When you use a synthetic raw material,” said [Thierry] Wasser, [perfumer at Guerlain] “if you know what you're doing you never, but absolutely never use it as a 'substitute' for some natural product. The synthetic is there to be itself—which by the way is something no natural material can be. People need to understand that we design our scents to be specific works.” […]“A work of scent is utterly unnatural,” said Wasser. “Samsara has nothing to do with ‘natural.’ Nature never would or could put it together, but it’s difficult for those people obsessed with ‘natural’—whatever that means—to understand that these synthetics smell like these synthetics and that we use them because they smell like these synthetics."
|Vanitas series by Guido Mocafico, 2007 via parenthetically blog|
The above comes (brought to my attention by Smedley, an online friend) from a snippet author Chandler Burr included in his reveal of the S02E05 Untitled Series, a project that asks people to smell perfume "blind", i.e. shed of any extraneous marketing or preconceived notions.
The problem is that the movement for "green" living specifically in regard to perfume, championing "less chemicals in our products", relies by its own nature (pun intended) on panic, herd mentality and pseudoscience. A similar streak runs through the anti-vaccination zealots or in people who believe rice crackers and an apple are more nutrient-rich & healthier than a plate of eggs & bacon. Just because something has been vilified in the press or "everyone says so" isn't enough proof to stand scientific scrutiny. But there you go: The hysterics on "green", "vegan", "organic" and "healthier" rely on the gullibility of people who aren't scientists and typically get intensely bored by scientific data or who are convinced Big Pharma is hiding beyond everything. No wonder few among them end up scrutinizing the facts, thus allowing "green marketing"* to get conflated with pseudo-science perpetuating inaccuracies online and in the press.
[*I had a discussion over cocktails with the president of local L'Oreal branch a few years back. He told me "Green is big now, so we promote green". It's L'Oreal, folks!]
It's tempting and easy on the ear to romanticize about "the aromatherapeutic effects of lavender" in your fabric softener and have watchdogs decide whether that should be so or not. In reality, the product you add in your machine's rinse cycle already doesn't contain one drop of real lavender oil. The mere name is a misnomer: lavender "this" and lavender "that" is usually no lavender at all, but a blend of vanilla and musks. That's because this is what people respond well to, according to an old study, its findings based on focus groups, conducted by a huge household cleaning products company. Even Guerlain's iconic Jicky is smart to buttress its own lavender with musk and civet.
Natural (a term that is incredibly difficult to define, since everything is man-treated in some form or other if to be used) is considered better because grown among urbanites sick & tired by the emptiness of a sterilized existence it implies a "holier than thou" stance of being both informed (wrong, as we have proved) and considerate (wrong again, because relying on faulty proof and twisted medical terms). This desire "to avoid unnecessary chemicals" has greatly harmed the artistic merit and the solid reputation of the all naturals movement.
Perfumers dabbling in all naturals have been quick to sense that and you won't catch the indie & artisanal crowd that I frequently feature on my pages making bogus claims that their wares are better because they're "healthier" or "safer". Instead they propound their artistic integrity operating on a cottage industry level and their independence relying on no one's external funding and not answering to any board of directors. (To bring an analogy: now that Le Labo has been bought off by the Estee Lauder Group how much of their personal touch can survive? Little, judging by the Jo Malone fragrance brand). More importantly they make their stance that they appreciate natural essences (and natural isolates in some cases, a very welcome addition in my personal opinion) as an aesthetic choice and a bond with perfume's history.
Neither are niche or luxury perfumes necessarily better (the inherent snobbism of which justifies the high prices asked, making niche & luxury the only sector to show growth in the industry) because they use "better" materials or "more naturals" in their formula.
Don't try to guess via the price. Price is a marketing choice, it's positioning that doesn't directly reflect the formula's cost.
Don't try to guess via the color of the juice either. Fragrances are invariably dyed and the dark, grapes-worthy purple color of your Serge Lutens perfume (Sarrasins?) might not come due to the ingredients, much like the lilac in Vera Wang Princess doesn't either.
Certain luxurious niche perfumes do not contain one iota of frankincense or myrrh, even though they are indeed labeled as "incense", or they don't include even one drop of real rose absolute despite the marketing or the name. This does not diminish them, they are what they are, they connote rather than denote, and perfumery is indeed a game of connotation, of semiotics, of illusion via allusion. "Art is a lie that makes us realize truth", in the words of Pablo Picasso.
Things do not necessarily have to prove themselves in a politically charged or a strictly eco-conscious context when it comes to fragrance in order to capture our attention and ultimately our hearts. They merely ask to be considered on their own aesthetic merits; to be judged by the aesthetic principle. Which is another way to say "the pleasure principle", or jouissance, to use a Lacanian term. And sadly, this is what has been depreciated in our contemporary culture.