While working at Firmenich, a Swiss company and the largest privately-owned fragrance and flavor company in the world, Miranda Gordon ’91 overlapped with Chris Palmer ’82, a vice president there. This is a happy coincidence, given that Palmer says he could “count the number of Princeton alumni in the fine-fragrance industry on one hand.”
Palmer, a mechanical and aerospace engineer major at Princeton, accidentally got into the perfume business when he was recruited from his job in consumer goods at Procter & Gamble by Christian Dior, who wanted a fluent French speaker with a P&G background. Palmer’s mother was raised in Nice, France, and he was raised speaking French and visiting France frequently, and therefore perfectly fit the bill.
But after a decade working on the supply-chain side at Christian Dior, he decided to move on to working more directly with the creation of fragrance itself. He switched to International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF) where he worked for nine years, “living out of a plane, managing 80 perfumers in nine creative centers around the world.”
(Though their paths didn’t cross, Hugh Kirkpatrick ’59 was also at IFF, where he worked his way up over 36 years from service rep, salesman, and manager to president of the fine-fragrance division worldwide. His wife Francie remarks, “It was a great career, and it provided a great life for us.”)Most recently, as vice president of creative development at Firmenich, Palmer takes briefs from clients and is responsible for delivering on-point fragrances anywhere from two weeks to two years later. The fragrances he’s worked on include Farenheit, J’adore , and Eau Sauvage (all Dior), Polo Blue (Ralph Lauren), and Acqua di Gio (Giorgio Armani).
He works alongside Annie Buzantian, responsible for creating most of the Marc Jacobs Daisy line, who kindly created a special fragrance for Palmer’s 30th Princeton reunion based on her own garden. Returning classmates each received a bottle, and he says, laughing, “I got more attention at reunions from the ladies of my class than I did in my four years at Princeton.”
It’s appropriate Palmer brought fragrance to Reunions, because, he says, “Fragrance is all about nostalgia.” The smell of lavender reminds him of summers in Provence. Pine and sage grew wild in the hills there, too. The smell of Paco Rabane “takes me back: My girlfriend in high school said if I wore it, she’d date me.” And the smell of Farenheit floods him with memories of raising three kids in the ’90s, with his wife Susan Fetzer Palmer.
Since he lives in New Jersey, Palmer has organized many workshops to teach Princeton chemistry graduate students about smelling and creating perfumes, hoping to lure some of them into a very sweet — and fragrant — career in the perfume industry.