Hall of Fame

Tom Ford
Written by April Long

If ever a man needed no introduction, it would be Tom Ford. The Texas-born, New Mexico-raised fashion titan has transformed what the world wears and what it smells like. His recent appointment as chairman of the CFDA cements his status as national icon and tastemaker par excellence, while the impeccable pedigree of his Tom Ford Beauty and Private Blend scents —which have received several Fragrance Foundation awards worldwide —have made this year’s Fragrance Foundation Hall of Fame an honor both well-deserved and timely. “Everyone in the fragrance community is looking forward to seeing Tom Ford accept this award” says Fragrance Foundation President Linda G. Levy. “When a designer creates a brand and stays true to its DNA, it really shows.”

Ford’s love of fragrance began in childhood, and his first scent memory is of the heady rush of his grandmother’s signature perfume: Estée Lauder Youth Dew. He approaches fragrance cinematically, working with perfumers to create olfactive panoramas—masterfully using the endless nuances of scent to create mood, to amplify seduction, to invite the mind to travel and to dream. “You can live a moment in life with one scent, and you can live the same moment in life with a different scent, and you can have a completely different reaction,” he says. “Scent is one of the things that alters mood, and it’s incredibly important to alter your mood.”

The designer created Tom Ford Beauty in partnership with The Estée Lauder Companies Executive Group President, John Demsey and launched in 2006 with the now-iconic Black Orchid—a scent originally positioned for women but adopted by men. This was followed by the introduction of Ford’s premium Private Blend range in 2007 with a selection of 12 scents, many of which remain best-sellers today: Tuscan Leather, Oud Wood, Neroli Portofino and Tobacco Vanille. Similar to the way that Ford had revolutionized fashion when he became creative director of Gucci in 1994 by bringing back sensuality and modernizing notions of decadence, the unveiling of Private Blend was groundbreaking: It shifted the dialogue around what a designer fragrance could be, and raised the bar on could be accomplished within the realm of luxury niche perfume. Tom Ford Private Blend represents creativity without constraints—the palette of exquisite ingredients and the storytelling behind each scent makes them compelling not for connoisseurs, but also inspires the fragrance-curious to explore, to begin to learn the language. 

“The 1990s were all about minimalism,” Ford says. “All the architecture was pared down, everything was empty, and clothing was that way, too. Fragrances became watery and bottles were transparent. Now there’s a rediscovery of things that are more complex. I’m much more baroque in my tastes.”

Tom Ford worked closely with now retired senior vice president Karyn Khoury for over a decade and has partnered with many masters of their craft, including Rodrigo Flores-Roux, Calice Becker, Shyamala and Antoine Maisondieu, Sonia Constant, Nathalie Cetto and David Apel. “I feel fortunate that the perfumers that I have worked with are among the best in the business,” Ford says. “They are the best at what they do, and I feel honored to work with them. I take every opportunity to learn what I can from them in terms of quality of ingredients or in terms of inspiration to make people dream.”

Ford has always remained adamant that his fragrances defy preconceived notions of gender, playfully flouting and rejecting the definition of his-or-hers—whether his scent collections are inspired by the rarest oud, musk, or roses, they are meant to subvert stereotypes. “I love how classically feminine ingredients, like florals, can be blended to have a masculine appeal,” he says. “For example, Neroli Portofino balances floral notes with citrus notes and amber undertones to give it more depth and texture. The Private Blend customer doesn’t necessarily care if it is labeled as masculine or feminine. They want something that is precious and unique.”

Ford rocked the industry yet again in 2017 with the launch of Fucking Fabulous, a trailblazing—and slightly shocking—lush hit of bitter almond, orris, leather, tonka bean and clary sage that sold out in a single day and is to this day the top Private Blend launch.

“I think fragrance might be more important than clothes,” Ford has said. “Because, like music or food, scent is a very direct sensory stimulant. It provokes the senses, it brings up emotion and memory and feeling.”

Game Changer

Written by April Long

Beneath Laura Slatkin’s soft-spoken demeanor lies a true Woman of Action. Not only is she a fashion plate, an incomparable hostess, and a philanthropic powerhouse, she is the home fragrance pioneer we have to thank for the fact that the category has become so vital. Slatkin first introduced luxury scented candles to the US market, along with her husband Harry, with Slatkin & Co in 1992. She went on to create home fragrances for a roster of brands including Christian Dior, Ralph Lauren, and Jonathan Adler, and launched her own blockbuster venture, NEST Fragrances, in 2008. Slatkin implicitly understands that a candle, when constructed with the complexity and nuance of an eau de parfum, can glorify our shared spaces and offer an invisible welcome when we walk into a room, while also acting as a silent but profound communicator of who we are and how we wish to move through the world. As NEST has branched out into fine fragrance and body care, the brand’s spectrum of unique and addictive scents has made it truly iconic. “When I first started the company,” Slatkin says, “I’d go to a dinner party and sit next to someone and they’d say, “What do you do?” “I have a home fragrance company called NEST Fragrances.” And they’d say, “Oh,” and go back to their dinner. But now, when I say that I founded NEST Fragrances, they say, “I love that brand!” To see someone’s face light up—that’s my measurement of success.” 

How does it feel to be honored with the Game Changer award? 

It’s as exciting as it is for an actress to win Best Actress at the Academy Awards. That’s how meaningful it is to me, because it’s before all of the professionals who I work with, compete with, and partner with. It’s just an extraordinary moment. 

When did your love of fragrance begin? 

In 1992, after I married Harry. Prior to that I worked on Wall Street, and I was buried in finance, so I didn’t really think about it. It wasn’t until my brother-in-law told me, as an interior designer, that the final touch on a beautifully decorated home is a beautiful home fragrance. He showed me that to really create an ambiance in a home and please all the senses is something extraordinary. When we got into the business, I’d never even burned a scented candle before. It just wasn’t on my radar. But the first time a perfumer brought in samples for me to smell based on the inspiration I gave him, I picked one of them up and smelled it and said, “Oh my God, this is beautiful.” It really impacted me and moved me so that I could feel my whole body transform when I inhaled this beautiful fragrance. And then we lit it, and it filled the room with the most extraordinary scent. There was no question that this was perfection. It became our Bamboo candle, which has been our number one scent for 25 years. 

At the time, there was nothing else like it. Do you think that’s why it was such an immediate success? 

Yes, Slatkin & Co. started with 12 fragrances and went to 24 fragrances. Saks Fifth Avenue launched us on their couture floor, which was very unique at that time. Home fragrance was usually on the eighth floor buried in the back of the bra department. After that, we grew to be the number one luxury brand and everybody started getting into the business and coming to us for help in creating their assortments. When I started NEST Fragrances in 2008, my whole premise was, why can’t every scent be a Bamboo? Let’s raise the bar. Nothing gets launched unless it moves you, and impacts you, and transports you, in the same way that Bamboo did for me when I first smelled it. 

What else do you think makes NEST so special? 

There are a few pillars that we stand on. Number one, the glass packaging. You can put it in any room. If you have a modern house, if your room is green, if it’s orange, if it’s purple, it still fits in. That was really important to me. We also have the highest fragrance load in the industry in terms of the amount of perfume in our candles, and we have a proprietary wax formulation that we developed over 25 years that makes the candles extremely efficacious in filling a room with scent. That’s why NEST is loved. NEST is loved because each fragrance has a really strong personality; each one creates a different mood, and that mood is very apparent when you walk into a room. 

Is that what defines a good home scent for you? 

It’s one that really transforms the space. So much so that when people walk in, they say, “Oh my God, it smells so good in here.” That’s my definition. Those three words, “Oh my God,” are our guiding principles. 

What was your creative process when launching your fine fragrance collection? 

I’m always working with master perfumers for home fragrance. And in the back of my mind, I always wanted to do fine fragrance but never had the inspiration for it. What would it look like? What would its positioning be? It never really gelled until I was sitting in the library one day looking at some art books. And I came across this book on Mrs. Delany, an 18th century botanical artist whose work really moved me. From there, I commissioned an artist to paint paintings of flowers that I really loved, and then we took the paintings to the perfumer, who used the inspiration to create the fragrances. The collection was launched exclusively at Sephora in 2013, and today we are consistently ranked between 7 and 9 against 125 or so nationally advertised brands. I think what moves the needle is the passion, the creativity, the originality, and the inspiration coming together in a way that creates an authentic story. 

You recently opened your first New York flagship. Why was now the right time? 

We have NEST home fragrance in Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Saks, Nordstrom. We have fine fragrance in Sephora. The body collection was launched at Ulta Beauty. So we wanted one place where we can bring all of the categories together as a story. Because that’s the future for NEST, to start to bring together the brand in home, fine fragrance, and personal care now that it’s gained such incredible traction. To be this enormously successful in fine fragrances is really ground breaking. And there’s a different way of looking at fragrances today. It’s about having a whole wardrobe. When I wake up every morning, I have all eight fragrances in my closet and I say, “Who am I going to see today? What kind of mood do I want to create? What am I wearing?”, etc. It’s no longer about a singular scent. 

What kind of sensibility were you able to bring to the table when creating fragrances for other brands? 

We’ve created home fragrance for over 100 luxury brands, which has given me my PhD in fragrance. Working with perfumers, and understanding the various notes and how they blend together, was an extraordinary learning experience. But I also had to get into the psyche of every brand. What is their DNA? Aerin Lauder and Vera Wang are very different than Jonathan Adler, and very different from Ralph Lauren. Everything from the packaging, to the vessel, to the scent, it all has to be harmonious. I found it very exciting and interesting to delve into that. 

While you’ve been building this empire, you’ve also found time to do so much amazing philanthropic work. What are you particularly proud of in that area? 

When Harry and I started NEXT for AUTISM, we were thinking about how when our son David was first diagnosed, the best place to get an evaluation was Yale, and there was a four-year waiting list. I just kept thinking about that single woman living in Harlem, three kids, working three jobs to put food on the table, one with autism. So what I’m most proud of is the fact that we have partnered with the government to bring services to that population that doesn’t have the resources. Whether it’s our charter schools, which are located in Harlem and the Bronx, or whether it’s our brain center that we built with Columbia, Cornell, and near New York–Presbyterian Hospital, which accepts any insurance, nobody gets turned down, and provides state-of-the- art care – we’re bringing that excellence to a population that normally wouldn’t have access to that. 

Lifetime Achievement Perfumer

Written by April Long

“When you decide to wear a perfume, it becomes a part of you. And when you wear it, you’re saying something to others.”

Dominique Ropion is known for his gentlemanly flair, his extreme diligence when concocting a juice, and a creative curiosity that knows no bounds. As a perfumer extraordinaire, his countless triumphs have included Ysatis and Amarige by Givenchy, La Vie est Belle by Lancôme, Alien by Thierry Mugler, Invictus by Paco Rabanne, and Portrait of a Lady and Carnal Flower for Frédéric Malle.  

Ropion was exposed to the world of perfume at a young age. Both his mother and grandfather worked for the French fragrance house Roure, and, as a teenager, he worked there as a lab assistant. Still today he recalls, “I did not think I would ever be a perfumer,” so he went to study physics instead. As fragrance history would have it a last-minute spot opened up at the Roure school, and he decided to explore the opportunity. “I loved mathematics and science,” he explains, “but I loved much more the aesthetic side of the world. I always loved to smell, even when I was a child. I would smell everything. So in fact it was very natural for me to become a perfumer in the end.” Reading his eloquent book, smelling his exquisite creations, one cannot imagine Ropion being anything else. His passion and drive for understanding the nuances of aroma and emotion, and the many ways that thoughts and desires can be translated into a beautiful scent are what drives him. As he writes in Aphorisms of a Perfumer, “A perfume contains endless combinations with the power to rouse the most diverse sensibilities, since it is always clothed in its wearers dreams.” 

How does it feel to receive this award from The Fragrance Foundation? 

It is a great honor. It’s incredible. For me, my career is not finished at all, but it is a great culmination of all that I have done. It’s like a dream. An American dream!  

From whom have you learned the most in your career? 

The perfumery school at Roure was an excellent school, and it’s very important for perfumers to have exceptional training. Just like it’s important for a doctor to go to a good university. After I finished school, I worked with master perfumer Jean-Louis Sieuzac for ten years. But for me, I learned the most from all the great perfumes. Shalimar for example was a master. The study of Shalimar and many other masterpieces for me was very important, it taught me a great deal. 

You write about fragrance as a language. What does that mean to you? 

Perfume is a kind of message. An aesthetic message. Perfume can touch you very deeply and very emotionally. And you can express yourself by wearing a perfume. It can be a part of your identity or a part of your own personality. When you decide to wear a perfume, it becomes a part of you. And when you wear it, you’re saying something to others.  

How do you describe your style as a perfumer? 

It is much easier for me to describe the style of other perfumers than it is for me to describe my own. But I’ve worked in every type of family in perfumery – it could be very oriental, it could be Middle Eastern, it could be very floral, anything. I like to work in all these ways. But how to define my style? I don’t know. I try to be very direct. If I’m working on a cologne, I want it to be very direct, very clear, and I would want the same thing if I were working on an oriental or anything else. 

You’re known for being extremely diligent. What is the process of creation like for you? 

A perfume is the result of two or three things. First of all, you have to work diligently to create a perfect composition, with a powerful message. That is basic. Just like a pianist has to know very well how to play before they can create music.  So as a perfumer you must know the technique. You must know the accords, the families of the raw materials, all of the classic elements. These are your tools. If you have an idea but you don’t have the tools, you can’t make something good. Then of course creativity is very important. What is creativity? I don’t think it is easy to define, but I do know that you have to be very curious. And you have to listen to people, and be able to feel the atmosphere of the time and pulse of the world. It’s this type of mixture. It’s also a process that can take many, many trials. You can be very conceptual at the beginning. You can say, I want to make something in the spirit of Shalimar, for instance, but very modern and with a very important green effect. So that’s your direction of work and then you see what happens.  

How do you know when you’ve finished? Is it instinctual? 

Often there is a deadline, which is what tells you to finish. But you are never finished, in a way. Because so many directions are always possible. I’m finished when the customer tells me that they want to put that formula in the bottle. If it was up to me, I could continue forever.  

Which fragrances that you’ve created are you particularly proud of?  

When I created my first fragrance, I was very young. It was Givenchy Ysatis, and it was a big success. I was very surprised. I was initially surprised to have been chosen by Givenchy, and then I was very surprised that it was a big success. I am also very proud that it was liked by other perfumers, which was nice to hear and to have that respect. Of course, some perfumes are more important in the story of perfumery, but I love them all. They’re all a part of my personal history.  

What gives a perfume that iconic timelessness? 

There is no exact science to timelessness for me, but I do know what makes a good perfume. A good perfume is one that you can recognize immediately. You can distinguish it from all other perfumes. It’s as clear as that. You may like it or not like it, but you know it either way, like if you can say, ‘oh, that’s Chanel No. 5..’ If you can recognize it immediately, it’s a great perfume. There are many perfumes like that, that make a statement. And those are the perfumes that will stay around forever.   

You work with young perfumers – how do you recognize and nurture young talent? 

It’s difficult to recognize. You can learn very well how to compose a perfume, and know the technique very well. That’s 90 percent of the creation. And we don’t know why one perfumer will do something very special while another perfumer with exactly the same training will do something else. The determination and the motivation and focus are all very important. But to know who will be the next perfumer who will create the next Chanel No. 5? This you can never predict. I’m very involved in the curriculum we developed to train our future perfumers, and have personally mentored several of them, and must say I’m particularly proud of seeing them develop and blossom, and already create market successes. 

You have been called the Master of Flowers. How do floral notes continue to inspire and surprise you? 

All flowers are very complex formulas that I am fascinated to analyze each time I smell one.  When you analyze the smell of the flower, you begin to understand it’s a formula. One of the most incredible formulas in the world because it’s one where nature is the perfumer and the perfumer becomes the student. And you can use some elements that you’ve learned from nature and transpose that into your creation. For example, with Carnal Flower, tuberose absolute is of course very important, but around it is a lot of accords that I learned from analyzing other flowers. Compared to woods, a flower has an incredible complexity of molecules, which is of so much value to a composer.  

What is your favorite smell in the world?

That is very interesting question. I love the smell of rose, and tuberose. I love the smell of florals because some of them to me, such as jasmine, are like primary colors. Then there are other things. I love the smell of skin – that’s the smell of life. I love the smell of the sea, when you take a walk along the beach and you smell the salt and the air together, that complexity. And I’m going to say something surprising, but I love the smell of the city, particularly Paris, including the multiple scents you can discover in the Paris underground. But for me, everything is inspirational and I don’t have one single favorite.  

You’ve written that even terrible smells can be wonderful. 

Exactly. Even smells in a farm can be wonderful and amazing. For example, where the cows are, there is a beautiful smell. It’s strong, it’s heavy, but it’s very interesting and you instinctually know it forever. Of course, it’s not the kind of smell that you would want to wear. I love the smell of the cow, and I love the smell of the rose—but I would prefer to wear the rose.