Let me confess up front that I’m allergic to perfume. All perfume. The cheap stuff and the expensive top-shelf stuff. In fact, the costlier the perfume, the worse my allergic reaction.
Over the years, I’ve had a standing prohibition against all scents, fragrances, aromas and odors in our home for my four daughters, one wife and one dog, although no one listened. (Doggie deodorizer is a killer, but my wife insists on spritzing her when she comes in from outside to take away that wet dog smell.)
Perfume is like kryptonite to me. I can smell it across a crowded room, and then the wheezing, sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes begin.
So it was with some irony and a little trepidation that I greeted the UPS man at the door as he handed me a copy of a book by “The High Priestess of the Fragrance World,” Annette Green, 94, the woman who turned the half-million dollar perfume business into a multi-billion-dollar fragrance industry. Was someone pranking me?
However, I didn’t want my disability to bias me against Annette, who from everything I could tell is quite the party girl and philosopher, quoting thinkers, like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Winston Churchill and Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
I didn’t want to be like reporters who go into a story with a bias, so I vowed to stay impartial and not let my personal problem with perfume influence what I had to say. And I certainly wasn’t going to be one of those journalists who accepts freebies. That means no perfume samples, Annette. Please. I have enough trouble walking through the Macy’s cosmetics department, where sales associates chase you with their squirt guns.
Annette’s memoir, “Spritzing to Success With the Woman Who Brought an Industry to Its Senses,” tells how she transformed the perfume industry into a $4 billion business in the U.S. and is still going strong at 94.
It began in the 1950s, when she saved the struggling Fragrance Foundation and went on to lead it for 40 years. To Annette, the industry represented more than just perfume. It encompassed all fragrance, including cologne, bath products and toilet water. (I never understood what toilet water is, and I don’t want to find out.) She also transformed the female perception of perfume from a luxury item for special occasions to an enhancement that women in the workforce could wear every day.
A Jersey girl, she began her career as an editorial assistant at the Hearst magazine American Druggist, hoping she could eventually transfer to Harper’s Bazaar and write about fashion. But then she started a column that told drug store owners how to market to teenagers, who used to go to cosmetic counters to buy perfume. The column was such a hit that it changed her aspirations. Fragrance, not fashion, became her focus.
Later in her career, she initiated the “Fifi” awards, the Oscars of her industry, and started a perfume museum. Along the way, she became friends with celebrities, like Zsa Zsa Gabor, Julie Andrews and Gregory Hines. You’ve heard of Fashion Week? Well, Annette launched Fragrance Week, and when that time rolls around, I stay off the streets of New York.
What especially intrigued me was her “Sense of Smell Institute,” which studies smell and the psychological benefits of fragrance. Annette even coined the term “aromochology,” which is the study of the olfactory system and the behavioral effects of smell on our stress levels, relationships and relaxation … in my case, that means hysteria and hives. Could perfume hold the secret to long life? For all we know, Larry King and Jane Fonda spritz themselves every morning and every night before bed.
What most inspired me about Annette’s story was that she found a higher purpose in life and gladly shared it with others. I was so inspired I can honestly say, “Annette, I hope to meet you someday, but please stay on the opposite side of the room if you’re wearing perfume.”
I probably should quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, but Bob Dylan will have to do… “May you stay forever young.”
Contact Joe Pisani at email@example.com.