By Alix Tunell
Fragrance visionary. Retail powerhouse. Trendsetter. A lion in the industry. A true leader.
These are just a few of the words colleagues and industry veterans used to describe Kate Oldham, SVP/GMM of beauty, jewelry, and home at Saks Fifth Avenue, at the Fragrance Foundation’s 19th annual Circle of Champions evening. Oldham got her start at Saks back in the ‘90s and moved into fragrance in 2002, when the category was struggling. Under her leadership and unique approach to curating niche brands, it’s now stronger than ever before.
The room was packed with leaders in both the retail and fragrance world who had come to support and celebrate Oldham, the new 2018 Champion. Past Champion honorees in attendance included Annette Green, Pete Born, Ann Gottlieb, Camille McDonald, Cos Policastro, Pamela Baxter, and Nicolas Mirzayantz. Laughter and warmth radiated throughout; it seemed everyone had a story to share about Oldham’s collaborative spirit, genius eye, and deep passion for her work.
The Fragrance Foundation Chairman & President Fine Fragrance Worldwide, Firmenich, Jerry Vittoria, took the stage first. Oldham, he said, is admired and respected by all the board members for her talent in “building true innovation in the challenging world of business retail,” pointing to her transformation of the fragrance floor at Saks Fifth Avenue. “I cannot think of a more deserving award winner than you tonight,” he said to Kate, before handing the podium over to President Linda G. Levy.
“Kate is the perfect Champion to celebrate based on her tremendous passion for fragrance and the exceptional relationships she has built within the fragrance community,” said Levy, who referred to her as her “BFF” and kicked off what would become a running joke throughout the night when she mentioned Oldham’s obsession with Instagram.
Presenter Nicholas Munafo, North American President of LVMH Fragrance Brands & Givenchy Beauty, spoke to Oldham’s approachability and willingness to work as a team with everyone involved in the process. “She has a strong desire to explore the unexpected, she’s willing to take risks when it’s something she truly believes in, and she allows brands to flourish by giving them the time they need to develop and by continuously nurturing them,” he said. He left us with a few fun facts about Oldham: She loves chocolate, Pilates, has three passports, and—yes—is indeed Instagram-obsessed.
“What makes Kate stand out as a Champion in the world of fragrance is her extraordinary talent for envisioning and shaping a path of excellence,” said Peggy Elsrode, SVP Luxury North America, Coty, after sharing an anecdote about how she recognized Oldham was a woman “who really goes for it” after seeing her wearing a rainbow sweater embroidered with a cat and a flower crown.
What quickly became obvious is that Oldham is more than just a pleasure to work with. She’s considered a true friend by her colleagues, who spoke in equal detail about her business acumen as they did her personal qualities. “I consider her family,” said Marc Metrick, President of Saks Fifth Avenue, before presenting her with the award. He applauded “her incredible vision, her dedication, her hard work, and her collaborative approach both inside and outside of Saks.” He made the room burst out laughing when he held up her love of tracksuits in the ‘90s as proof that she’s a true visionary, since they’re back in style now. “Oh, and she wanted me to repeat: She wants Instagram followers,” he joked.
Finally, Oldham walked up to accept her award to enthusiastic applause. She used her speech to uplift and thank those who had spoken prior, and shared why fragrance in particular is so special to her. “Fragrance is one of the most intimate and personal categories at Saks. It’s vitally important as a way to connect with our loyal customers, but also the aspirational customers—sometimes it’s the first time they’ve ever bought fragrance. When fragrance is working, the whole store is working,” she said. “As I walk the beauty floors in New York, I am so proud of all the beautiful brands. We truly have the best the fragrance world has to offer.”