Put simply, Annette Green is a beauty industry icon—the grand dame of fragrance. For more than 40 years, she led The Fragrance Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the perfume industry in the United States. In this role she did more than perhaps any other figure to shape the trajectory of the modern fragrance industry. She also launched the first American fragrance-museum collection consisting of hundreds of perfume bottles dating back to the eighteenth century, established the FiFi Awards in 1973, and was instrumental in establishing the Bachelors and Masters Degree programs in cosmetics and fragrance business and marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Her most recent accomplishment is the Perfumed Plume 2019 Fragrance Book of the Year for Spritzing to Success with the Woman Who Brought an Industry to Its Senses.
Annette’s mother Mollie Green was in the perfume department at Wanamaker’s Department Store, in Philadelphia, when her water broke. Fragrance has very literally always been a part of her life. She changed, shaped, and developed not only the face of the business from the inside, but how the consumer perceived, bought, and came to love perfume in all its forms. At 95, Annette Green is still a visionary, full of wisdom and a true inspiration.
What is your first olfactive memory?
Lucien Lelong perfume, which was my mother’s signature scent her entire life.
Can you share the early story of your career that led you to open your own public relations agency?
I was always interested in journalism. During my senior year at Weequahic High School in Newark, I was named editor-in-chief of the yearbook. I made up my mind I would live and write in Manhattan—I just had to bide my time until I could get there. After graduation in 1942 with a secretarial certificate of excellence in hand, I went to work typing and taking dictation in a variety of offices in Newark.
Eventually, I landed a job with Hearst Magazines as an editorial assistant on their trade publication American Druggist. I was disappointed but was promised a transfer to Harper’s Bazaar when a position opened up. I reluctantly took the job, not realizing a major social shift was in the works. Teenagers were flexing their consumer muscle and becoming important cosmetic customers in drugstores.
Since I was the staff member closest in age, I was assigned a monthly column to advise druggists how to market to these eager but still unaware consumers. I asked my local druggist in Newark if I could work behind the counter on weekends to find out for myself how the business was changing and what would or wouldn’t work. He said “yes” and I soon made a sharp career turn which left my interest in fashion writing in the dust.
My bosses sent me to the private Shipman School of Journalism in Times Square where I graduated with a Certificate of Accomplishment. When I left the magazine I enrolled in a journalism class at New York University, attending at night for several years, paid for by my mother who cashed in her World War II war bonds. My goal was to learn everything I could about writing as a profession as well as about the beauty business from a behind-the-scenes perch.
I had a series of positions as a writer and in public relations learning the ropes behind the scenes in the beauty industry. I was headed up the marketing, PR, and promotion department in the New York office for Helene Curtis, which was as an assignment I thoroughly enjoyed until they decided to close the New York office and move us all to Chicago. Not me!
Instead, that’s when I decided to open my own public relations agency, encouraged by colleagues and potential clients. It was a very lucky moment in time where a young woman opening an agency was such a novel concept that it opened doors, and within a year it was on solid ground.
What was it like being a female entrepreneur in NYC in the ’50s?
At that time very few women worked on their own. For me, it wasn’t a conscious choice. I was determined to do whatever it might take to build my business. I never said no to a job. I always said yes and figured it out. My fallback position was to throw in the towel and get a job.
What compelled you to take over The Fragrance Foundation when it was on the verge of closing operations?
I had covered the organization when I was a reporter but sort of forgot about it. A group of fragrance executives approached me about working together to try to save the defunct Fragrance Foundation pro bono and I agreed. My job was to rebuild the organization, if possible. I was challenged on every front and told by industry members, over and over again, no one wanted The Fragrance Foundation. Forget it! For reasons I can’t really explain, it was never in my nature to give up or turn away from hard times. I dug in and began to analyze the depth of the problem.
How did you balance heading up The Fragrance Foundation, which was your pro-bono “side hustle,” while running your agency?
I respected Jack Mohr, who introduced me to fragrance industry insiders Joseph Danilek (Mary Chess), Paul Martinot (Caron), and Sydney Friend (International Flavors & Fragrance) who offered me the project, and loved fragrance—it took 10 years to turn things around.
As the influence of The Fragrance Foundation grew, I was caught up in its magic, and it wasn’t long before it became the lodestar of my life. Slowly I let my public relations business turn away from its client base, which allowed me to devote more and more of my energies to the fragrance industry here and abroad.
What was the state of the fragrance industry at this point in time?
In the 1950s women, who rarely worked outside the home, really only wore fragrance on special occasions and they didn’t buy it for themselves. And fragrance was sold in drugstores locked up behind glass. The handful of fragrance houses at the time would promote one fragrance, marketing it at Christmas as a gift for men to buy for women. In the 1960s when women started entering the workforce and began buying fragrance for themselves, everything was up for grabs. Fragrance companies were open to ideas and were not bogged down by corporate thinking. This is when the American fragrance industry began to grow.
What was your vision for the foundation?
I studied the industry and saw only four or five important companies—they were all French and they all promoted one fragrance. It just didn’t make any sense to me. I set out to figure out how I could get women to buy more fragrance. It became clear to me I needed to make some important alliances with influential industry leaders to give my plans credibility. I reached out and found a few who believed in the mission.
Women’s lives in America were undergoing incredible changes as the workforce opened up to them. I took advantage of what was going on by introducing the concept of a “wardrobe of fragrance” to guide women in their choices. Next, I moved the industry away from the luxury connotation of “perfume” to the more generic appeal of “fragrance” which covered the whole spectrum of products from colognes to soaps. As time went by, and women began to understand the roles of fragrance in their lives, it gave companies the impetus to introduce a growing number of new fragrances as well as develop line extensions to existing brands, which increased sales dramatically and lured American companies into the mix.
It took me ten years to turn what was a small $500,000 French perfume business in the United Sates into the multibillion dollar industry it is today.
Was there a defining moment or tipping point at which fragrance went from a small category in the US beauty landscape to a multibillion-dollar industry?
There was not one singular event—it was a confluence of many; women entering the workforce, merger and acquisition activity of fragrance brands, the emergence of American fragrance brands and the evolution of the department store. The fragrance industry developed against the cultural shifts that were occurring in the 1950s and 1960s. Fragrances reflect a time and place in history in the way art does. However, as the fragrance industry in the US began to grow it became more and more corporate and less and less adventuresome.
You retired 15 years ago—why did you decide it was time to write a book?
When I retired I got involved with the arts because I love it and thought it would make me stop thinking about fragrance, but I couldn’t stop, I guess it’s part of my DNA. I decided to write the book because it was a way to revisit my experience and share it, but I also felt I had a responsibility to document the history of the industry. Perfume is in my veins.
You dedicated Spritzing to Success with the Woman Who Brought an Industry to Its Senses to your mother, Mollie Green. How did your mother imprint your career and fragrance?
I was the only child of a single mother and we more friends than mother and daughter. She never spoke a harsh word to me, but somehow I knew what she expected of me and responded because I wanted to please her. She was a talented milliner and worked really hard but never fulfilled her dreams because it was very hard for women to step out into the workforce at that time. I decided I was not going to be like that—I was going to follow my dream. My mother may not have always understood what I was doing, but she always supported me.
She was also fun to be with and had the right perspective on things. I remember walking down Fifth Avenue one day and, while passing Tiffany’s, I commented on a gorgeous woman getting out of a Rolls-Royce. In that moment my mother told me to never feel less than anyone else. She said you don’t know what else maybe is going on in that woman’s life. We were very connected. I never found anyone that loved me that much. She is still very much with me every day.
What do you think of the current state of the fragrance industry?
I find it sad that it is so difficult for small fragrance brands to compete. The emergence of niche fragrance brands put an emphasis on the product which challenged the status quo, but now corporate brands have mimicked the indie formula.
What do you think of the DTC fragrance brands?
I wish them luck. This business model removes the emphasis on the product and really becomes about marketing and advertising. Fragrance is about the senses—you need to touch, see, and smell it to really experience scent.
What do you see for the future of fragrance?
It’s interesting and exciting that some of the work I did at The Fragrance Foundation that was a little ahead of its time is finally getting traction. We did research on the role of odor and behavior and many years later this concept is just now being embraced and explored. I think we are going to see fragrance become more involved with wellness with benefits like calming, focus, or alertness.
People need to smell fragrance to really experience it, and the department store model is no longer working. I think we are going to see alliances that might seem inappropriate or odd but provide new kinds of places that will provide exposure for consumers to learn about their senses. I can imagine sensory centers or museums that engage the senses, educate and provide consumers with experiences, and have a well-merchandised store to purchase fragrance. The industry is just not there right now.
You and your generation paved the way for women in the workplace. Is there any advice you would give to women today?
Take a hard look at yourself like you would a product or a brand and ask these questions: Where do you want to be? What makes you fulfilled and happy? What are you good at? What are you not good at?
Find that one talent that makes you special and make it great. Also, make yourself indispensable by being well versed. There will always be competition, but you can’t work from left to right. So stay focused on what you want to do, work really hard, and you will succeed. You have to have passion and commitment—passion with a purpose.
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