May 3, 2019 - Comments Off on A TINY MANIFESTO


This is the speech given by Saskia Wilson-Brown at the beginning of the 6th annual Art and Olfaction Awards Ceremony. These ideas were triggered by conversations with friends in all fields, including Mandy Aftel.

Another year and another location. I’m so happy to be here in this majestic space, with all 130 of you, in one of my favorite cities, doing my favorite thing, which is talking to an audience of patient friends that has no choice but to listen.

I’m going to take my 7.5 minutes up here not to talk about how great the finalists are, or how great the IAO team is, or how deeply we appreciate the help of our partners. This is a given, and why waste your time? You’ll judge for yourself – as I always do.

But seriously I’ve stood up here presenting the opening thoughts five times before, and I always leave the awards thinking god damn it Saskia you wasted a good opportunity to say something with actual substance.

So this year I’m going to take – now – 6.5 minutes of your time to talk about small things. Tiny things.

There are a lot of wonderful tiny things in the world. A quick search showed me baby seahorses, and sea turtles, microscopic bioluminescent photoplankton, newborn kittens, hummingbird babies, ceramic pots that fit on your fingernail, and so many more adorable little things.

So, out there in the world, tiny means cute. Tiny means lovely, precious and special. But when it comes to what brought us here today – the distinctly larger than life field of perfumery - tiny tends to mean failure. Or, at least imply it.

Look at our success stories, the great brands of the indie perfume world.

Good brands grow. Good brands go global and good brands are eventually bought out. Good brands have expansive business practices, pie charts, CFO’s. They keep their trade secrets, market on a global scale, have ambassadors, make no missteps, and exploit the manicured “personal brand” of their corporate leaders.

With a couple notable exceptions, rarely do the famous (read “good”) indie perfume brands succeed by intentionally staying small.

It’s not much different with the IAO – the organization I founded and that produces these award events every year. On our own admittedly reduced scale, we’ve certainly grown.

When I started this organization in 2012, my aim was to take it mellow, to go slow. My painful understanding of the sometimes overwhelming insides of the IAO is at odds with the global sleekness of other organizations in the perfume world, but I wanted that to be ok. I wanted to avoid the pressure to grow fast and be fancier than we were ready to be. To avoid presenting a manicured presence to the industry at large and the perfumers we serve.

But, you know, we just can’t avoid ourselves, somehow, and like everyone else my anxieties sometimes overwhelm me: Will we fail? Will we be copied, and then forgotten? Be overstepped by "better" organizations, more successful people? Make no impact?

I lose sleep over this nonsense, and I'd be willing to hazard a guess that I'm not the only one.

Indeed, it is this fundamental insecurity, this sense of competing for scarce rewards, which is responsible for our human desire for giving good face, and – also - for growth.

Many of us share this same insecurity. And yet it’s also one of our biggest drivers.

Now, this drive has a good side. It allows us to expand our horizons, have new opportunities and in so doing create new opportunities for others. A lot of what we’ve accomplished with the IAO, for instance, would not have been possible without a certain neurotic urge for growth.

However, the better part of me knows – and wants to convey - that growth for growth’s sake is fruitless. Getting big, going global, obliterating the competition… When you say yes to everything, when you claim all the available space, you end up disappointing or – worse - alienating everyone. One, you’ve probably taken on too much (I know this well), and chances are you’ll fail. Also, you’ve greedily claimed opportunities you can't follow through. I know this feeling well: In my case, it’s totally fueled by fear, and – yes - insecurity.

SO: when, instead, you focus on the humble, small work, take the time to do that extra trial on your new formulation, write that extra small email, take a week off to think about how best to sort out that extra tiny detail… In those cases, you get lost in the craft, the work of it. And in that sense, you grow – slowly, softly, and unconsciously - through sheer love for what you’re doing.

The path to freedom, then, (and probably the path to happiness), is having a creative vision, and doing precisely what’s needed to implement that vision. And then following up with another creative vision. Doing what’s needed for that creative vision. And taking your time, and rejecting a hell of a lot of bad ideas.

In the end, the tiny vision – with devotion to craft, attention to the original vision, and zero time spent comparing yourself to others on Facebook or Instagram – can become magnificent. It’s - indeed - our love of the smaller aspects of the creative process, and our own creative growth that ultimately gives the freedom, and, in so doing, gets the reward.

So focus on your tiny creative visions, let your compatriots focus on theirs, and remember that it only becomes a competition when you become obsessed with winning.






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