September 18, 2020 - Comments Off on Closing Comments: 7th Art and Olfaction Awards

Closing Comments: 7th Art and Olfaction Awards

Closing comments prepared by Saskia Wilson-Brown prepared for the 7th annual Art and Olfaction Awards, which took place on September 17, 2020 in an online ceremony.


Hey everyone!

I am so thrilled to be here with you all, and want to take a moment to thank a few people. Minetta Rogers, IAO's director of operations - who is quietly doing a lot of the hard work that propels these awards, and the Institute for Art and Olfaction in general. The board of directors: a more thoughtful and kind-hearted group of people would be very hard to find. Our judges who gave their time to assess countless vials over the course of the submissions process, and of course our partners: Adam, Franco from Scent Bar / Luckyscent, Nickie, Justin and Mark from Pochpac, Rhett and his team from DiscountVials, Silvio and Valentina from Esxence, and of course our intrepid designer Micah Hahn. We love you guys, and we're so glad you're part of this family.

As we draw our seventh award show to a close, I need first and foremost to congratulate the winners, and all the finalists. You’re all worthy of all the awards in the world, and if tonight wasn't the night then it just means that your moment is still to come. I hope I will be able to bear witness to your successes, over the coming years.

It’s a bit bittersweet running these awards in this decentralized way. Part of the beauty of this event is in the time spent together. We would have loved to see you all in person in May. And yet, here we are, somehow, still spending time together!

Since I have the last word, I wanted to take 5 minutes to share some thoughts. I hope that some of you find something that resonates for you, but if you don’t, I welcome debate and I definitely don’t mind criticism. You can email me anytime at [email protected].


Let me start by saying the obvious. This year has been brutal. As Sarah Horowitz-Thran always says: "as in life, so in perfumery". Indeed, alongside the rest of the world, many of the people and brands in our community are struggling.

We often forget in our glamorous field that behind every brand - and behind every carefully tended instagram post - is a person or a small group of people trying to feed their kids, while somehow also spreading their particular vision of beauty and art in the world.

Those of you who know me know that I am suspicious (to understate it) of unchecked profit-at-all-cost, competitive capitalism – the kind of capitalism that rewards greed, that decimates the planet, that reduces us in all our complexity to mere consumers, that commodifies our very dissent and turns every protest post into a potential ad sale, reduces a social justice movement to a potential marketing strategy.

It's brutal. It's soul-crushing. It's dehumanizing. And Covid-19 has shown us just how tenous it is.

But, it's also the world in which we live. For this reason, when commerce struggles, our very survival is at risk. We don't have a safety net: we've got to keep going at all costs. And when we’re worrying about paying our rents, it makes it quite a bit harder to commit to the art.

Adding to these struggles, we are in a time of great upheaval, where structures of power are being rightfully re-examined.

We have, in short, a big problem.

Let me take a moment to remind all of us that no one in the independent/artisan and experimental perfume community is the source of the problem. Not a single one of us is powerful enough to be the source of the problem.

Now, I’m not saying that people don’t do problematic things that deserve criticism. We all have a responsibility to do our best to communicate messages of inclusiveness and to support and facilitate representation. When we fail, we need to hear and acknowledge it.

But still – individual artists and independent brands are not the problem. None of us are the enemy.

The enemy is far harder to call out, because the enemy doesn’t exist. It’s absence: the absence of effort, the absence of hope, and the absence of desire for change.

The enemy, in short, is systematized human inaction.

It appears when all of us powerless people become so cozy with the idea that we can’t make change that we throw up our hands and give up.

It appears when we release our impotent frustration and anger in high octane bursts of aggression: picking each other apart online for not doing more while we, ourselves, are doing nothing more than picking each other apart online.

It appears when we see a situation escalate and we don’t step in with reason and calm.

It happens when we feel such an absence of support that we start to believe that the only place for us will come when someone else is thrown off the train.

It happens when we dig in our heels when we feel misunderstood instead of better explaining our intentions. And it also happens when we don’t take the time to reasonably acknowledge that we ourselves are not perfect beings. We all make mistakes.

As individuals we want to matter, and - in the big picture - we don’t. We want to be righteous, and - big picture - we aren’t.

History shows us that we will never matter, we will never be truly righteous, and we will never have any actual power until we take a humility pill, band together, and focus all our righteous, newly-united energy into building tangible systems, devoted to traceable actions.

Systems like Future Olfactives, like the Coalition for Sustainable Perfumery. Systems, also, of course, like the Institute for Art and Olfaction.

I am fully aware of the IAO’s responsibility: we have, after all, set up some systems of our own with these awards, and it’s our job to make sure they’re good ones. I’m proud of our integrity, and our thoughtfulness – both at the IAO and in the context of the awards.

However, we need to do our part to address the lack of proportionate representation in the larger field. The good news is that the IAO's systems are built for impartiality, fairness and inclusion: inclusion was the purpose of the IAO in the first place. But we can do better.

Now, we’re going to take the extra time afforded us by Covid19 to better orient our structures towards community-building. Our goal is to create a mechanism where the multiplicity of excellence is proportionately represented, with a global lens.

I expect that we will re-open submissions in mid-2021 for our next program, with a new annual schedule.

Meanwhile, we are getting busy, ready to launch our new Scent and Society Accelerator, a program that will support individuals and groups who are launching action initiatives for social change in the field of perfumery. Applications open in early November, and more information can be found here:

And of course be sure to check out the programs in our recently relaunched Scent and Society series, where we invite thinkers, academics and practitioners to speak about global practices with scent.


I want to end this talk by reminding everyone that great good is coming to the perfume community.

This is happening because we are increasingly listening to and supporting agents of positive change. This continues every time we put aside anger, jealousy and fear to help someone with a decision, to share their good news, to give the moral support we all need.

We are creating a small model for kindness and community in our difficult, angry society. As this kindness grows, other people will find inspiration in us. The cynics and bullies will melt away. There will be no longer be a need to storm the Bastille because the guards will have already freed the inmates. The queen will have already shared her bread.

Let’s start this cycle with something simple: let’s start really talking to each other. And let’s all go do some good.

Thank you!



Written by Saskia Wilson-Brown for the Art and Olfaction Awards, Sep. 2020

Published by: Administrator Awards in process

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