Written by Jessica Matlin
We were warned it would be a lovefest.
An apt description by Linda Levy, president of The Fragrance Foundation, as she took the stage last night at the Circle of Champions dinner to celebrate Nicolas Mirzayantz, Group President, Fragrances, IFF. A group of the business’s biggest names—John Demsey, Andreas Fibig, Carlos Benaim, Ann Gottlieb, and Leonard Lauder—all brought their best stories and warmest wishes for the executive, who through his work with IFF, has impacted every corner of the industry. Also part of the celebration were past Circle of Champions honorees, Leonard Lauder, Art Spiro, Pete Born, Ann Gottlieb, Camille McDonald, and Don Loftus.
During Demsey’s speech, he rattled off some of IFF’s contributions to the Estée Lauder Companies’ fragrance catalogue. Among the brands: Estée Lauder Beautiful, Estée Lauder Youth Dew, Donna Karan Cashmere Mist, Aramis, Clinique Happy, Clinique Aromatics Elixir, Tom Ford fragrances…it was a virtual greatest hits.
“Dignity, class, elegance, a global view. To the fragrance industry, you truly are a champion,” said Demsey, Executive Group President of the Estée Lauder Companies.
But talk of Mirzayantz’s tangible business achievements was brief: Instead, most of the conversation was about his spirit.
Fibig, CEO & Chairman of IFF, talked of Mirzayantz’s values and creative vision.
“He has the mind of an artist, and the soul of an explorer,” he said, just before a video of Mirzayantz rolled, highlighting his love of far-flung travel and photography.
Carlos Benaim, Master Perfumer of IFF, joked that “we almost thought we would lose him to National Geographic,” referencing his passion for wildlife photography.
“[Mirzayantz] is a leader who energizes and motivates people to excel, but also an artistic spirit,” he says. “He perfectly understands art, science, and business.”
That sort of skill set is a miracle, says Gottlieb, President of Ann Gottlieb Associates. She met Mirzayantz when he was a salesperson for IFF.
“I didn’t think he would be president!” she said. “He was a dreamer.” That space, she said, is reserved for “poets and pilots,” not “bottom-line businesspeople.”
Defying the corporate stereotype, Mirzayantz soared in the corporate world, delighting Gottlieb and their colleagues with tales of travel, family, and even breaking out into dance if the moment was right. (Gottlieb recounted one particularly vivid example that took place at a work event at the Russian Tea Rooms.) While there was work to be done, there was clearly room for joy.
It was a nice segue for Leonard Lauder’s turn at the podium. While his sheer presence makes everyone stand up a little straighter, he used his time to get everyone to loosen up. Taking the stage in a Tom Ford tux— modeling it for the crowd—he spoke bluntly about the state of the business. (His top tip for boosting fragrance sales? “Sample it!”) Lauder also talked about the importance of laughter in the office and the simple value of creating beautiful things.
When Mirzayantz got up to accepted his award, he put the spotlight on those in the audience. Instead, he spoke of his mother (“a fragrance lover”), wife (“the best nose I know”), children, and colleagues.
“In many businesses, we work in the shadows of our heroes,” he said. “In beauty, we work among them every day.”