By Rachel Alt
“We’re not selling perfume,” Michael Edwards tells an assembled crowd of Sydney fragrance industry executives, as they scribble notes madly, “we’re selling confusion.” When Mr Edwards speaks, the fragrance industry listens. He’s right about the confusion. With 1,500 new fragrances on the market every year, buying perfume has become an exercise in fear and frustration. It takes a very special talent to be able to help people find what they want.
Mr Edwards was called ‘the perfume experts’ expert’ by the late Evelyn Lauder, a Vice-President of Estee Lauder. He has dedicated his life to making the world of perfumes accessible to everyone and, in doing so, has carved out a reputation for equality and fairness in the industry. There is no-one he has not, or will not, speak to about perfume – from overwhelmed interns, to artisan perfumers to product managers at all the major fragrance houses.
“I would love to tell you that my work is that of genius, but it’s really just evolved by accident,” he says at a Sydney Perfume Lovers Meetup group.
Michael Edwards grew up in “deepest Africa”, in Malawi, playing with the servants’ children under the shade of the tamboti tree, with its sweeter-than-sandalwood scent. White families in Malawi, at least those who could afford to do so, would “keep their dogs at home and send their children away”, he says. And so he began his formal education at age seven when he attended boarding school in London.
As a young man in the 1960s, he was hired as a product manager in the toiletries marketing department of a fast-moving consumer goods company. He says of the time “the 1960s were a really ‘go-go’ time. We could do things so much faster. It was an age of marketing, anything was possible.” More…