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FIT’s Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing Programs Pay It Forward

Nancy Jeffries

A unique aspect of the beauty industry is its desire to pay it forward. Mentoring, young executive support, professional guidance and philanthropy continue to be hallmarks contributing to its strength, and while corporate and organizational involvement are important, a pivotal part of the continuum may be found in academia—notably in the courses offered by the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), and particularly in its cosmetics and fragrance marketing programs.

FIT, founded in 1944, is part of the State University of New York. It is located in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, offering unique access and opportunities for its student body. And supported by a stellar group of individuals with first-hand knowledge of the industry, FIT’s programs enable professional partnering and high-quality field experience.

A concept fostered by some of the beauty industry’s pioneers and guided by a staff of experts under the aegis of FIT president Dr. Joyce Brown, the original cosmetics and fragrance marketing program has seen several iterations since its inception.

The Beginnings

Recognizing the beauty industry’s need for innovative thinking, FIT established the cosmetics, fragrance and toiletries associate degree program in 1978 with a chair endowed by Revlon, Inc. This position was initially held by the late Hazel Bishop, a chemist and pioneer of modern-day cosmetics, who founded her eponymous company and invented the first long-lasting, “kiss proof” lipstick.

The cosmetics and fragrance marketing baccalaureate program, founded in 1988, followed, coordinated by Peg Smith, a longtime faculty member at FIT. Smith helped raise funds in support of the program and guided its curriculum.

FIT further expanded its capabilities in 1993 by opening the Annette Green Fragrance Foundation Studio, a fragrance development laboratory named in recognition of Green’s work on behalf of the program. The former president of The Fragrance Foundation, Green was a driving force in the genesis of the program.

During the February 2014 celebration of the 25th anniversary of the baccalaureate program, at which both Smith and Green were present, Smith noted that Green named the program’s advisory board the “action council,” which is how she saw its role, and added that Green’s fund-raising efforts ultimately enabled the creation of a student study abroad opportunity. This travel/study component took students to London, Paris and Milan where they’ve visited lavender fields, met perfumers and visited bottle manufacturers.

Green recalled that the program enabled students to enter an industry that had no formal structure in place for entrance, and noted it filled an important need for students inspired by the workings of this industry, giving them direction and guidance, and ultimately setting the stage for mentoring, which has become part of the philosophical bedrock of the beauty industry.

A Unique Curriculum

Collaborative and participatory, the cosmetics and fragrance marketing curriculum offers an opportunity to gain field experience, an area where industry partnerships and academia coalesce. Among its offerings, the Cosmetic Product Knowledge Lab facilitates students’ learning how cosmetics look, feel and smell. They also learn to compound products in the studio, how to evaluate marketed cosmetics and about fragrance raw materials, as well as how to evaluate both fine fragrances and those used in functional products.

The Business of Beauty program provides an historical overview of the techniques used to market beauty products, as well as an overview of the culture of the industry and the key entrepreneurs and the companies they built. Courses address the historical usage of cosmetics, fragrance and toiletries; the transition from household recipes to marketable retail products; and supplier, vendor, retailer, service and regulatory issues involved in the production, manufacturing and marketing of beauty products. Marketing principles addressing global and external factors, corporate capabilities, product need, planning, and product launches are also studied. And the course on European Cosmetic and Fragrance Industries enables students to develop a firsthand understanding of the cosmetics and fragrance marketing process from the European perspective.

Virginia Bonofiglio, associate chairperson of cosmetics and fragrance marketing, notes that the value of the program lies in its ability to bring students into the real world of cosmetics and fragrance. “The class that currently takes place abroad is a two-week study experience in which students travel to Paris and Milan. Paris is the beauty capital, and I think it’s important for students to see it firsthand. Milan is the color capital, the purveyors of color pigments for the world. Students visit major fragrance companies [and] manufacturers, and they get a good look at the European beauty retail market, as well as have an opportunity to understand the European consumer and how to create products for that consumer,” she says. “We have made the class academically challenging and the program affordable for students. As part of the State University, which creates affordable education for all New Yorkers, we are educating the newest crop of people to enter the beauty business, making sure they have the skill set and knowledge to be effective leaders.”

There also are workshops aimed to develop and implement strategies to create products and determine the need for new entries in the market, while others examine olfaction, the role of the sense of smell and the classification of fragrance families. Students examine the history and spiritual origins of fragrance, technical terminology, home fragrance delivery systems and fragrance types used for environmental fragrances. Global brand management, forecasting, inventory management, partnering and profitability are also studied.

According to Steven Frumkin, dean of FIT’s Jay and Patty Baker School of Business and Technology (of which the baccalaureate program in cosmetics and fragrance marketing is a part), “Our unique program offers extensive laboratory facilities. We vet the students and the program, and we are doubling our student body next year when the program will include 50, rather than 25, students. In addition, every faculty member is an industry professional with at least seven to 10 years of industry experience.” Frumkin also notes that industry professionals in the program have the drive, desire and wherewithal to explain the concepts and requirements that students will need to navigate and succeed in the industry.

Graduate Preparedness

In how well the program prepares its students for the real world of the beauty industry, Frumkin says, “We have an industry advisory board that monitors our programs, advises on courses and content, and hires our students.” He also notes the significant hiring rate for the program, with many students gaining employment prior to graduation and the “certainty that 90% of students gain employment within six months of graduation.”

He shares that students become beauty industry brand managers, marketing managers, product developers, fragrance evaluators and development managers, as well as retail department managers, and many establish their career paths prior to graduating.

Graduates work for, among other companies, The Estée Lauder Company, Parfums Givenchy, Barneys, L’Oréal, Lancôme, Victoria’s Secret Beauty, Fresh, Inc., Avon, Unilever, MAC, Clarins USA and Coty.

Future Plans for the Baccalaureate

The programs continues to evolve and develop. “We have exciting things planned for the future,” says Frumkin. “We’ve been integrating cosmetics and fragrance in innovative ways, developing fragrances for apparel through textiles so fragrances can live for the lifetime of a fabric, and we’ve also been working on new colors for fragrances. We have 80,000 different colors in the lab, so students can create and enhance new chemical formulations for apparel and home products, concentrating on the infusion of fragrances into a wide range of products.”

And Frumkin says that FIT is seeking to grow the program and the number of students it serves.

The Graduate Program

The original cosmetics and fragrance marketing programs also paved the way for a master’s degree program in cosmetics and fragrance marketing and management, established in 2000. This program provides an advanced education for emerging executives in cosmetics, fragrances and beauty-related areas who have been recommended by their employers because of their strong management potential. It provides a curriculum based on experiential and investigative study.

Professor Stephan Kanlian, chairperson of FIT’s master’s degree program in cosmetics and fragrance marketing and management, says, “I think it’s quite unusual both for a graduate business program and an entire industry sector to work together to train top talent through a degree program. There really is not another graduate business program that is integrated with an entire business sector, that we know of, anywhere else in the world.”

Kanlian also notes, “The combination of analytical and creative skills is unique for a graduate business program, and when you layer that with a graduate program that is integrated with an entire industry sector, it is a very interesting model for graduate education. It’s quite rare to have executive students from an entire industry sector approaching high-level research topics that combine both the grounding of their already-extensive industry experience with what they’ve learned in an academic setting.”

Emphasizing global business is key. “The European study course focuses on grounding the students in the heritage of the industry, both in beauty and fashion and in understanding key retail innovation markets globally,” says Kanlian. The field studies in Asia focus on innovative approaches to reach emerging consumers in Asia and on understanding different local or regional approaches to marketing and corporate leadership.” Each study course is two weeks in length.

Kanlian also cites the research conducted by the students—particularly in their Capstone presentations, which mark the culmination of their graduate studies—saying, “Because the graduate program is a think tank for the beauty industry, the students’ final output is a high-level research study that contributes to moving industry thinking forward. Last year’s graduating class presented to 700 industry executives and media, as well as at major conferences in our industry and in other industries.” The Capstone presentations illuminate a particular area of concentration for the graduating class. “In 2013, we did a major study on the impact of digital on the business sector, and partnered with Google. The research was also presented at HBA, Cosmoprof North America, the Luxury Digital Interactive Conference in New York, at the SUNY Conference on Big Data and to the senior beauty merchants at Macy’s corporate. It has also been published as a case study in a new consumer psychology book by Dr. Kit Yarrow,” says Kanlian.

“I think the growth and development of both the baccalaureate and graduate programs and the rebuilding of the new fragrance laboratory just underscores the relationship FIT has to the beauty industry,” Kanlian says. “And I think it’s an incredible model for the future of education to have industry partnering with academia.”

Nancy Jeffries is a contributing editor for GCI magazine, covering the industry from her New York vantage. Jeffries has been in the publishing business for more than 20 years. Her introduction to the cosmetics and personal care industry began as editor of GCI magazine from 1997–2000.

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