Thursday, January 14, 2010

Perfumers have the European Commision Irritating the Hell out of Them

Thus is -more or less*- titled the article by Nicole Vulser entitled: "Les créateurs de parfums ont la Commission européenne dans le nez" on Le Monde, which I was alerted to by erstwhile perfumer (and combatant) Sandrine Videault.
In it the matter of IFRA restrictions is rehashed with the emphasis on perfumers who are almost at the brink of a revolution (their words) because of them. IFRA, the International Fragrance Association, as you probably know if you've been following this blog, is a self-regulatory body which every June publishes a list of ingredients that have been deemed by a panel of doctors, allergiologists, specialists on envionmental matters and assorted experts as worthy of banning, restricting or heavily rationing. Based on these findings published the European Comission decides on what laws to implement for the cosmetics and perfume industry. To clarify matters on what this body is exactly I'm quoting: "The European Commission acts as an executive of the European Union. The body is responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the Union's treaties and the general day-to-day running of the Union. The Commission operates as a cabinet government, with 27 Commissioners. There is one Commissioner per member state, though Commissioners are bound to represent the interests of the EU as a whole rather than their home state. [...] The Commissioners and their immediate teams are based in the Berlaymont building of Brussels". Furthermore, there is the RIFM [Research Institute for Fragrance Materials] annual report which provides info and supplements. The interesting part is all major companies are part of RIFM and IFRA, as well as every aromachemical company (and therefore their subsidiaries and bought-out smaller aroma-producing firms from Grasse etc.)
This is no laughing matter, as it proves the matter is much more complex than the much brandied about opinion that it's all about money, substituting expensive naturals for synthetic substitutes. Several synthetic substitutes are also heavily rationed, you see, and the conglomerates also control companies who are living and breathing in naturals!

Several perfumery ingredients have been banned over the years: The animalics (castoreum, real deer musk and civet) certainly have for long. (Any niche perfumer using covertly using them must be relying on old stock bought at previous decades). Heavily restricted is oakmoss (see two articles on this), Peru balsam, coumarin derivatives, fig leaf absolute and benzyl alcohol (a very common ingredient in several perfumes, classic and modern). Also rationed are geranium essence, jasmine (to extreme limits under the upcoming IFRA 44th Amendment), lavender (gosh, lavender, the 1st aromatherapy oil proposed to just about any novice), cade oil (used to render natural leather notes) and the extract from tea leaves.

That leaves the majority of classic fragrances already mutilated, which brings us to the frantic hunting of vintage specimens as long as the reserves hold. But what will happen next? When these dry up will it mean that several of the perfumes with which generations grew up will have no possible footprint in history? This is a sad and foreboding proposition, much like thinking that Galleria Uffici is vacated in lieu of posters depicting the images that were once "real". The matter is complex, as François Demachy points out that "some perfumes were developed because there were no penalised constraints". More or less it meant that perfumers were mapping territories and were free to roam however they pleased on the world of naturals and synthetics. Guerlain's Thierry Wasser laments: "Among the perfumes we sell, the oldest is over 150 years old. If some day Brussels opposes the essence of rose, what am I to do? There is rose in almost all our perfumes… It is a heritage we need to defend" adding "Jean-Paul Guerlain composed Parure for his mother. We were obliged to discontinue it because we could no longer use the ingredients necessary to produce it. It’s heart-breaking.” The French are certainly very proud of their patrimonie olfactive (olfactory heritage) and that factor might come into play if some "preservation project" gets whipped up for the safe-keeping of historical perfumes. L'Osmotheque is a perfume museum but maybe something on a larger scale with other attributes that would allow more people of different walks of life to be able to partake in this rich tradition. Maybe have some recreations of historical fragrances on display (but not sale, since they won't meet with the criteria)? Maybe devote a line of recreated perfumes in some form that doesn't come in contact with skin or gets pulverised into air? I don't how this could be implemented, I'm just thinking aloud.

The matter of restrictions poses threats to modern perfumes as well (and not only those manufactured within the European Union, because very often the licenses and the sales directive involves Europe too, the most sophisticated luxury-consuming market of them all). Sylvie Polette, the marketing vice-president of Parfums Jean-Paul Gaultier, says: “Brussels will be killing off part of the profession: We aren’t able to rebuild everything in the same manner. This will instigate research, but it translates as a real constraint.” Frédéric Appaire, international marketing manager of Paco Rabanne states: "Our palette is diminishing. This is comparable to telling a painter he’s not allowed to use red, then blue or yellow".

Luckily for us these two prominent perfumers, under the aegis of LVMH no less who oversees classic fragrance houses, Thierry Wasser, in-house perfumer of Guerlain, and François Demachy, overseesing perfumer at Parfums Dior, are quoted in what is essentially a serious reference French newspaper, Le Monde. This means something, as it was often referenced that the industry "had been caught sleeping on the wheel" when these regulatory bodies were first founded, as per the words of a renowned perfumer.
It is also perhaps of some significance that there is a strong rumour that Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the UK, after having quit M6, will be counseling for the giant LVMH luxury house in 2010 with a monetary recompensation that will run "into the six figures" (according to British Telegraph magazine and reported across the media). His aim will be to open the luxury brands into new markets, which basically means Asia (and possibly South America), come to think of it. Blair is already a JP Morgan consultant for Chase and Zurich Financial. The move ~if to be materialized, as it is neither confirmed nor denied for now~ recalls the announcement of Claude Chirac in the direction of PPR and the more recent one of the return of Patrick Ouart, counselor to Nicolas Sarkozy, as right-hand to Bernard Arnault at LVMH.

Whatever the case might be, there is some commotion happening across the luxury industry (LVMH in particular) which might be translateable into changes that might be beneficient to us, the consumers. On the other hand, if there has been speaking up, it most certainly has been with the proviso that every single quote has been carefully monitored by headquarters, as is the usual practice. Which might defeat the purpose, indicating part of a strategy. Let's wait it out and see.

For a complete list of IFRA restricted materials click this IFRA link. And here are the materials in use as of 31 Dec.2009.

For French-reading readers, here is
the Le Monde article, in its entirety.

*The idiomatic phrase, which is very a propos in French (as "nez" means nose and also perfumer) indicates a major annoyance.

pics of Belayrmont building via wikimedia commons, Ed.Munch painting The Shout via


  1. 'Les créateurs de parfums ont la Commission Européenne dans le nez' translates as 'The European Commission gets up perfumers' noses'.

  2. Hi J! Happy 2010!

    Thanks! I did a liberal translation obviously. There is an asterisk at the bottom denoting it is a wordplay in French though, hope you caught it.

    BTW, there is an interesting interview of SL on French Osmoz if you have't seen it yet.

  3. Anonymous20:38

    All the IFRA talk lately has me wondering. How do other continents' restrictions compare? When will the perfumers get angry enough to take the trade to a different part of the globe?

  4. Interesting question!!

    American perfume companies are basically also subject to some restricting laws, primarily from the FDA and secondarily in response to the European directives, if they want to have their wares manufactured/distributed in other parts of the world. Additionally they often have offices/factories in European countries.
    Asian companies (such as Shiseido) also have ties in Europe (the former is Beaute Prestige Internationalle controlled).
    Switzerland is an interesting proposition, as it's not part of EU, yet it's base for at least 3 (off the top of my head) niche perfume houses: A.Tauer, Vero Profumo and Les Nez. So far they have remained intergral in their art and I know they won't capitulate if they can help it.

    Of course there must be local smaller brands which might fly against the wind all over the world.
    I am awaiting to hear from others, yet the indies to whom I spoke are defiant. Of course this is only to the extent that they will be actually able to source out materials...You see, it's always a bit complex.

  5. Fiordiligi21:32

    I'm holding out hope that, as the article intimates, the Guerlain classics might be able to be salvaged/preserved in their original formulae as part of the French national heritage - perfect! That could only happen in France.

    Merci cherie!

  6. Well, well.

    The one thing I've never been able to understand in all of this is how France, which seems to take such pride in its heritage and arts, could look the other way as one of the industries they're most known for is destroyed.

    We shall see.

    In the meantime, put a label on it, like virtually every other industry with this kind of problem does.

  7. Thanks for the article Helg. It's truly depressing ,these restrictions. I can only hope that,somehow, perfumers will revolt otherwise they will be left with nothing much to create with .
    I'm now looking towards Vero Profumo - I am very interested in her work .

  8. I find it refreshing that at least someone like Thierry Wasser is finally speaking out against these nonsense restrictions to save Guerlain's heritage but it was long overdue. sad they had to discontinue such a beautiful perfume!
    Just six months ago, Sylvaine Delacourte told us the perfume industry had to submit to IFRA's regulations and that was it. I know a lot of french bloggers think she's a good artistic director for Guerlain - they've all been invited for tea and cookies and were given deluxe perfume samples like 180 Ans ;)
    They need someone that can defend Guerlain's heritage with more passion and determination, she's too defeating and I also question her taste level.

  9. * sorry read - not defeating enough

  10. Great article, E. and a glimmer of much needed light!

  11. Anonymous23:24

    yes, protect the classics under some sort of historical umbrella... and get a black market in luxury perfume-making going. there are healthy black markets in every other banned substance... why not perfume?

    i only half-jest about the black market. the historical protection i am serious enough about.


  12. D,

    one would fervently hope so!! Still, it seems rather difficult to me in the "cadre" of things as we know them: Blair acting as consultant for Asian markets? Expansion through limited editions that seek to find new audiences? Gradual extinction of the Il etait une Fois re-issues?
    If the preservation of perfumes as national heritage is to be implemented, it won't be in a commercialised form.

  13. P,

    it's really difficult to make sense of, I agree with you! The French are very proud of their heavy industries and perfumery is a traditional industry to them. However, let's not get carried away. To bring a music parable, haven't the French often introduced things musically which the British and the Americans have made into lucrative enterprises? I think maybe the money angle at some point dawned on them and the perfumery industry became a little too focused on that. Plus, like I said before, they didn't really anticipate it would escalate like that. After they did, it was too late.
    It's revealing major aroma producing companies are participating on this body of decisions; why not abdicate? Imagine if they all did en masse! It would give a stron statement and cause some ink flowing in the press.

  14. MK,

    thanks for stopping by and hope that there is some glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel. Vanillin was apparently salvaged from the chopping block (can you IMAGINE if it was eradicated?) so perhaps other things might find a way to bypass the strictest of restrictions. At least I'm crossing my fingers, although I don't think the very things that make up the old classics will rate well enough so as to be reintroduced....

    Vero is highly recommended, quality stuff, very unique!

  15. Uella,

    thanks for commenting! Parure is a bit of a disaster because ~exactly~ it's so beautiful! I don't really think it's so much more "rationable" than Mitsouko, but you see Mitsouko sells very well in Asia, so they save that one and let the other perish. Somehow economics does enter the equation.
    I feel for Thierry Wasser, he has such a difficult task on his hands: Perhaps he's the perfumer with the most difficult task right now, because Guerlain is such a historical house and no matter the latest modern creations, many revere it for its sense of tradition. It's difficult to reconcile the two, all with upkeeping the IFRA restrictions, no less! It was great of him to be quoted and I do think that a reference in that particular paper amounts to something: they're serious and consistent.

    On the other hand, this "shifting" which I see at LVMH at the moment (notice the repackaging of Dior's fragrances under the unbrella-name Les Creations du Monsieur Dior)i s a bit suspicious. Could it be that this is a faux indignation, meant to cajole? I would hate to say so, and yet what can I do but think twistedly? I think the way we're led to by all the developments of the last few years, one is bound to think in a skewed manner. Interestingly, I read on POL that someone just went out and bought a bottle of Guerlain despite vowing of not ever doing that again, after reading Wasser's comment. So, this put me into a twisted thought process. Hope I'm very wrong.

    "I know a lot of french bloggers think she's a good artistic director for Guerlain - they've all been invited for tea and cookies and were given deluxe perfume samples like 180 Ans ;)" >>
    LOL!!! I see you haven't forgotten your usual caustic spirit! Naughty!
    Well, luckily for me, I haven't been invited for tea and coookies and the 180 Ans I have I bought myself, so this leaves me ample space to be as critical as I like and see fit.
    Yet, I cut some slack to poor Sylvaine all the same. I don't think she can do everything we expect her to do, you see. She certainly can't oppose IFRA single-handedly! Then again she might not art-direct in the way she has at some recent launches; tastes of course differ, even among Guerlainophiliacs, but I'm sure we agree on which those launches were.
    But you know, like I said, the giant Fenrir above ;) demands sacrifice in human meat, from their employees as well as the consumers, and this is where we're reduced to. :/

    I believe it will take more than mere quotes in a (respected) newspaper before I sense a change in the industry. In the meantime, I will continue to support indies. :-)

  16. Uella,

    my English might be worse for wear: Isn't "defeating" used as an adjective meaning "combatant with a successful outcome"? If so, then I think your first iteration was more to the point of what you meant to say.

    I might be totally wrong, in which case, please diregard and I will go hide my head at some dark corner. :-)

  17. Donna,

    you're welcome and thanks for your nice words.
    I think there's more to it than meets the eye, so please also read my replies to Olfacta/P and Uella.

  18. Minette,

    LOL, good idea, actually!
    Seriously, the historical protection is indeed a great suggestion, one which I would go out of my way to support in some way, being a historian and all. It's all very close to my heart.

    But the thing is history ~and especially art history~ is not only good for museums. For a medium such as perfume, which is also a commodity, the perfume museum (in whatever form, the Osmotheque or some of the others) is good and dandy, but it leaves a staggering amount of people outside of this partaking of this art! It's a bit as if the Mona Lisa was only viewable at the Louvre and no one could see what it looked like if they hadn't been there. So, that approach won't do for our purposes. There needs to be some sort of transmittable medium in which the people can get a sense of that olfactory heritage even if they cannot buy the actual wares at a store or won't have to put them on themselves as personal scent. A sort of "poster" or "flier" form of olfaction, so to speak, a way to smell but not be negatively impacted by it.

    It needs a creative genius to come with the proper idea, but like I said I'm just thinking aloud.

  19. Helg - I agree it will take more than a couple of quotes in a newspaper to change IFRA direction !
    Poor Sylvaine - I do feel she has done a good job and does at least' commune' with the masses sometimes( the likes of the lowly public who buy and worship Guerlain )
    And Thierry Wasser has a very difficult job ........stuck between a rock and hard place.
    Re. vanillin- well if they want to see the end of the perfume industry 'en block' - then banning vanilla is the way to go ! :D
    So glad they reversed that one !

    Vero Profumo - just dying to try Onda .

  20. It's the same crap again and again.
    If humankind is made of such idiots that they are not able to discern between general health hazard (say fancy asbestos fabric) and just something that may cause allergy in a few individuals (virtually anything), then we're all doomed and the world is coming to end; the next civilization will be that of rats.
    I've said it elsewhere: I'm badly allergic to cigarette smoke. Yeah, sure, smoking brings pleasure to great many people, I'm not for banning smoking entirely but why should I suffer when the school kids from the next door school come smoking (it's basic school the hell, they are 14-15 and nobody should sell, give or otherwise procure cigarettes for them until they are 18) to the roofed portico of the building where I work and I have to fight my way through them and come coughing to work every day. Does anyone care at all? Nope. If I'm to suffer smokers, then why aren't I allowed to enjoy my vanilin or whatever?
    Speaking of vanilin, it's in every other candy or sweet - chocolate, ice creams, cakes, whatever.
    And... well, at my own risk, I wanted to try my brand new perfume attempt. I dabbed the undiluted oils on my skin, including the evil jasmine absolute. It does nothing, it only smells (heavenly). I like it and I'm risking cancer and a miserable death for many other reasons I don't like (traffic pollution, to start with).
    Just sayin'.

    Helg, please, ban the vancouver flowers pusher :)

  21. Anonymous15:23

    Dear E,

    I have tried to wade through all the posts and articles about this issue and I feel like I am still missing something. With the exception of the animal-derived substances that are just plain cruel to harvest, I don't understand what the problem is. It seems that this is just a question of intolerances and allergies, which I realize can be quite serious for some but that is not a reason to ban or restrict. Usually, those affected are aware of their allergy and take approproate precautions. Do we ban milk because some of us are lactose intolerant? Do we stop using penicillin because some of us are allergic? No, we educate and warn the public about the consequences and let individuals make their own decisions. As for the substances that are possibly carcinogenic, this is not restricted to naturals so I find it curious that only the natural substances are singled out. In a few decades we will find out that some of the synthetics are carcinogenic or otherwise "dangerous"; it happens all the time. THere is something very strange about all of this. A little too Big Brother for my taste.


  22. Natalia's comment sums up the ridiculous-ness of this whole situation, and whispery worries of possible conspiracy are certainly understandable given how nonsensical it is -- there MUST be another reason for all this that we're not seeing, because otherwise, WHY???? Call me cynical, but these days the answer is almost always "money." Someone, somewhere is making money off the whole deal. Which is why the news that LVMH & Arnault are getting their noses out of joint is the most promising bit of news in all of this to me. Arnault & his bank accounts get listened to. Here's hoping he shouts more and louder.


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