Written By April Long
On Wednesday October 30th, leaders of the fragrance industry gathered for the 20th annual Circle of Champions fete to honor Carol Hamilton, the beauty biz titan who worked her way up through the ranks at L’Oréal Paris over the past 34 years to her current position as Group President of Acquisitions—changing lives and hitting milestone after milestone along the way.
The fact that the celebration took place in the New York Park Hyatt’s Onyx Room, on a stage underneath a towering mirror etched with a tree, could not have been more appropriate. This was an evening of joyful reflection, with the prevailing message that Carol Hamilton has always been a woman who helps things grow: people, colleagues, businesses, brands, charities, and yes, her renown home garden in Connecticut. While guests dined on lobster and miso cod, executives recounted tales not only of Hamilton’s exceptional leadership and “relentless energy,” but also of her humility and kindness—not to mention her astonishing stiletto collection.
“This woman might be tiny in size, but she’s a giant,” said Alexandre Choueiri, Global President, Ralph Lauren Fragrances, who kicked off the evening’s congratulatory speeches. He praised her sterling work ethic, her unfazed poise amongst Hollywood celebrities, her philanthropic accomplishments, and her sense of fun, recalling how she once opened a bottle of wine in the back of a black car on the way to an event, gleefully creating “a true New York moment” for her team. Sylvie Ganter, founder and creator of Atelier Cologne, characterized Hamilton as a “superhero” whose passion and sunny optimism was instrumental in bringing the fragrance brand into the L’Oréal fold. “If Carol was an Atelier Cologne,” Ganter said, “She would be Clementine California.”
Leslie Marino, General Manager, Redken and Pureology, presented Hamilton with her Circle of Champions award, praising her as “a tenacious leader and a steadfast champion for gender equality,” recounting how the fuse of Hamilton’s dazzling career was lit when she heard Meredith Baxter Birney uttering “Because I’m worth it” in a L’Oréal ad during her junior year at Vassar—a moment that led her to apply for a job, and ultimately become the powerhouse who built L’Oréal Paris into the biggest beauty company in the world. Marino also spoke of how Hamilton had impacted her personally as a generous and invaluable mentor. “She has made women thrive at L’Oréal,” she said, “and when I look around this room, I see so many who have been touched by Carol’s leadership.” And of course, Hamilton’s influence has touched many more beyond those in the immediate vicinity—she initiated L’Oréal’s Women of Worth campaign, and by spearheading L’Oréal’s charitable efforts for Ovarian Cancer research, she has raised over 15 million dollars. “Carol is extremely kind and extremely generous,” Marino said. “But what I love most is her fabulous sense of humor—and her belly laugh.”
Upon accepting her honor, Hamilton revealed that when she joined L’Oréal’s luxury division in 2008 she knew “nothing” about fragrance. “Nada. Nein.” But she set about educating herself, and took on Viktor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb as her personal project, transforming it from a niche concern into the number three ranking fragrance within 5 years. And of course, it just went from there. True to her reputation for humility, she thanked her own mentors, the talented perfumers whose artistry drives the industry, and Fragrance Foundation President Linda G. Levy. “I want to say how much I appreciate the elevation and the stature that you’re bringing to the Fragrance Foundation,” said Hamilton, who was resplendent in a black dress emblazoned with—what else?—flowers. “Your leadership is phenomenal.”
Levy herself closed the evening with an exciting reveal of the Fragrance Foundation’s upcoming events and projects, announcing that in 2020 Fragrance Day will go global, and that New York City will celebrate Fragrance Week on Madison Avenue from March 19th to March 28th. And it won’t just be about smelling good: On March 21st The Fragrance Foundation will ask retailers to donate 15 percent of fragrance sales to NEXT for AUTISM. “We anticipate a tremendous amount of media, with the goal to increase our reach to consumers” she said. To underline the importance of NEXT for AUTISM, Levy welcomed the charity’s indomitable founder, Laura Slatkin, to the stage, and called upon everyone present to join the Power Pedal event on December 10th, when Fragrance Foundation members—and many others—will come together at AARMY to work up a sweat to raise money and awareness for the cause. With Slatkin’s heartwarming speech as the final touch, the evening’s last impressions amplified the first: This was a celebration of an inspiring woman that left everyone present feeling inspired themselves. The arc and impact of Hamilton’s stellar journey through the fragrance industry, as well as the hard work and commitment of so many in the Onyx Room raising their glasses along with her, serve as proof that truly great things can be accomplished through community, dedication, empathy, and vision.