A Conversation with Inspiring Educator Virginia Bonofiglio

Virginia Bonofiglio in a lab coat smelling a scent strip in the cosmetics lab at FIT
Bonofiglio in the Annette Green Fragrance Foundation Studio.

Virginia Bonofiglio, assistant professor and associate chair of Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing, joined FIT as an adjunct in 1996 and was appointed to her current position in 2012. Bonofiglio recently received the first Inspiring Educator Award from Cosmetic Executive Women. Newsroom sat down with Bonofiglio on the occasion of this honor.

What does receiving the Inspiring Educator Award mean to you?

Receiving this award is a great honor. Cosmetic Executive Women is a 70-year-old organization that has been empowering women in the beauty business. For them to recognize my work with students at FIT is humbling. I follow in the steps of iconic, passionate beauty-industry leaders such as Annette Green, of the Fragrance Foundation, and Hazel Bishop, a chemist and cosmetics entrepreneur. They planted the seed for growing a cosmetics and fragrance marketing program at FIT, and I was able to follow in their footsteps and nurture that growth.

How did you get interested in cosmetics and fragrance?

It wasn’t a choice. When I graduated from Hunter College, I needed a job, so I applied for a position at Givaudan, the Swiss fragrance and flavor company, and they gave me a job. Not because I had any interest in fragrance, but because I had studied French for six years in college, and they had hired a French perfumer who did not speak English very well, and they needed someone to work for him.

What they didn’t tell me—what they didn’t even realize—was that in school you study Parisian French. But the perfumer was from Provence. He spoke Provençal. So for the first four or five months, I had no clue what he was talking about, but we got along. And he told me, “I know you want to go back to school. I know you want to be a researcher. But you have a good nose, and you will be successful in the fragrance industry. And you’ll make a lot more money than you will in academia.” And he was right. So I studied under him as a perfumer.

Why do you feel you couldn’t have done anything else?

I am good at it. If you have a nose and you’re good at it, you can’t do anything else. I’m not a creative person. I can’t draw, I can’t paint, but I can smell. And that was my talent. Everybody has one, and I found mine. By accident. Who ever even heard of that? When I told my parents what I was doing for work, they were hysterical laughing—they didn’t think it was a real job. I said, “I’m going to learn to be a perfumer.” And my mom said, “Oh, so you’re going to go to Bloomingdale’s and be at the counter?” And I said, “No, that’s not what I’m going to do.”

What do you like best about teaching?

Teaching is all about empowering the next generation to bring the industry to new heights and supporting the dreams of the students who pass through your classroom. I have found that if you listen, your students can teach you as much as you teach them. The best thing about teaching is learning together. Teaching is about learning. You’re learning with them. You and your students are on a journey.

You spearheaded, along with Annette Green, the creation of the only fragrance studio on a college campus in the United States. Can you share a bit about what this was like?

Building a fragrance studio on a college campus was the genius idea of Annette Green. I was involved because I was then working in fragrance and had intimate knowledge of creating a fragrance laboratory. I was privileged to work on this project and to create the classes that would be taught. The entire fragrance industry came together to support this venture.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my family, who have supported me during my adventures at FIT, and of my students, who have inspired and challenged me to become a better teacher and taught me the importance of empathy.

What is your favorite fragrance, and why?

I love many fragrances, but my favorite is Calandre from Paco Rabanne. It’s aldehydic, it’s green, it’s rosy. Mr. Rabanne was inspired by the glass and steel skyscrapers of New York to create this homage to modernity. Everybody has their own idea about what to wear with what. For me, fragrance is more about day and night and what kind of clothes I’m wearing, like wool or heavy things. There are fragrances that I consider fur fragrances. If I have a big event, I wear a Tom Ford, but my favorite is Calandre, and I actually have to have it made.

What’s the best advice you can offer to others?

If this is going to be your career, have fun. If I wasn’t having fun, I would stop doing it. I believe it’s the best way to learn. 

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