If you haven’t heard of Annette Green, wake up and smell the perfume. She’s one of America’s leading fragrance authorities and futurists, and the definition of a fearless entrepreneur. Green served as Executive Director and President of the Fragrance Foundation, a non-profit, educational organization, for 40 years. Her memoir, “Spritzing to Success with the Woman Who Brought an Industry to Its Senses,” focuses on the concepts she instituted to help drive the small six-figure industry to its current multi-billion-dollar stature.
Green is credited with inventing the concept of the “celebrity fragrance” (think White Diamonds by Liz Taylor), and in 1994 established The Annette Green/Fragrance Foundation Studio at The Fashion Institute of Technology – the first fragrance laboratory ever to be established in an American University. Green helped to establish the F.I.T.Cosmetic/Fragrance Marketing Bachelor’s Program, where students learn first-hand about how fragrances are developed, constructed, evaluated, tested, and marketing.
In the 1980’s, Ms. Green created the Scents of Time, a perfume company which specialized in re-creating ancient fragrances, placing the history of fragrance against the backdrop of the changing mores of the societies where fragrances were born. After opening at the Museum of the City of New York to rave reviews in 1988, the Exhibition traveled to Washington D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas. In the Fall of 2006, the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) Museum & Galleries opened The Annette Green Perfume Museum, a permanent installation open year round.
Listen or read below to hear Annette describe how she was destined for her career (hint: her mother’s water broke in the perfume aisle of a Wannamaker’s), rising through the ranks of the male-dominated fragrance industry in the 1950s and 60s, and how today, over 60 years since her career began, she never stops working, learning, and inspiring others.
Grace Cho [00:00:00] Hello, this is Grace Cho of Artrepreneur. Today we have Annette Green, a legend in the fragrance industry. I believe that you define the word “trailblazer”.
Annette Green [00:00:14] Well, thank you I appreciate that.
Grace Cho [00:00:16] I’m going to read a quote from Jenny B Fine who’s the Executive Editor of Beauty at Women’s Wear Daily. She says “Annette is an icon of the world of scent. Gaining the trust of all the giant and colorful, to say the least, personalities and characters that inhabited the industry, is a testament to her strength of character, purpose of mission, and above all, love of the fragrance world.
Annette Green [00:00:42] And that is a lovely quote.
Grace Cho [00:00:44] It is. So, Annette, please tell us about your early life.
Annette Green [00:00:49] Well, I was born accidentally in Philadelphia because my mother lived in Atlantic City and she came to Philadelphia to shop at Wannamaker’s in her ninth month. And in the perfume department her water broke. So, after the being born, we went back to Atlantic City and lived there for a while, but I was basically a New Jersey Girl until getting out of high school. I only wanted to live in New York. That was always my dream.
Grace Cho [00:01:24] So you went to school in New Jersey.
Annette Green [00:01:28] Up until I went to the NYU School of Journalism at night when I came to New York. I wanted to be a journalist actually, originally.
Grace Cho [00:01:39] How did you get into the fragrance industry?
Annette Green [00:01:41] Well, it’s a funny story. I wanted to work for Harper’s Bazaar. So, I went to Hearst for an editorial job and the only opening they had was on a trade magazine called American Druggist. And I said, “Well, I’m really not interested in working for American Druggist.” And they said, “Well, take the job and when there’s an opening on Bazaar we’ll move you over”. So, I said “okay”. I went into the magazine and worked for two incredibly wonderful men and was this editorial assistant to one of them.
Annette Green [00:02:15] And it was just the time in the 50s where the teenager was becoming a cosmetic customer of the drugstore, and I was the closest in age, so they gave me a column to write in the Druggist telling them how to sell to teenagers. And I went to my local druggist in Newark and I said “can I work here on the weekends? Because I don’t know what teenagers are doing and I’d love to have a better fix on it.” And he said yes. So, I started to realize as I sold product to teenagers that it was much more interesting in a way for me, psychologically, as to why people buy fragrance that no one could see on them, and why makeup is so important, etc., that this was, for me, more interesting than fashion. And I decided to switch directions and go to work for a few companies that were in the cosmetic area. The first one was a company called Richard Hudnut of DuBarry, which at the time in the 50s was like Arden and Rubenstein. It was quite an important company. They had a salon on Fifth Avenue, and I was hired to write sales training materials for the salesgirl, which was a great opportunity because I learned how to tell a salesgirl how to sell, and I learned all about product ingredients and what it takes to really become a successful sell to the consumer. And then I got an offer to work at McFadden Publications. I was the book reviewer, I was the movie critic, I was the fashion editor and I was also the beauty editor. And then I got a call out of the blue from Scripps Howard that they were looking for an Assistant Woman’s Page Editor. And I said, “yes, yes I’ll take it”. And, I interviewed Ezio Pinza, who was doing “South Pacific” at the time. I was doing really great things. One day I got a telephone call from a man who had worked for Richard Hudnut named Jack Mohr. He said. I’m now president of a perfume company called Lentheric, which was a very fine small French perfume company at the time. And he said, “I think I’d like you to be my PR person”. I said, “I’d never done it and I don’t know that I can do it”. He said, “You’ll find out. I have total faith in you”. So, I called all my buddies in PR and I went to be his PR person. He loved promotions and he loved celebrities. He encouraged me to reach out to Marlene, and reach out to Judy because we were having these parties all the time.
Annette Green [00:04:51] And I learned a lot from him. And then Squibb bought Lentheric. And I just went along with the buy and then Olan Matheson bought Lentheric from Squibb and I just I never really looked for another job. I just kept being moved along with these purchases, these acquisitions by these companies. But I had to work on Winchester guns, and polyethylene, and roller skates, as well as perfume. And I was really settling down into that. So, everybody told me, “you should open your own agency, you know people would definitely give you business, blah blah blah”. So, I thought why not. So, I started Annette Green Associates and a lot of people recommended me right away. I started to do pretty well. And one day I got a call from the same gentleman who had made me his public relations director. His name was Jack Mohr and he became my ongoing mentor. He left a message with my office that I had to come to the Waldorf immediately because they were meeting once on whether or not the Fragrance Foundation should be closed down. So, I ran across Park Avenue, grabbed a cab, went up to the Waldorf and there they sat and told me they had no money, but they had all the files, and would I be willing to take it on pro bono? And I thought about it and I thought well why not! You know, I’m doing well, and I love fragrance, and I thought the Fragrance Foundation was a terrific idea. So, I took it on, and it only took me 10 years to turn it around. But then it took over my life and that’s how I got into the fragrance industry. When I took over the Foundation, American women did not wear fragrance, because they didn’t work. And then in the 60s everything changed.
Grace Cho [00:06:47] So how were you received as a woman leading the charge of all these major projects?
Annette Green [00:06:55] Well, I have to tell you, not too well! Not too well. About a week later after they had hired me pro-bono, we had a meeting. And I’m small, about five three and a half. And I was with these very tall men talking over my head. And one said to the other, “What are we going to do with her? What is she going to do?” And one of the men said, “Don’t worry she’s a nice little lady. And I pulled myself up and I said, “I am not a nice little lady, I’m a serious businesswoman and I expect you to take me as I am. You don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do, but you’ve given me the charge and you have to let me do it.” And they backed off of it. But I had a really hard time convincing people to support me.
Grace Cho [00:07:43] With a journalist’s background, you mastered both the business side, as well as the creative side, of running a business. How did that come about?
Annette Green [00:07:55] That was my extra bonus in life. I had this innate business sense, which I got really from my family, my uncles who had a very big business in New Jersey. and I was in the room listening to them and hearing how seeing how successful they were. But on the other hand, I was also very creative. I not only could write, I like to paint, draw, and write poetry, etc. So, I had both of these and I was encouraged by teachers and my mother to do whatever it was that I felt I should do. During the Second World War I worked for the Signal Corps. I was a secretary. They had some big award they wanted somebody to write a song and I wrote one and I won the award. And so those things happened to me a lot. You know when you start to be successful you take on more and more opportunities because you feel you can do them.
Grace Cho [00:08:52] Besides the innate skill, it seems that you make the effort, that if you don’t understand if you go out and seek the advice of others or other experts. How have you dealt with social media, the technology, the iPhone, all of that in the business today?
Annette Green [00:09:09] Well, when I retired in 2003, I had people working for me who did everything. They did the computer, I didn’t do anything, but I thought to myself, you know, if you’re going to be able to move forward in life you better go take lessons in how the computer works. So, I went to Baruch College at night and took their computer course.
Annette Green [00:09:28] I was in the class with all young people, but I mean, that’s OK with me that didn’t bother me in the least. So, I learned that and then I had to have a cell phone, so I learned how to do that. And I always was a very good typist because I was a secretary, so in fact, I was a master at typing. And so that played into my advantage. Social media is still a little bit of a mystery to me. But I’m learning it.
Grace Cho [00:09:57] Wonderful. This is just an inspiration to us all. You know you just never stop learning.
Annette Green [00:10:05] You know, I have a friend who is the president of Chanel at one point and she is not on the computer. She does not have a cell phone. She’s not interested. And I see her getting very isolated and elderly because she’s not part of this current world. I wouldn’t want to do that. And you know I started this curriculum at FIT, Fashion Institute of Technology.
Grace Cho [00:10:33] Yes! Tell us about that.
Annette Green [00:10:35] You know, I got thinking about very there was no professionalism in entering the industry, particularly for young women. Most people got into the industry, including me, by accident, or just you know, it seemed like a good idea because it was an opportunity.
Annette Green [00:10:51] So I went to FIT and there was a wonderful woman at the time named Shirley Goodman, who was the head of their foundation. Wonderful woman. I knew her because I was on one of her committees, and I said, you know, it really would be wonderful to have a course on marketing to help people market fragrance and beauty products.
Annette Green [00:11:12] She said, “listen, first the Fashion Institute of Technology is about fashion.” So, I said, “I have to tell you that word of fashion is changing completely, and it has to do with cosmetics, it has to do with automobiles, and has to do with toys. Everything is in or out of fashion. And I think you should look at it that way.” So, after much discussion, she said, “well okay, if you want to teach it you could teach it as an elective every Thursday afternoon.” So, that’s another time I said yes. And, so I came in every Thursday afternoon and I started to teach this course. And slowly but surely the word got out through the hallowed halls of FIT that you didn’t have to be a fashion designer to do well at FIT. There was now a beauty course that could take you quite far, and it was very successful. A lot more and more young people came into it, to the extent that they decide to make it a Bachelor’s program.
Grace Cho [00:12:14] Wow.
Annette Green [00:12:14] And I got someone to teach it, and now it’s Bachelors and Masters. So, it’s been quite wonderful and I’m happy to tell you. They just let me know that “Spritzing to Success” has been named as a must-read for the class.
Grace Cho [00:12:32] [00:12:32] I love that.
Annette Green [00:12:33] [00:12:33] Don’t you love that?
Grace Cho [00:12:36] That is a wonderful segue to the book. How did you get started with the book? First of all, I love the title. Did you come up with the title?
Annette Green [00:12:44] It was hard. I played with a lot of titles. The first one was Perfume in my Veins. Well, everybody kept asking about the history of the industry, and what did I do, and how did I do it, and what was the story. And I figured you know what, I have to write this because I particularly really see young people who are coming into the industry today and haven’t got a clue. It’s like today ask young people about President Kennedy and they have no idea who President Kennedy was. I mean, it’s kind of dispiriting. So, at any rate, I think maybe I’ll write about this. So, I started, and it took me three years to do it.
Grace Cho [00:13:27] Three years. It’s a treasure because it maps your career. It maps the industry. They learn so much from it that are timeless lessons.
Annette Green [00:13:44] Yeah, and I also tried to bring it into today’s world of the challenges of the robots and all the social media, everything that’s going on that’s changing how we work and how we really try to make our way in the world.
Grace Cho [00:13:59] And it took you three years to write. And now it’s winning a lot of accolades.
Annette Green [00:14:05] Yes, it is.
Grace Cho [00:14:06] What’s been the feedback? As far as how the message of the book impacted them?
Annette Green [00:14:11] Well, I’ve gotten some wonderful feedback. I made a talk the other day to a company called International Flavors and Fragrances and I was invited to come in and talk about the book and talk about careers in the industry. And they were asked at the end of the talk to write what they felt they got out of the talk. And one of the girls wrote and said that she came in very stressed and feeling, you know, her day was really going downhill. She said after my talk she felt relaxed and very positive and inspired. And of course, that was just wonderful. I’ve had young people come up to me, particularly at FIT, and also on the West Coast at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising where there’s an Annette Green Perfume Museum. I went out there about a month or two ago and the young people all came up to me, and people of all ages, and said they just loved it, that it was inspirational and I only have gotten positive feedback which is very, very lovely.
Grace Cho [00:15:15] So, when you were writing the book and you look back on your life, were there any sort of personal realizations that were a surprise?
Annette Green [00:15:25] Well, I mean I never expected to have such a success in the fragrance industry. I was working on my agency, I was building the agency. I took the Fragrance Foundation in as an orphan and I wanted to try to resurrect it, but I never in a million years thought that I would be able to build it as I did and that it would become so successful that I give up my agency. That never crossed my mind.
Annette Green [00:15:52] So that was a very big surprise to me. But I could see it happening. You know, everything that I did. Plus, women going to work, plus a lot of the pharmaceutical companies like Squibb and American Cyanamid and them buying the French houses. I mean, all the things that were happening were just fitting my needs to a T. I took advantage of every single thing that was changing the fragrance industry and eventually hard as it was, I got the industry to come along with me. But the thing that really changed was when I thought of the Fifi Awards. I mean, that was really a major step. It was what I call a game changer. And the industry really, well not the beginning, the first couple of years it was limping along. But then I brought celebrities into the act. And it was a very interesting time because celebrities were starting to look at fragrance as a possible product for them to put their names on. And I took advantage of that by calling the agents and saying if you will have let your so and so, Elizabeth Taylor or whoever come and present the awards they are going to be in front of the most important audience they can ever be in. Since they want to introduce a fragrance in their name and I never got a “no”.
Grace Cho [00:17:13] Incredible.
Annette Green [00:17:14] Having celebrities, making it more and more glamorous, establishing the awards in Paris, in Italy and Spain, and of course the U.K., it just grew so dramatically and became such an important part of the industry that everybody started to support it and that made my future very solidly established.
Grace Cho [00:17:39] Now think about that today. You invented that concept of attaching a celebrity to a fragrance or to any product. Really. Everything is endorsed.
Annette Green [00:17:50] Right. But you know what else I did? I was very interested in promoting fragrance as an art form because the creation of fragrance is certainly an art form, and packaging and design. And so, I started to have exhibitions in museums across the country. And the first one I had was at the Museum of the City of New York. It was called Scents of Time. And it was very successful. And then I traveled it to the Women’s Museum in Washington, to Chicago, to Los Angeles, and then to Dallas. And it was the beginning of a lot of exhibitions that I undertook.
Grace Cho [00:18:30] Because it was your passion. If you were to speak to a group of young artists what would be the advice that you give them today?
Annette Green [00:18:40] I would say if you want to have a fulfilling business life, you have to fall in love with whatever it is you feel you’re talented in. You know, whether it’s business or selling, or marketing, merchandising. Whatever it is, fall in love with it and then it never works and you’ll always enjoy doing it, and you’ll be successful. You can’t miss.
Grace Cho [00:19:04] Well, Annette, it’s been a great pleasure and a thrill to speak with you today and I hope you come back and we can talk about your next project.
Annette Green [00:19:18] Absolutely. And I appreciate so much you wanting to chat with me. I really have enjoyed it.
Grace Cho [00:19:26] Wonderful. Today we spoke with Annette Green of Spritzing for Success; an icon, a legend, a trailblazer in the fragrance industry. This is Grace Cho with Artrepreneur. We help creatives succeed. Thank you.