Karen Dubin, Founder & Director of Sniffapalooza, can clock her interest in fragrance down to the day. She was four years old.

“My Grandmother Rose started working when she was eight. When she became 60, she took the money she had saved and began taking cruises to see the world on the luxury liners that would be at sea for three months at a time. When she came back from her first trip, she brought me scented soaps from hotels like The Ritz and The Savoy. I kept them in a little shoebox. She noticed I was attracted to the scents, and on her next trip, she brought me back small bottles of perfume—Joy, Chanel, Carven. I loved the packaging, too. That really started it!”

Avoiding sugary-sweet scents as a young girl, Karen started wearing men’s scents (Ralph Lauren Chaps for Men) at the age of 10. She spent her allowance on fragrances—the first bottle she bought was Lanvin Arpège when she was six. She can even recite the classic ads for Arpège: “Promise Her Anything, But Give Her Arpège.”

Karen’s increasing interest and knowledge of perfume ultimately became the driving force behind creating Sniffapalooza in 2002, the international event-based organization for fragrance enthusiasts. The philosophy of Sniffapalooza is to celebrate fragrance as an art, and its creators—perfumers—as artists.

“Perfumers are like rock stars to us!” Karen said.

The first event comprised only four people, a woman from Queens, and two women who came in from Cleveland for the day.

“We shopped, compared fragrances, ate, and talked about jobs, kids, husbands and boyfriends. It was so much fun being with people who love what you love!”

Soon the events grew larger. “It wasn’t difficult. I had a following from when I wrote fragrance reviews for MakeupAlley.com, and I was a fixture at the fragrance counters of Barneys, Takashimaya, Henri Bendel and other stores…known as a really knowledgeable consumer. We had the first ‘meetup’ before the word ‘meetup’ ever existed!”

What excites Karen most about winning this year’s Great Idea Award for Fragrance Innovation? She’s the first consumer to win it.

“That’s kind of wonderful. I’m really winning this for all the other consumers out there. This wasn’t my job, it came from pure passion!”

Up until the summer of 2012, Karen held down a full-time career in advertising as a producer and writer of TV and radio commercials. But over the years, Sniffapalooza became as natural to her as a heartbeat. Her company had its first formal event in 2004 at Bergdorf Goodman, attended by other fragrance enthusiasts she met online. One of those attending was Karen Adams, who eventually became her partner in Sniffapalooza, and together they have turned it into the largest consumer fragrance group on the planet, producing many events as well as a yearly trip abroad to study fragrance in a foreign city. The group has very good relationships with perfumers and has done many events with them, and many have even joined Sniffapalooza.

A turning point for Sniffapalooza was in December 2005, when a feature story about Karen and the group ran on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, complete with a woodcut portrait of Karen. “I felt like we had really arrived!”

While Karen’s group generates sales for stores—and she’s helped several retailers curate their niche fragrance selections—Sniffapalooza has never been monetized. It’s always been about the shared passion and camaraderie of kindred spirits.

“It’s complex. I worked in advertising for over 29 years, but fragrance is really what I’m about—it’s my life. I boldly left a secure job to see if I could forge a career in fragrance, and I was lucky—because of my reputation with Sniffapalooza, I picked up freelance work right away. And now I’m involved in several projects with fragrance houses. This will also give me the time to think about building Sniffapalooza globally.”

Today Karen is trying to figure out her next steps in growing her company, and where she fits in the fragrance industry. What does she think she’s contributed most to it?

“What wound up happening, totally without setting out to, was that with Sniffapalooza I ended up identifying a consumer for the fragrance industry they weren’t even aware of—passionate, knowledgeable, informed—wants to know everything about the perfumer, his process, inspirations, curious about every detail from the first idea on the back of a cocktail napkin to the finished product on the shelf. And, importantly, this consumer buys a lot. Additionally, I gave the consumer a voice. That was a new concept. Fragrance companies and raw material houses know we’re informed, and they trust our opinions and want to know what we think. We’ve become a muse and a powerful marketing tool for the fragrance industry. The consumer is now, rightfully so, a part of the equation.”