the growth of the fragrance industry, both in the U.S. and abroad,” said Leonard Lauder, chairman of the Estee Lauder Cos. “She is a dynamo of energy and it’s hard to imagine the fragrance business without her great presence.””””