Columns Are Perfume Awards Relevant? Yes or No?

Are Perfume Awards Relevant? Yes or No?

05/13/17 07:04:51 (12 comments)

by: Miguel Matos

Perfume Awards

Just days after the 4th edition of the annual Art and Olfaction Awards that was held in Berlin, it's time to think about the importance of awards in the perfume industry. This year, we had already witnessed the first announcement of nominees at the Fragrance Foundation Awards and also the winners of the Perfumed Plume Awards. All of them are very different and aim for different fields. Some independent, others sponsored by brands. What is their relevance? Does winning an award mean that someone or some brand is better than all others? Are the winners decided in a fair manner? Does anyone care? In this first installment of a series of two articles, we present diverging opinions about the subject. We call for open discussion and welcome all comments. Miguel Matos is the advocate pro-awards and he explains why he thinks they are a positive thing:

Award cups

After much thinking and mixed feelings, I decided that I support the existence of perfume awards. In order to prove my point, I am going to divide the perfume awards world into two categories: commercial awards and independent awards. In the commercial side, I include the Fragrance Foundation Awards.

Fragrance Foundation Awards

Fragrance Foundation Award sculpture

The Fragrance Foundation Awards are given to brands, perfumers, marketers and writers. They are largely sponsored by mainstream giant brands that are the ones competing, and the same brands generally win the same awards they are paying for. No big mystery here and also not much credibility or transparency about the judging process or the way things get decided. Some exceptions do happen, but we all know who is winning best perfume each year. Art and craft are not valued and the award turns into nothing but a marketing gimmick for brands that don't really need external recognition. The fact of winning something end up as a sticker on boxes of fragrance, a thing that can help to sell a few more items. For many many years, this was the only award that existed and therefore winning a “FiFi” was all there was to it, making it famous and much coveted. There are independent categories inside the award, but even these tend to be filled by former niche brands that were acquired by big corporations. So, in conclusion, this is the mainstream industry feeding itself. Even the Editorial Excellence award is mostly given to the editorial group that is sponsoring the event (not always, though). For these and many other reasons, I am not going to consider the Fragrance Foundation Awards of much credibility.

Fragrance Foundation Awards Luncheon

This year, the Fragrance Foundation Awards luncheon was hosted in NY by the actress Brooke Shields. The Top 5 finalists in each category were announced as well as the winners of smaller categories like Editorial Excellence. The final winners will be announced on June 14th.

Fragrance Foundation Awards 017

Doesn't everyone crave for validation after giving their best at their job? I know I do. I consider awards of extreme importance for the ego of the winner and they do inject some strength in someone who wants to succeed, many times not knowing if anyone is paying attention. Thomas Dunckley aka The Candy Perfumed Boy, a perfume blogger from the UK once told me, after winning the Jasmine Awards (the Fragrance Foundation UK Awards for perfume writing) that, after winning, it became easier for him to work because it opened communication doors with brands. He got the attention and respect and therefore, more articles to write and more samples, press releases and scoops. This effect only lasts for a short period of time but it can be very important if a winner knows how to use it for a profit. Victor Wong, owner and creative director of Zoologist once told me, after winning the Art and Olfaction Award last year: “I felt like I had validation and peace of mind that I needed for a long, long time.” But this is a niche brand and for this sector of the industry, awards are a completely different reality, which brings me to the independent awards system: the Perfumed Plume Awards and the Art and Olfaction Awards.

The Perfumed Plume Awards

The Perfumed Plume Awards are very recent (this year was its second edition) and not many people know it exists. It is sponsored mainly by Mane, and this is not an editorial company so it can never win one of the awards they are sponsoring. This gives it some credibility. Also, the panel of judges is composed of respected authorities in writing, perfume making, art, and science. On the other hand, The Art and Olfaction Awards are sponsored by various small companies but there is not much money or influence involved. These are organized by the Institute For Art and Olfaction, an independent non-profit organization from Los Angeles.

Lyn Leigh, Michael Edwards and Mary Ellen Lapsansky

Lyn Leigh and Mary Ellen Lapsansky with Michael Edwards during the award ceremony this year that took place in New York. Photo from Perfumed Plume.com

The Perfumed Plume Awards, created by Mary Ellen Lapsansky (former vice president of the Fragrance Foundation) and Lyn Leigh (former vice president of Global Communications at Estèe Lauder and former consultant for The Fragrance Foundation), reward fragrance journalism, something that is becoming more and more influential in the success of the brands.

Perfumed Plume Ceremony

The Perfumed Plume ceremony took place at the Society of Illustrators in New York.

The Perfumed Plume is still a rather underground recognition but maybe that can change in the next few years. This award has a prize money of $1,000 USD for each winner and, even though that's not a life-changing fortune, money always helps. The panel of judges is composed of writers, bloggers, professors, artists, designers, curators and other specialists, coming from respected institutions connected to perfume. The Perfumed Plume has only started and has still a lot to prove in the future. We will continue to follow its growth and development but one thing the organization needs to do is specify and define very accurately their patterns for judging and categorizing each participation. There is work to be done and everything has to start somewhere...

Art and Olfaction Award

Art & Olfaction Award

The Art and Olfaction Award is, in my opinion, the most ethical and important one. It is entirely dedicated to artisan and independent perfume brands, and people working in projects that unite art and scent. This year the event included a full day of conferences and exchange of ideas, organized by the Spanish scent artist and experimental filmmaker Klara Ravat and Saskia Wilson-Brown, the founder of the awards and director of the Institute for Art and Olfaction. Its purpose was bringing people together and discussing problems and achievements. It also had a helping hand of Scent Art Net, an international collective of scent artists, curators, and writers based in Zurich. I was attending the Experimental Scent Summit and have to say it was an eye opener regarding many interesting and important projects that are currently in development all over the world. Very rarely have I seen so many olfactory artists in one room, from different fields of activity. And regarding the award ceremony, the tears in Pissara Umavijani's eyes when she won were a touching moment that everybody felt. There was love and truth in them.

Tanja Bochnig and Pissara Umavijani

Perfumer Tanja Bochnig giving the Best Artisan Perfume award to perfumer Pissara Umavijani from Dusita Parfums. Photo: Martin Becker

Antonio Gardoni and Leo Crabtree from Beaufort

Perfumer Antonio Gardoni giving the Best Independent Perfume award to Beaufort's creative director Leo Crabtree.

Saskia Wilson Brown and S.F Schwarzlose

Saskia Wilson-Brown giving the Best Independent Perfume award to Lutz Herrmann, creative director of S.F. Schwarzlose. Photo: Martin Becker

Christophe Laudamiel

Perfumer Christophe Laudamiel received the Contribution to Scent Culture Award. Photo: Martin Becker

The question of what is the relevance of a perfume award is something that is constantly in the mind of Saskia Wilson-Brown: "I struggle with awards, myself. Why inject more competitiveness in an already hyper-competitive industry? But ultimately, I think that if we raise the awareness of indie brands, we all win. All indie brands end up winning.” She is very much concerned with transparency, fairness, and ethics of the judging panels and processes. That's why there is in the Art and Olfaction Awards website a detailed and extensive disclosure of how the judges are chosen and also the way the scents get evaluated, selected and nominated. “The jury brings diverse interests, backgrounds and specializations to the very hard task of judging scent. We strive to create a diverse and international jury that is composed of active participants in the scent world, from perfume business insiders to artists; curators to writers, scientists and - of course – perfumers," says the organization. The deep importance given to methods and ethics make this award more credible than any other.

Winners and Nominees at the Art and Olfaction Award

Judges, nominated and winners together on stage in Berlin's Silent Green auditorium. Photo: Martin Becker

When we speak of awards, we speak of judges, of course. Who are they? Why are they entitled to decide what's good or bad? This is always a tough question. And in the Art and Olfaction Awards, the judges are carefully chosen by Saskia. All of them are people with a large experience and knowledge in the craft and art of perfume making, perfume writing and perfume thinking. Even though every human being is biased and has a personal taste, there is an ethical choice. The Art and Olfaction Award works with a blind test judging panel. The judges have to be separated from the brands they are judging and have no personal interest in the companies or artisans involved. Of course, we know that, for example, Luca Turin is a judge and he is always extremely questionable in his opinions. But that's something we have to live with. This year the judging panel was composed of highly respected perfume personalities such as Andy Tauer (Switzerland), Annick Le Guérer (France), Denyse Beaulieu (France), Mark Behnke (USA), Antonio Gardoni (Italy), Bruno Fazzolari (USA), Cristiano Canali (Italy), Dana El Masri (Canada), Christophe Laudamiel (USA), Helder Suffenplan (Germany), Katie Puckrik (England), Luca Turin (Greece), Mandy Aftel (USA), Michael Edwards (UK/Australia), Sarah Horowitz-Thran (USA), Ashraf Osman (Switzerland) among many other unquestionably competent professionals from diverse areas or work. By the way, Saskia is also a judge in the aforementioned Perfumed Plume Award, so there is also an inter-penetration between these things.

One thing is certain: nothing will ever be perfect. In the end, what I have seen in Berlin is a reunion of some of the most outstanding and passionate people working in the niche fragrance industry. The inclusion of the Experimental Scent Summit made all the difference and created a statement, a letter of intentions from the organization and it might become even more important that the award itself. It was an advanced attitude of transmitting knowledge and debating questions. In the aftermath, the Art and Olfaction Award felt like sharing and celebrating a common love, even though, I have to say it, I disagree with some of the choices in terms of winning perfumes.

Experimental Scent Summit

Learning and thinking about scent, art and culture in the Experimental Scent Summit

Finally, there is an unquestionable importance of an award like this for a small and almost unknown brand. I totally agree with Saskia when she says: “one thing that it does do is it helps people discover new brands, particularly in the artisan category.” And I know for a fact that some small brands only started selling and making some money after the buyers, consumers and shops heard about them because of the award. So yes, an award like this can be a game changer for an obscure brand like Sixteen92, winner of this year's artisan category along with Dusita Parfums. I am sure that many readers have never heard about these brands. But after knowing that they have won an award you are more likely to look them up, aren't you?

Winner Medal

Every activity, every maker, every artist has to be integrated into a system in order to keep working and ultimately, survive as a maker of something. For an artist like a painter or a sculptor, the system is composed of art critics, museums, galleries, collectors and also awards. They analyze, show, sell, buy and reward his or her work. Every part of the system is crucial. For a perfume brand, the system is composed of scent critics, blogs, shops, buyers, perfume expos like Esxence and Pitti and also awards. They analyze, announce, buy, sell and reward its activity. They validate in different ways. Good art is not just what the artist says its art. It's an artistic production that is validated by the whole system. An artist can only thrive after having a solid group of positive reviews, places to sell, buyers and awards. This goes for all kinds of art, including olfactory art, which is still the newest and most fragile of all art systems (many people still don't even see it as an art form). My conclusion is that perfume awards provide an essential acknowledgment. They are not indispensable, but they have an importance. They should be valued, improved and consolidated.

This was my personal opinion on awards and it is open for questioning so feel free to contribute with your view on the subject. In the next installment, Elena Knezhevic will explain why she thinks that perfume awards are neither relevant nor interesting.

Miguel Matos joined Fragrantica in 2013 and edits the Portuguese version Fragrantica.com.br. Miguel writes for Beautyalmanac.com.



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soleluna
soleluna

I think that any of the awards are important to the perfumers. Most industries have some kind of awards.

Having said that, I don't pay much attention to the awards themselves, and they don't influence me.

I have my own taste. Yet, many of my favourites have been award winners, but I didn't know that until after the fact.

May
16
2017
ProfessionalWidow
ProfessionalWidow

Great article- I never knew the specifics of all of these different awards. What you said in conclusion, comparing to painters/sculptors and galleries, etc. is dead on, and is what immediately what came to my mind.

Any creator (I mean, unless you're making something without intending to show it to anyone) wants to get some sort of validation from others, especially the "system" that exists in that field. It simply feels good and validating to have someone, especially someone who has a lot of respect (and that you have respect for) in your field say "hey, this thing you made is really good! Here's an award!" Nothing wrong with that.

The awards aren't all that relevant with the general public, but maybe that's okay. Not every artist grant/award is exactly valued by the general public, but it still means a lot to that artist and their career. That seems to be what the Art and Olfaction Awards are, right now. Maybe someday we'll have something akin to the Oscars that people buzz about, but at the end of the day people are still just going to sniff around and decide what works for them. When I'm deciding what to buy and use for myself, if it doesn't smell good on my skin, it kind of doesn't matter what Luca Turin thinks of it.

May
14
2017
spinderella
spinderella

Perfume is such a personal experience, so in my opinion a reward doesn't mean a lot. It tells what scents are en vogue at this moment, that's it. As the fruity and gourmand perfumes are in fashion at the moment, I cry silently in my pillow at night. Blind buys are almost impossible at the moment as even favourable reviews here on fragantica often result in dissapointing once-used bottles of fragrance in my closet (and removal to the thrift store eventually).
So I don't care about shows where perfume-makers congratulate each other on their wonderful concoctions. I stick with my own favourites ;-).

May
14
2017
Angela Agiannidou
Angela Agiannidou

I don't have much time for FIFI, neither do I care if they award their own or other concoctions. I wear and buy what pleases my nose and makes me feel good regardless of the (frugal sometimes)price tag or popularity. As a matter of fact the more under the radar a scent the better for me. And I am still on the hunt for obscure, unknown, not hugely popular scents. However, I believe that the Art and Olfaction Awards and perfume Plume are a good place to start. Whether an award matters or not it is nice to know that a writer, judge or perfumer is rewarded for their contribution with their participation. Mainstream is fine but we, perfume lovers and consumers need to know of all the talent and innovations that exist within this all important industry. Great article Miguel!

May
13
2017
Flying Dutchman
Flying Dutchman

All good and well. If the Art and olfaction are so fair, why did a truly mediocre EDP version of an ok EDT: Zeitgeist, get awarded. Is this really the best choice ?
I am a sceptic.

May
13
2017
jeca
jeca

Thank you, Miguel, I did enjoy reading you, as always ;o) I think comparing Fragrantica and any kid of awards is irrelevant, we have many authors with sometimes polarizing opinions, they express their views, and they have their followers, but there is no competition what is better. ;o)

May
13
2017
janjanjan
janjanjan

I have been a niche/indie fragrance lover for a few years now and I always follow the results of the A+O awards. In fact I have a sample pack from Sixteen92 on the way now and would have never heard of them otherwise. It really does highlight this side of the industry and raise its profile - which is where the best in scent is these days!!

EDIT: I want to add in light of the comment above me by Flying Dutchman... don't assume the winner is all that matters. For example, I pay the most attention to the list of nominees. Then I research those scents or lines to see what looks promising for my tastes. Many times I don't even sample the top award getter, or if I do, I pick something else from their house that sounds better to me. It's like the Oscar nominations list: gives you a sense of the outstanding works of the year, but it's just a useful grouping not the ten commandments.

P.S. FiFi sucks! Haha

May
13
2017
StellaDiverFlynn
StellaDiverFlynn

Thank you for this great article! I really appreciate that you lay out the backgrounds of different awards which usually go unnoticed by the general public. I very much agree that the awards, especially Art and Olfaction Awards, can help introduce quality but obscure brands to a broader audience. I myself discovered Olympic Orchids and Zoologist thanks to A&O Awards and plan to sample a few others among this year's finalists.

But the same time, I wonder how large the audience would be. I remember reading another article in the latest issue of Nez magazine discussing the same topic, in which Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, who won FiFi France Prix des Experts for two years consecutively, acknowledged the visibility and the "peace of mind" brought by the awards, but also expressed his doubt whether it really meant anything to customers. And indeed, among the perfume lovers that I know, not many know about these awards or consider them as a reference for potential purchase or sampling. I guess for the general public, it's still the marketing of famous brands that has the most influence, while the awards are more efficient for the indie/artisan brands, since the audience is primarily those who are already actively looking into this field.

Last but not least, I'm really glad that perfume journalism is getting better and more serious acknowledgement, and that there are independent awards dedicated to it. When I started to get into perfumes a few years ago, I would only read about perfumes in forums and member reviews and a few blogs, as the magazines were plagued by marketing prose. But recently, I come to realise that there is actually a great amount of quality writing, as long as I know where to look to. On that account, I'd like express my gratitude to all the hard-working fragrance journalists and writers, for the invaluable knowledge, the profound reflection and discussion about perfumery that you provide, thank you!

May
13
2017
smauricius
smauricius

Saying that Awards are not relevant is like saying that your job here at Fragrantica is also irrelevant. Both give the chance for brands to showcase their products. Both give visibility and can increase sales. Both can also "destroy" a brand by providing the audience with bad reviews or no awards/nominations.

Questioning the authority of the awards, on who chooses the winners and criteria of selection, gives us also the right to question Fragrantica's authority in this business/industry. One thing is certain, scent is subjective, not everyone likes Roses, right? So the same happen when a writer published an articles/review about a perfume, or an Award congratulates a certain perfume/perfumist, etc.

Another thing is certain, everyone love recognition. At work, at home... When a job is well done, it must be acknowledged. So yes, I do agree that awards are relevant and necessary, as long as they are fair and not biased

On that notice, great article Miguel.

May
13
2017
johngreenink
johngreenink

I appreciate this article (and the series concept) and look forward to Elena's article as well. I am very glad that you add some distinction to what the awards are and how they are arrived at. I agree that they are all (from their procedures down to their actual events) extremely different from each other. Some are quite 'self-congratulatory', others are truly interested in recognizing quality, promoting interest and diversity of work.

Since perfume has grown so much in the last 10-20 years (particularly the sphere of indie perfume makers and the blogsphere,) it seems natural that these awards have developed. People like the opportunity to celebrate things, and yes, it helps 'the resume' for writers and makers, etc. Of course there is a lot of subjectivity around scent, and this can make awards seem a bit random, but I agree that Art and Olfaction seems to really go out of its way to gather as many samples as possible and cull from a wide audience of people to select the finalists / winners.

This was very well-researched and I appreciate your time in putting all this together. I think it adds a healthy bit of discussion to the topic of the relevance of awards and keeps that conversation going.

May
13
2017
archmemory
archmemory

Great write-up, Miguel! I agree with your assessment. As a judge for the A+O (Experimental) Awards, I must say, awards are rather cruel: to pick a handful of works to highlight from a much larger pool of deserving work, there's something--by definition--exclusionary in that. Nevertheless, I do believe that the spotlight this brings to works that might otherwise pass unnoticed under the radar makes up for it. (Obviously I'd say that, otherwise I wouldn't participate.) However, as you alluded, the most value I see is in the finalist lists, rather than the winners (which I don't always agree with). As a consumer of perfume, the artisan and independent categories certainly bring to my notice new lines I would have otherwise missed. With the plethora of new niche releases, it's difficult for anyone to keep up. And so I think that's a great function of awards.

May
13
2017
Zoologist
Zoologist

I agree Art and Olfaction Awards is the fairest among all, and the most meaningful. There is a much lesser known fragrance award show in the city where I live, and I have inquired how to enter the competition, and they say you would have to buy yourself a seat for a dinner table that night (for a hefty amount) and also buy an ad space for a magazine. I was a bit disgusted to be honest, but I realized it's their show and their rules.

May
13
2017

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