Hall of Fame

Ann Gottlieb
Written by April Long

Fragrance developer Ann Gottlieb has done more to shape the modern world’s olfactive landscape than perhaps any other individual. Currently celebrating her 50th year in the industry, Gottlieb humbly describes her role as “the liasion between the brand and the fragrance houses, translating a brand vision or product concept into scent.”  But her successes, from the fruity bouquets she introduced to the market through Bath & Body Works to her blockbuster creations for Calvin Klein (including Obsession, Eternity, and cKOne), have proven that she is much more than that. She’s a true scent whisperer, a woman who knows exactly what consumers want before they even know it themselves.

Gottlieb got her start working with another legend, Estée Lauder, catching the attention of the beauty doyenne with her strong opinions about fragrance. “I had no idea whatsoever that I had any kind of talent, or a nose that was any different from anyone else’s,” she says. But when Lauder sailed through the offices dousing her employees in perfume and asking for opinions, Gottlieb responded with honesty and insight. “I was 24 years old and probably didn’t know any better,” she says, “but she kept coming back to me, and I ended up going from an entry level role to head of product development at Lauder in six-and-half years.”

Since founding her own company, Ann Gottlieb Associates, in 1983, Gottlieb has worked with everyone from Dior to Dove, and has guided the creation of scents as varied as Axe’s chocolate-addiction Dark Temptation and Marc Jacobs’ whimsical, strawberry-tinged Daisy. Gottlieb’s unique ability to recognize and propel forward promising fragrance nuggets that often become masterpieces with mass appeal comes not only from her stellar sense of smell and her unerring instincts, but also from the collaborative spirit she brings to her work. She understands keenly that a synchronicity between packaging, marketing, and the product itself is crucial to success, so she always keeps the lines of communication open. “I’m proud of the fact that many fine fragrance, personal and air care marketers are much more fragrance-literate after having worked with me,” she says. “I will always share everything I can about my process and about what I do.”

What did you learn from Estée Lauder that stayed with you throughout your career?

I learned that you please the consumer with a fragrance that has real identity and that fragrances should truly inspire you and keep sending you back to repurchase. I was fortunate to learn from her, because she taught me the importance of quality which has served me in every category with which I’ve been involved.

Your projects have run the gamut through every category. What would you say they all have in common?

They are all focused on the consumer and the brand. Really, what I am is a marketer with a very good nose, because I can’t develop a fragrance or a line of products unless I know who the consumer is and what she’s using. Whether I’m developing a really expensive perfume or a candle, the thought process is the same.

What defines a successful scent?

It’s a cohesive mix. You can attract consumers with a beautiful bottle, but if the product does not meet the consumers’ expectations—for instance, if it’s a pale pink package with lovely flowers on it, and they open it up and smell a heavy, woody, ambery fragrance—there’s a disconnect, and people generally don’t respond well to that kind of surprise. You also must have something in that bottle that is truly loved, or consumers are going to abandon you. It has to have a combination of something that’s unique with something that is commercial—and it has to capture the cues of the brand.

What are you proudest of professionally?  

I’ve had two significant marriages in my professional life: to Calvin Klein and Axe. And both of them have played a major role in my success. Then I have a pair of twins called Dove and Dove Men & Care, and they have lots of Unilever cousins. Dior J’Adore and the Marc Jacobs fragrances also rank high for me. And my newest baby is air care and it has been fascinating exploring this new realm of fragrance.

What are your favorite notes?

It truly depends on what I’m doing. Obviously, fruits and flowers have been a big part of my background because, through the first four years with Bath and Body Works, while creating a category that didn’t exist before, we helped the American public develop an affinity for fruity notes. But it’s my love for vanilla that has lasted my whole career. It’s what made Obsession, my first fragrance for Calvin Klein, so addictive.

You travel a great deal. How has that contributed to your understanding of scent?

One of the greatest gifts that I’ve received in my career is the chance to experience the relationship that people in more impoverished areas of the world have with fragrance. Some of my most meaningful moments have been going into favelas in Brazil and visiting people’s homes in India and Thailand; seeing how universal the love of fragrance is, and how people will do anything to have it in their lives, even if it’s just adding a scented laundry detergent to water and pouring it on the floor.

Are there specific developments that you’d like to see?

I am hopeful that in the not too distant future the challenge of successfully selling fragrances online will be met… and that we are able to replicate the instore trial experience digitally.

How does it feel to be inducted into the Fragrance Foundation Hall of Fame?

To receive this award for the recognition of the contributions I’ve made to the world of fragrance is a validation of my work and is absolutely thrilling. I am truly honored and poised to continue for the next 50 years!!!

Game Changer

Written by April Long

When Frédéric Malle launched his groundbreaking Editions de Parfums with nine unique and unusual scents in 2000, he reintroduced true luxury to perfumery in a very specific and elevated way that is still making waves today. By placing the spotlight on the perfumers, whose individual talents had been too long unsung, he shifted the focus away from the distracting marketing and one-scent-fits-all ethos of the 1990s, and back to the artistry and quality of the juice itself.

Inspired by the values of his family legacy—his grandfather, Serge Heftler-Louiche, founded Christian Dior Parfums and worked with the legendary Edmond Roudnitska; his mother, Marie Christine, helped develop Eau Sauvage—Malle set out to create fragrances that were each as distinctive and memorable as masterpiece paintings. He positioned himself as a “publisher” of fragrance, working with perfumers to push boundaries, or, as he says, “help them be themselves,” without pre-set briefs or market testing. Because of all of this, he’s often called father of niche perfumery—and indeed he is, yet the craftsmanship and sophistication Editions de Parfums fragrances still place them in a class of their own. “I did not invent anything and at the same time I invented a lot of things,” Malle says. “I just really put the parish back in the middle of the village.”

Naturally, perfumers clamor to work with Malle, knowing that those distinctively minimal, sleek bottles can contain poetry and vision, and that to be aligned with him is to be aligned with a notion of fragrance that’s as rich, varied, and boundless as it can be. Always moving forward, he has recently been bringing younger perfumers into the Editions fold, an experience he finds humbling in an unexpected way. “They see me as an expert in this industry,” he says, “And I know that I’ve done many things, but I’ve never considered myself to be an expert. I always consider myself to be someone who has to learn more, and I don’t think that one can be modest enough. I’ve always learned from perfumers, and although I’m happy to communicate whatever I know, I still believe that I’m the one learning from them.”

How does it feel to be recognized by the Fragrance Foundation?

FM: It’s a nice recognition. It’s like an Oscar for your career, so it’s humbling. And touching. Since my mother and her father both worked in this industry, it’s very rooted in me. Having an award like this means that I have maybe contributed something too. It’s not just an award for doing something in life, it’s like an accolade from someone very close to me, which is why I’m so moved.

In France, when someone compliments your tie, you say, “Oh, it’s old,” or, “There is a huge stain on it.” But in America people simply say, “Thank you.” Being still very French, I want to downplay this a little bit, and sort of pretend that it’s something I got by luck. But deep down, I know that it’s not. It makes me proud, because I know that what I did almost 20 years ago has set the path for this business to go back to its roots. For me it, it just started with the idea of returning to the type of perfumery that I’d been hearing about all my life where one doesn’t cut corners, and where the act of creation is important to everything you do.

What was the environment like back then?

FM: The idea at that time was that perfumes should be sold in a self-service manner, in stores that were organized like supermarkets. But when you bring everybody to your aisle, you have to please everybody. That means you have to create a fragrance that’s built a bit like a house, with multiple doors so that everybody can come in. That generates perfumes that have very weak personalities. They’re like everybody’s best friend—very popular in the beginning, and then they finish very lonely because no one wants to marry them. They are not perfumes that will be the love of your life.

What gave you the idea to become a fragrance “publisher”?

FM: My friends were perfumers, and I used to talk to them every day. They wanted to create, to make a difference, to really reinvent the wheel each time to create strong, individual perfumes. But instead they were being asked to do the same thing over and over again for a cheap price and with no time. They were depressed. I also knew that the people in Paris and New York who really loved beautiful things weren’t able to find a perfume that they loved. So my idea was to create a connection between the best perfumers, who could come up with perfumes that were likely to be works of art, and the more demanding customers.

I knew that I wanted to put the perfumers forward. I always thought it was very unjust that perfumers were not named or invited to launches. It was such a waste, because their stories were so much more interesting than what the business was communicating.

What’s your role in the creation process?

FM: My relationship with perfumers is one of mutual trust, and I try to adapt to each of them and what they need. There are some, like Dominique Ropion, who I’ve known for 30 years and who is my closest ally, with whom I share common language. We exchange thoughts at every level, from the onset to months of tweaking so that the fragrances become like those Swiss watches that work perfectly. Then there are perfumers who need more privacy. I see them every two or three months and they give me the big stages that they deem important. My job is really to push them to be expressive and free. It’s also my job to help them stay on track, because there’s nothing worse than a perfume that is trying to say three things at the same time, or, when we are in a corner, to give them ideas that breathe new life into a creation.

How do you select the perfumers you work with?

FM: Perfumery is a funny business, because it’s very competitive, but people are also generally good sports and quite caring to one another. So we talk about each other’s good work. And when I hear about someone interesting, I go to them and ask them to show me things that they truly like, and then we do some trials, which helps me see how they function. I always appreciate someone telling me no, I don’t agree. All of the perfumers I’ve selected are very opinionated. Perfumery is talent, hard work, and technique, but you have to also have strength.

Your stores have also been quite revolutionary. What was the original idea behind them?

I wanted the bottles to have a very pared-down aesthetic, in order to glorify the perfume, but I thought we should compensate for their austerity by designing very beautiful stores. Ours were the first stores to look like homes—and that was because the endeavor was so personal to me. I was showing my friends’ work and I wanted people to feel comfortable while discovering that work. That whole experiential thing that people talk about so much today is something that we did 20 years ago. The other important thing I did was to come up with a manual to train people how to sell perfume according to individual personalities. This allows for a huge variety of perfumes to be made. You don’t have to shoot in the middle.

What’s the secret to matching a person with their perfect scent?

It’s basically just the art of listening, and observing. I believe that everyone wants to seduce in a certain way, and each person has an ideal. Perfume is like a silent language that reflects their aesthetics.

You also introduced a new way for customers to smell the scents.

I thought that the way perfume was experienced with blotters was wrong. Blotters are great instruments to work with in the lab, but they never give you a full picture of the perfume. They can tell you the story, but they don’t give you the atmosphere, and I wanted to create something which was the equivalent of a mirror for a garment, something that would sort of show you the aura that you would have while wearing the perfume. So I invented the smelling booths, which were adaptations of cabins that are used in labs in order to smell fragrances. I was also thinking of the way that perfumers I had worked with sprayed perfumes into corners. It was a trick they used—to spray the scent, walk away, then come back.

What’s your assessment of where the perfume industry is today, and your thoughts on where it will go next?

FM: Today we are at a crossroads. In the past, perfumery was mass, celebrity driven, and image driven. Now the conversation is back on product, which is wonderful. And I think that we—as well as brands like Serge Lutens and Byredo—have given hope to people that you can start small and become very good businesses. But I think now there is a lot of noise in the industry. Ultimately, only a few of the brands will survive. What I’m hoping comes out of it is that we will find new ways to be creative. I think the future is in people. I don’t believe in miracles of technology for perfume. I just believe that, as it has been in this business for hundreds of years, you’re going to have someone of great talent inventing a new shape, and then it will be called a trend because everybody will copy it. But the novelty will come from perfumers. Whether it’s a cream, a foam, or a perfume is almost irrelevant. It’s the scent that will elevate it.

What are your three favorite smells in the world?

FM: Mountain air at night; that contrast between burnt wood and snow. And the smell of white flowers in the summer, like a gardenia blooming at night. The last is very domestic: Smelling my wife in Portrait of a Lady is something that never bores me. This morning, I shaved just after she had left, and there was this smell of Portrait of a Lady still in our bathroom. It’s amazingly satisfying.

Lifetime Achievement Perfumer

Written by April Long

There aren’t many living noses who can be credited with creating an entirely new olfactive family, but, when Olivier Cresp concocted Thierry Mugler’s Angel in 1992, that’s precisely what he did. Angel’s unmistakable, head-turning whoosh of floral-tinged cotton-candy-and-patchouli voluptuousness ushered in an era of gourmand scents, forever changing the landscape of the fragrance industry.

Yet there also aren’t many perfumers as versatile as Cresp, who, over the course of his 40-plus-year career, has moved nimbly between the airy, lemony zest of Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue to the warm, leather-and-spice embrace of CH Carolina Herrera, continuously and passionately experimenting in search of the next revelatory sniff. A maestro of minimalism, Cresp can make notes dance in ways that are surprising and unique but also eminently wearable; he excels at crystallizing complex, often contradictory ideas so that they become sleek and sophisticated, sometimes even deceptively simple, when sprayed onto skin.

Born into a long line of aroma aficionados, Cresp grew up among the abundant, glorious smells of Grasse, perfumery’s historical and geographical beating heart, experiencing first-hand the raw materials that would come to define his craft. “My father was a broker, specializing in citrus and in flowers,” he says. “When my brother and sister [both of whom also became perfumers] and I were young, he would bring home small bottles of fresh natural ingredients every day. We would dip blotters into them, and line them up on our big Provencal furniture so that we could spend the whole evening smelling the evaporation of violet, rose, and jasmine. It was great to have that chance to smell them in their purest form.”

Cresp joined Firmenich in 1992, was named Master Perfumer in 2006, and was honored with the title Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres from the French Minister of Culture in 2012. Receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Fragrance Foundation is, he says, “like a dream. It’s something I didn’t expect at all in my career. To start from scratch and have maybe the highest award that one can get is really incredible. I’m very honored.” Then he laughs. “But I am too young, yes?” The best may be yet to come.

Do you remember the first smell that you truly loved?

Olivier Cresp: My father grew jasmine bushes in our garden, and the jasmine in Grasse is some of the best in the world—it’s heavy, a little bit animalic, and simply gorgeous. It was among the first ingredients I ever smelled, and I loved it immediately.

What was the first perfume you created?

I created my first fragrance when I was about eight years old. I was in my room, and I had collected flowers, which I tried to macerate in alcohol that I bought at the pharmacy. It did not smell great. But my first fragrance that became known was Aire by Loewe. It’s very sparkling and fresh, and it’s still one of the top selling fragrances on the Spanish market. I created it in 1985, and it helped me believe I could do something in perfumery, not only because it smelled good, but also because it was a great success.

And now people all over the world are wearing your work. How does it feel to pass someone on the street wearing a scent you created?

When someone is wearing one of my fragrances, whether it’s a man or a woman, it immediately makes me smile. I don’t say anything, but I feel very proud. Sometimes when my wife and I are out in Paris, she’ll introduce me to someone saying, “My husband is a perfumer.” They’ll say, “Oh, you are a nose? What did you create?” But when I tell them, they don’t believe me.

Which fragrances are you particularly proud of?

They’re like children, so it’s hard to choose! Some of them are very well known. Some of them are not known at all. It’s important for me that I’ve done some timeless fragrances, such as Lacoste Pour Femme, and Nina for Nina Ricci. I have several fragrances in different styles, which are still doing well on the market after 15 or 20 years, and I’m glad to have achieved that. I hope they will last forever. Of course, there is Light Blue—and Angel, the blockbuster.

Because of Angel, you are always going to be associated with gourmand notes.

I worked on Angel for two years, and I knew I had a terrific, very outstanding fragrance. When my wife was wearing it, people stopped her on the sidewalk. Once we even had someone knocking at our door in the middle of Paris at 9:00 at night saying, “We followed you home. What is that fragrance? Can we buy it?” We had to tell them it wasn’t on the market yet. That’s why I was very confident working on that idea. I knew deeply in my heart, and my wife as well, that we had in our hands a gold nugget, which would be very successful. But I didn’t predict that I was inventing a new family, the gourmand—although, while staying humble, that was the case.

How would you characterize your style as a perfumer?

OC: I don’t want anything to be too complicated. My style is very minimalist. I write short formulas, because otherwise I get lost. To keep a nice clear vision, I would use no more than 20 to 40 ingredients. I’m also lost when someone asks me to make an abstract fragrance. My style is more figurative. When I smell a flower, say for example a gardenia in Brazil, I immediately write down some ingredients to capture the smell. I then try to make a fragrance wearable, while also bringing diffusion, long-lastingness, and sillage. You can start with a beautiful idea, but then the beautiful idea has to be wearable on skin, which is not easy.

What are the most important qualities a nose can have?

 OC: Creativity, and creativity. I can teach someone how to make a fragrance powerful, or how to make it stay on the skin. The technical part is easy. But creativity is something that can’t be taught. I would also say that passion is very important. Sometimes I need to work on a fragrance for four or five years, with thousands of experiments. You need passion for that.

From whom have you learned the most?

OC: I learn from clients and colleagues every day, because it’s a wide, wide industry. I’m always smelling new ingredients and molecules, and trying to incorporate them. I’ve felt more confident since the age of 45. When I started in perfumery, someone told me, “You will need 10 years minimum to feel something.” I was quite upset, because I was 20 years old. I said, “Come on, the world belongs to me! In two years I will be a genius.” But no, he was right. I only really felt like I was getting started at 45. It’s like a good doctor, you need 10 years of learning, and then you have to practice. Now I know exactly where to go without doing too many experiments. I’m not doubting or hesitating.

What is your favorite smell in the world?

OC:  I should probably keep this a secret, but I love red wine. My favorite smell would definitely be an old, good, red Bordeaux. It’s woody, slightly spicy, nice and rich. Unfortunately, I cannot drink too much wine every day. Though I’m dreaming about a nice glass right now.