Not long after joining the company, Alice put me into a one-hour, once-a-week class, at the office, to learn to recognize ‘the classics’ in perfume. Working with one of the FDMs, I was given two small, blue pleather-bound flat cases, called ‘wab kits.’ Rumor was that they were named ‘wab’ after the initials of the FDM that had first created these training kits, that each contained forty tiny samples of all the most recognized and iconic fine fragrances – one men’s kit, and one women’s kit. The tiny bottles, or wabs, were labeled with the names of the perfumes so each one could be identified – in alphabetical order – with the sole purpose of learning to recognize them by their smell, and not by their name. They were like little boxes of olfactive memories. Grandma smelled like Shalamar, Chanel No. 5 permeated my mom’s closet, Aunt Molly reeked of Opium, while Anais Anais took me back to my high school sweet heart, everyone and every one had their signature scent – be it floral, aldehydic, or oriental – they were easier to recognize by who smelled like what than by their designer brand names, all classics in their own right.
Another year later, and I found myself heading back to Geneva, but this time, for two full weeks, to take part in an exclusive, global program called F.I.P.T., which stood for Fragrance Initial Product Training. This program was part team building, part networking, and more importantly, the big part, extensive training in the learning and smelling of every category in perfumery. It was intense and exhausting, but a real privilege. For the final assessment, we were each tasked with creating and presenting a marketing concept in the category of our choice. Details, from my audition, was really not an option as far as I was concerned, so I chose to apply my new found skill in trend observation to the bar soap segment. Being in Switzerland, chocolate seemed like it might be a real crowd pleaser, and, coincidently enough, there was a brand of soap called Dove AND a brand of chocolate called Dove. The latter of which was as yet unknown in Switzerland, so, I decided to create a Dove Soap with chocolate aroma, and linked it to the chocolate being used for ‘wellbeing’ purposes at the newly opened Hershey Hotel & Spa, in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
I called home in enough time to have Chris FedEx me a big bag of Hershey Kisses to illustrate the point – and Kiss up a little while I was at it. By the time the chocolates reached the back of the room, somebody raised their hand to tell me, “Excuse me Mikel, I’m sorry, but these chocolates, they seem to have gone bad.” Embarrassed, I claimed that couldn’t be possible, as they were just sent to me, so I tried one myself. “Nope. They haven’t gone bad. That’s what American chocolate tastes like!” You score faaaar more points bringing Swiss chocolate home to New Jersey than you ever will serving Hershey chocolate to the Swiss. I promise you that. This was only the beginning of my smell and taste education, and a 235km road trip would take it all to a whole ‘nother level of appreciation.