On October 30, leaders of the fragrance industry gathered for the 20th annual Circle of Champions gala to honor Carol Hamilton, the beauty industry veteran who worked her way up through the ranks at L’Oréal Paris over the past 34 years to her current position as group president of Acquisitions.
The fact that the celebration took place in the New York Park Hyatt’s Onyx Room, on a stage underneath a towering mirror etched with a tree, could not have been more appropriate. This was an evening of joyful reflection, with the prevailing message that Carol Hamilton has always been a woman who helps things grow: people, colleagues, businesses, brands, charities, and yes, her renowned home garden in Connecticut.
While guests dined on lobster and miso cod, executives recounted tales not only of Hamilton’s exceptional leadership and “relentless energy,” but also of her humility and kindness—not to mention her astonishing stiletto collection.
“This woman might be tiny in size, but she’s a giant,” said Alexandre Choueiri, global president, Ralph Lauren Fragrances, who kicked off the evening’s congratulatory speeches. He praised her sterling work ethic, her unfazed poise amongst Hollywood celebrities, her philanthropic accomplishments, and her sense of fun, recalling how she once opened a bottle of wine in the back of a black car on the way to an event, gleefully creating “a true New York moment” for her team.
Sylvie Ganter, founder and creator of Atelier Cologne, characterized Hamilton as a “superhero” whose passion and sunny optimism was instrumental in bringing the fragrance brand into the L’Oréal fold. “If Carol was an atelier cologne,” Ganter said, “She would be Clementine California.”
Leslie Marino, general manager, Redken and Pureology, presented Hamilton with her Circle of Champions award, praising her as “a tenacious leader and a steadfast champion for gender equality,” recounting how the fuse of Hamilton’s dazzling career was lit when she heard Meredith Baxter Birney uttering “Because I’m worth it” in a L’Oréal ad during her junior year at Vassar—a moment that led her to apply for a job, and ultimately become the powerhouse who built L’Oréal Paris into the biggest beauty company in the world.
Marino also spoke of how Hamilton had impacted her personally as a generous and invaluable mentor. “She has made women thrive at L’Oréal,” she said, “and when I look around this room, I see so many who have been touched by Carol’s leadership.”
And of course, Hamilton’s influence has touched many more beyond those in the immediate vicinity—she initiated L’Oréal’s Women of Worth campaign, and by spearheading L’Oréal’s charitable efforts for Ovarian Cancer research, she has raised over 15 million dollars. “Carol is extremely kind and extremely generous,” Marino said. “But what I love most is her fabulous sense of humor—and her belly laugh.”
Upon accepting her honor, Hamilton revealed that when she joined L’Oréal’s luxury division in 2008 she knew “nothing” about fragrance. “Nada. Nein.” But she set about educating herself, and took on Viktor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb as her personal project, transforming it from a niche concern into the No. 3 ranking fragrance within five years.
And of course, it just went from there. True to her reputation for humility, she thanked her own mentors, the talented perfumers whose artistry drives the industry, and Fragrance Foundation president Linda G. Levy.
“I want to say how much I appreciate the elevation and the stature that you’re bringing to The Fragrance Foundation,” said Hamilton, who was resplendent in a black dress emblazoned with—what else?—flowers. “Your leadership is phenomenal.”
—Excerpted from a story written by April Long