In regards to my previous post Perfume Restrictions and Why Everything We Say in Public Matters, Tania Sanchez, the co-author of Perfumes the Guide and a logical mind to be reckoned with, had the good manners and grace to honour me with a direct response. She brought many interesting points to the discussion and although I replied to her in the comments section I do feel that some of my points deserve some air-time for the benefit of those who do not customarily read the comments section. So, bear with me and we might disentangle some finer points.
Tania told me:
"The *future* of perfumery is not the issue. Perfumers have a massive palette and their creativity is proven every time we sit down with new perfumes full of ideas we've never smelled before. It's the obliteration of the past that is the wretched shame. As someone who has suffered all my life from a lot of allergic contact dermatitis (oddly, not to fragrance but mostly to skincare and cosmetics) I understand from my own study and experience that it is impossible to create a product that causes no allergies. The word "hypoallergenic" has no regulated meaning and something that causes rash in one person of "sensitive skin" will be the perfect product for another such self-confessed. We understand, when it comes to all other cosmetics, that when we try something and it gives us a rash, the sensible thing is to abandon it. Not ban it. The question is why these grand works of perfumery art, about which some of us care very deeply and which give us such happiness, must be vandalized solely to prevent some people's rashes, when those people can simply avoid the product by choice. Toxins, carcinogens, and other things that cause irreversible injury absolutely should be eliminated from the perfumer's palette, no question. But skin allergens? Why, when there is a very simple alternative: (1) a full list of ingredients and (2) advising a 24-hour patch test?"Certainly this is the level-headed approach it is a pleasure conducting dialogue with. So let's take the points one by one, so my ~perhaps nebulous before~ stance becomes clearer.
Since perfumery as an art form has been proclaimed dead, there is of course the rush of panic in an average person's mind of "Hell, what now?? Shall I abandon my pefume hobby? And will everything produced from now on be soul-less?" The focus of my article therefore was to dispel a little of that panic. I think it managed it in some degree, if I say so myself. Then, there is the greater issue of the massacre of classics. There is no dispute on that as I am as much a collector of classics myself, several of them vintage or rare. I collect them, dust them, look at them with dreamy eyes and wear them with a nostalgic pang of someone who was born long after the Summer of Love. A nostalgic pang which is unexplicably shared by many. It is the nature of man (and woman!) to "gloss over" the past and idolise it as better times. Ah, the Golden Age of Cronus...and the continuous decline of man... subject of mythological themes in as far back as 1000BC. Nothing new. We idolise that which we have not experienced first hand. But even if we have, psychology tells us we like to forget the bad, hold on to the good and reminiscence life in idyllic terms. The more we age, the more we do that and it is a sign of our vanity and coming to terms with mortality. We want to be able to say "I had it good, I saw the beauty, reaped its core!". It's understandable.
So what does all this have to do with perfume? It does, in relation to our collecting classics and insisting on their unaltered state of eternal beauty, their own immortality being a small indication of the belief that we, too, can be immortal if only in a small, miniscule piece: that of the beauty ideal we hold. But here is the catch: When wearing a vintage classic I do not claim to re-live an experience of a woman who wore the same juice in the 1930s. It doesn't matter if my juice is authentic, if it is well-preserved, if I am in the right frame of mind or even if I am holding a bakelite cigarette case and wearing a Lelong gown! In essence (no pun intended) I cannot replicate the experience of wearing a classic of that time the way the people who wore it in that age did. Like we discussed with Jean Claude Ellena in our interview, it's not possible to make this "true" to either the maker's intention or the spitit of the era, as numerous factors conspire to make the experience different. How's that? One cannot have read Satre or Genet and go back to seeing things the way people saw them before WWII. The bleak and the existentialist gloom has changed our souls, even if though the memory of written, not lived, word. One cannot have lived through women's movement or reaped the benefits of it in their personal and professional lives and graft themselves back to the time of La Belle Epoque when women didn't always think for themselves. One cannot see the vintage classics (and for our purposes here I mean the ones which are bought in this almost contraband business of ebaying and antiques scouring) as anything else as a glimpse of history. Are they accurate? They are only in the degree which we allow them to be; which we are able to allow them to be. Seeing (even carefully touching, if you're on the inside frame of the business) the Cloisters Apocalypse manuscript at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC is not the same as being a monk fixing the gold-leaf in a musty, wooden bank-seat at Cloisters wearing the monk's cloak. The experience is vastly different! Imagine therefore how much more different the experience is when a classic pefume's formula has been already adjusted numerous times through its history ~sometimes even right after its official launch!~ and not only in the last 10-15 years!! Those reformulations, which ALL the classics have endured at some point or another, are due to other factors than the latest IFRA regulations: lack of "bases" for the perfumers ("bases" are ready-made and commercially available "accords" that give a specific "note" or effect, so that the perfumer doesn't have to sit down and start from scratch each and every time); loss of materials due to suppliers' changes; arid or wet seasons influencing the naturals' quality, yield or vibance, much like in wines; adjustments that have to do with economizing or tastes when the brand changes hands.... The hunt for the perfect photocopy of a 1919 Mitsouko (or any such) is therefore impossible! Unless we were transpoted back to 1919 à la H.G Wells ~while being at an age with our full capacities intact~ sniffed some, taken a little with us and then being transported back to the present to analyse, see how to replicate 100% and manage to actually do it, everything else is basically an exercise in futility. We can regard the classics not as the classics that were, but as the classics we loved. The one version which we have liked, which we have come to love ~whatever that might be and however time-specific it might be. (You all realize that it is getting more and more difficult, now I broke this down in those terms, huh?) Man and woman loves what they are familiar with. They love that which has first touched their heartstrings and even if it was not perfect it will always hold a dear place in their memories. It's almost impossible to pin down what version each of us loves however, so perfume companies adjust to the widest denominator. And plus, not even L'Osmotheque has the 1921 Ernest Beaux Chanel No.5 and that's a fact!
So, what do I propose? Eradicate the classics? Of course not! But insisting on our part, our perfume enthusiasts' part, our perfume connoisseurs' part (call it whatever you like) that we want the real Joy, the real No.5 etc is a populist stance that reminds me of a kind of "free fragrance!" activism. Is this viable and what's more is it effective? I think on the whole pefume companies want to please the consumers, if only because they rely on them for sales -yes, even the discerning ones sometimes!- and if they see an interest they will adjust to the best of their margins from a business point of view (I realize miracles cannot happen). Therefore it's good to provide some actual means of voicing that concern, which is what I did by providing some data on how to reach some people. I'm sure more people will chime in and offer theirs as well.
I don't know if the authors of the Guide are already lobbying in a "free fragrance" campaign and therefore are preparing us for something on which they will need our support in whatever form. I only recall the now defunct blog of Luca in which he had said something along the lines of there being an hierarchy of worries: First you worry about the really big things: war, death, famine, etc. Once those are out-of-mind, we start to worry about smaller things: cars, safety seats, allergens. In a turmoiled world in which the economic crisis is having several people sacked and jobless with families to raise and when earthquakes destroy whole blocks of flats collapsing in L'Aquila, Italy while the Baths of Carakalla in Rome suffer damages, the matter of IFRA and reformulating is becoming small potatoes. But even if there is a crusade going on concerning the irrationality of the spirit of the restrictions, the latest Spring Supplement to the Guide which is full of mentions of reformulations is proof positive that the previous pleas by the authors, in the first edition of Pefumes the Guide and before, have met with deaf ears.
Concerning allergens there is some confusion among the public. Let me straighten it out to the best of my non-medically trained ability. Allergen is something that causes an allergy. Allergy is according to Medicine Net:"A misguided reaction to foreign substances by the immune system, the body system of defense against foreign invaders, particularly pathogens (the agents of infection). The allergic reaction is misguided in that these foreign substances are usually harmless. The substances that trigger allergy are called allergen. Examples include pollens, dust mite, molds, danders, and certain foods. People prone to allergies are said to be allergic or atopic". Allergies are largely hereditary and usually manifest themselves fairly early on in life. Sensitizers on the other hand is a completely different issue and this is what IFRA is trying to regulate. Let's see the definition according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration: "A sensitizer is defined by OSHA as "a chemical that causes a substantial proportion of exposed people or animals to develop an allergic reaction in normal tissue after repeated exposure to the chemical." The condition of being sensitized to a chemical is also called chemical hypersensitivity. Therefore here is the interesting part which a perfumer highlighted in the comments yesterday: "Sensitization is the term used to describe a sudden allergenic reaction to something that you previously tolerated well. The chemical substance builds up in your system, and then, on day 563 of use, perhaps 10 years in (days and years chosen randomly, of course) you get a bad response. It may even occur with a new perfume that you've never worn before, but it contains the lavender oil that you've been using for 10 years, and bingo - now you're sensitized to lavender. You're not allergic to it, you're sensitized."
Potential allergens therefore do not perform in the either/or way suggested. One thing could be perfectly all right for yeas and through repeated exposure it can escalate into becoming a sensitiser. So a patch-test is not enough. Even in hair-dyes where a patch-test is de rigeur, one can accumulate a sensitivity and it might burst at any second (this is why they advise doing a patch test EACH AND EVERY TIME! Even for products which you have been using all the time) Can you imagine that for perfume use? I can imagine the labels "Spray the product on a dot on your elbow or behind the ear each time you want to wear the perfume and if you feel no redness, prickling or burning sensation within the next 24 hours, you can wear your perfume ~THIS TIME!" Yeah, great bunch of help that would be!! So, although theoretically I am agreeing that labelling is allowing an informed choice (and I'm all for informed choices!), the matter is more complex than that. Simplistic "easing it up" along the terms of "just slap on a label, for Pete's sake!" is not very helpful.
Listing the full ingredients list isn't very helpful either. First because of the obvious, as explained above: one can be perfectly fine with something and yet get a reaction out of the blue. Life is scary and then we die. We all take our risks and I don't advocate not to. But perfume companies already list the most common allergens and therefore if one knows about something specific not agreeing with them, they can avoid it. The rest they have to risk. Yet the full ingredients list is not something companies want to do for another two reasons: Even in food-stuff (which is scarier to use compared with perfume) you cannot find out the exact formula down to percentages or origin of any ingredient. And sometimes there are cryptic labellings such as "natural aroma of fruit" (what exactly? how was it derived? how much?) or even misleading "no added salt" (yeah, but the sodium percentage is huge anyway!). Fragrances are not going to list everything because the mystique is a great part of the whole business. And also because the consumer is not at ease or has sufficient knowledge to know what anisaldehyde or Iso-E Super is etc. Several people ~on perfume boards even~ protest "I don't want my pretties converted into a chemistry lesson!". And just think what the listing of a full list of ingredients would do to consumers and a few perfume critics as well: No more smart-ass stuff!!
Basically the outcry for the latest regulations is justified because they stand to close some of the little guys (always a bad thing in a democracy), and they are threatening to have several raw materials suppliers out of business ~and therefore even if the little guys want to construct a perfume that bypasses the regulations they will not have the materials to do so!
But it also opens up two interesting arenae, which to me sound full of job potential for specific people: legislative consultants (people who will deal with all the paperwork necessary for the implementations in big companies and with prior experience in law, insurance, that sort of thing) and an ultimate atbitrer of taste who is equipped in chemistry, has a connoisseurship of perfume and a couple of publications on the subject under their belt.
We will continue with posts on the oakmoss and other ingredients problem and offer some clarification and altenatives.