Interview by Brenna Kischuk
From the feel of lace on skin to the sounds of satisfaction, seduction is best performed when all five senses are engaged. Perhaps the most important (though often neglected) sense in seduction is the sense of smell. Pheromones have long been the subject of scientific study in animals, but applying the same principles and research to humans is more complex. What is known, however, is the link between scent and memory and the role that smell, along with our other senses, plays in attraction.
Annette Green championed the intersection of science and smell through her work with The Fragrance Foundation and its research and education division, The Sense of Smell Institute. In the 1960s she helped women realize the need for a “wardrobe of fragrance.” While certain fragrances were geared toward sex and romance, others were more appropriate for the workplace or sport. “The sense of smell is where memory is stored – emotion, sexuality, imagination,” Green says. “Smelling is crucial to our feelings of well-being and acts as an invisible communicator. As Dr. Margaret Mead said, ‘You can never have a relationship with someone whose smell you don’t like.’”
Annette is completing her memoir, High Priestess of Fragrance, which will cover the forty years she spent with The Fragrance Foundation. I recently spoke with her about her own history with fragrance and the industry’s past, present, and future.
How did you get started in the fragrance industry?
I was originally a reporter in NY and worked for a magazine called American Druggist. It was a time when the teenager was just starting to be a drug store customer and so because I was the closest in age, the magazine gave me a column to write that would tell druggists how to sell beauty and fragrance products. At the time I didn’t know anything about the beauty industry – I didn’t even know it existed – so I went to my local drugstore in New Jersey and asked if I could work there on the weekends. I started by dressing the windows and working behind the counter, but became completely fascinated with the subjects of beauty and fragrance because I realized that the products were psychologically important. Especially fragrance, which you can’t even see.
I started to read more about fragrance, about its history and how it evolved through the centuries. As a young reporter I covered The Fragrance Foundation, but I never imagined fragrance would be the apex of my career. I went on to work for a few fragrance and beauty companies before starting my own public relations and marketing agency. After a particularly disastrous ad campaign, The Fragrance Foundation became defunct and in discussions of whether to shut down forever or try and save it, someone who knew me and my agency recommended they talk to me before making a decision. He was a mentor of mine and while they had no money, he knew how much I loved fragrance and thought with the success of my agency I might be willing to take on The Fragrance Foundation pro bono.
So that’s what you did.
I met with them, listened to their story, and told them I would do everything I could to save it. It took me ten years to turn it around, and it was a very critical time for women, as they were just starting to enter the workforce.
Yes, the early 1960s. And as women entered the workforce they began to look at their lives in a different way. Up until that time they only wore perfume on Saturday nights – a little behind their ears and the nape of the neck before heading out on a date. But as their lives became more multifaceted they became more imaginative about their wardrobes, and that included fragrance. I helped them understand that you wouldn’t wear a sexy fragrance to work, and that you could have a wardrobe of fragrances just like you had a wardrobe of clothes. Women began wanting a different scent for work, for romance, for sport, etc. And this changed the industry because fragrance companies began to focus on and promote more than just one fragrance.
What’s your wardrobe of fragrance?
Sometimes I wear two or three fragrances in a single day. Fragrances can live with each other. In the morning I usually put on something bright and upbeat to get me going. It changes to something mellower at noontime, and something sexy and sophisticated in the evening. Of course, I have to think of where I’m going. If I’m going to the theater or going to be in an enclosed environment, I’m very careful of how much perfume I put on. Everyone should have a circle of fragrance, which is about an arm’s length from your body. People shouldn’t be able to smell you unless they come in your circle.
Today, fragrance is a billion dollar industry. It’s hard to believe it stemmed only from women expanding their fragrance wardrobe.
It helped immensely, but the next great thing to happen was when U.S. pharmaceutical companies bought up the French fragrance houses in the 1970s. Fragrance suddenly became big business, but the pharmaceutical companies knew nothing about the industry. That’s where I jumped in and started to publish materials and make myself available to help them navigate the market and sell their products. It helped build The Fragrance Foundation and slowly but surely I gave up all my other accounts and dedicated myself entirely to fragrance. It was the most wonderful luck of the draw.
You mentioned before about the psychological component of fragrance, which you can’t even see. Can you speak more to the intersection of scent and science?
There wasn’t much interest in the sense of smell, not even in the fragrance industry, but in the early 1980s I found out about a sensory psychologist at Yale who was doing work in the olfactory sciences. He invited me to see what he was working on. I soon found a whole group of sensory psychologists and neuroscientists at leading universities and hospitals who were working on odor and behavior. I knew their research could offer huge benefits to the fragrance industry so I went to The Fragrance Foundation board and suggested we create an entity devoted to funding and supporting this research. That’s how The Sense of Smell Institute was born.
The sense of smell located in that part of the brain where memory is stored – emotion, sexuality, and imagination. It’s crucial to our well-being and to communication with other people. As Dr. Margaret Mead said, “You can never have a relationship with someone whose smell you don’t like.”
What about the transition to more synthetic fragrances being introduced to the market?
Chanel No. 5 was the first fragrance to use a synthetic ingredient, called aldehyde, and they were hugely successful. Synthetics allow the perfumer to create more interesting fragrances. When you could only use rose and lavender you were rather limited. It was the invention of synthetics that allowed the industry to grow so dramatically and be so varied. So it’s not a bad thing, even though a lot of people think so. And in some instances, certain ingredients – animal ingredients in particular – are no longer available because of animal rights activists. Now those ingredients are created synthetically, and that’s a good thing.
It sounds like technology has been an asset to the industry, rather than a detriment.
Exactly. Some perfume houses have even developed scientific techniques that remove the fragrance from a flower without cutting the flowers. And one company has found a way to go to the top of trees in the Brazilian rainforest and find flowers no one has ever heard of or smelled and remove the fragrance without destroying the flowers.
Are there any pitfalls?
I don’t think so, but it depends on the creativity of the perfumer. If they don’t incorporate the scientific discoveries of fragrance development it’s not going to work.
Where are things headed with the fragrance and the industry?
I think that right now the industry is a bit stuck, that they haven’t made the leap into the future. They introduce an awful lot of fragrances, many of which are very similar, and they have ignored the science of smell to a great degree. They haven’t taken advantage of all the research, and often don’t advertise the emotional connection because they don’t understand them. The marketers don’t talk enough to the perfumers, and they should be forming an alliance with not only the perfumers but also with the psychologists and scientists studying smell. Often times new information goes to the perfumer, but not to the marketer. The bottle, the imagery, they have to express what’s inside, and if the bottle doesn’t work the fragrance is not going to be successful. Fragrance is a concept, a mood. It’s like art and you can’t quite explain why you’re drawn to it or describe what it does for you. There are lots of incredible fragrances on the market, but you have to be a pretty discerning and educated consumer.