Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Something Is Rotten

In the opening article for the latest installment of Perfumes- The Guide, Tania Sanchez says: "This year a number of traditional perfumery materials must be removed from or reduced in all formulas, new and old. Goodbye hydroxycitronellal means goodbye Diorissimo as you knew it". But this is not the only piece of bad news. The update brings a new review for Annick Goutal's classic, Eau d’Hadrien. It was originally reviewed by Sanchez for the book (and received 3 stars), but the new restriction on the use of citrus oils (the same material you get all over your hands in much larger concentration when peeling an orange or zesting a lemon) have forced Goutal to reformulate (dropping one of their biggest sellers of all times was probably not an option) and the result, apparently, is a hand washing liquid (two stars, meaning: Not Recommended).

In another review, Turin mentions new restrictions on heliotropin. That one hurts deeply, because it affects everything from Guerlain L'Heure Bleue to Luctor et Emergo by POTL. A similar remark was made about the rose derivatives damascones (think Guerlain Nahema and YSL Paris).

Turin also speculates that the recent reformulation of Féminité du Bois was done because of new European regulation, though he doesn't specify. There was a rumor not too long ago that the next molecule on the chopping block is Iso Super E. Féminité du Bois has quite a bit of it, and if that's the case, the entire CdG Incense series as well as Terre d' Hermes are goners. But since I can't find any proof of this, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt.

The restrictions Turin and Sanchez confirm are enough to raise some very serious questions about the future of perfumery. Both naturals and synthetics are being categorically axed, and the result makes my perfume cabinet into a museum of lost fragrances. In this reality, even the MacGyver of scent, Jean-Claude Ellena will have a smaller arsenal of molecules to put together and create something new. Other perfumers, whose approach is far less minimalist are likely to find themselves with their hands tied more than ever.

Out of all the topics raised by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez in their book, Perfumes- The Guide and its online sequels, most people have chose to gloss over their constant warnings about the industry's surrendering to draconian restrictions over the use of more and more raw materials. It's easier to take offense because the authors trashed your favorite classic instead of asking the question: why doesn't said classic smell as good as it used to?

For those new to the issue, here's a quick recap: Modern perfumes are a combination of both natural and synthetic molecules in varying proportions and concentrations. Just as is the case for raw materials one can find in the air or in food, some people have allergic reactions to them. The cosmetics industry (and food manufacturers) must list the ingredients on the packaging. This way, those of us who are allergic to strawberries, peanuts, MSG or balsam peru would know to avoid them. We've all seen the warning "if a rash appears- discontinue use" on various face creams and hair products. It makes sense.

For a reason as mysterious as the universe itself, the organizations in charge of regulating the perfume industry have no faith in the consumers reading comprehension skills. They do not think that a warning label such as "contains oakmoss" is enough. They have required by law to drastically reduce the amount of oakmoss in fragrance. This meant that many classic perfumes had to be adjusted accordingly. Unfortunately, none of the reformulations smells as good as the original, and some scents were completely discontinued.

Now, think about candy bars that contain peanuts. A severe peanut allergy can kill you if you're not rushed to the hospital on time. Yet, Sneakers bars are not restricted in any way.

But this is very old news. And the perfume industry's quick and easy surrender to this blow is a well-known fact.

According to Turin, nothing but a serious fight-back from the industry could change this, but they are not likely to do a thing if the consumers are silent. Why are we silent? Why do we keep buying bottles of reformulated juice? Why aren't we sending them back to LVMH accompanied by a nastigram?

Of course, there are other important questions: Who benefits from this? Why the fight against perfume, of all things? What is behind the industry's silence? But we, as consumers, can only change our own behavior, which is why I'm wondering why the discussion about the Guide doesn't include any alarm regarding the news mentioned above.

Some follow-up here.

Image: Animal Makers


  1. This is absolutely awful! I don't understand why the need to do that. I mean, I once had an allergy to a deodorant and now I don't buy it. I mean I honestly do not see the need to ban all these materials. Your analogy with SNickers is so true.

  2. I haven't been purchasing the updates to the guide (mostly due to a hatred of .pdf files) so I hadn't read any of this information. I'm horrified not just at the perfume industry, which I'll get back to, but also at the food industry. This whole allergy scare has gotten out of control. Peanuts are healthy, high in protein and a good bumper crop for farmers to grow off season. By banning peanuts these idiots are hurting farmers who are already hard up enough as it is. For what? That one in one thousand kid who is allergic to peanuts? Why not ban bees while we're at it? Far more people are allergic to them. Banning something because a few are allergic is a ludicrous invention of the government to try to show that they 'care'. First my food and now they're attacking my perfume?
    NB, do you happen to know who exactly is responsible for these bans? Also what steps do you think are a good way to halt this stupidity? Letter writing, petitions? I'm so glad you brought this to my attention, thank you.

  3. Gaia,

    I was thinking the same thing myself as I read the newest installment of The Guide just last night. I read the intro and then could barely must any interest in reading the perfume reviews because everything is so utterly dire. I felt as if I was watching the death of the last deer in an endangered species.

    I feel, same as you, that we should be FREAKING OUT, but I'm at a loss as to what to DO about it. Not many seem to care or discuss this issue and it's beyond huge. What I'd really like to do is repeal the ass backwards restrictions that have already occurred, as well. I wonder why we don't hear much complaints (if any) from the perfumers themselves?

    What should we do? I'm with you. Let's do something. Now. I'm scared. And peeved.

  4. Great, heaven forbid the FDA regulate vitamins & supplements or the EPA or any other governmental organization regulate the potentially hazardous chemicals created each year so long as our perfume is "safe". This is ludicrous! Put a stupid warning label on the box or a discrete one on the bottle (it's good enough for cigarettes & allergens), and have the government take care of something more important like cleaning up dioxin plumes near sources of drinking water.

    Peanuts are not actually "banned", yes, in some schools, but those kids are actually in great danger. Considering how irresponsible some school children are, it's the only way to avoid tragedy.

  5. Ines, your deodorant example is spot on. I don't have the numbers but I'm willing to bet there are more lactose intolerant people than oakmoss or citrus allergies. Yet I don't see any latte restriction in our future.

  6. Alysia, other than in schools (which makes sense) there are no restriction over peanuts selling. I'm sorry if what I wrote wasn't clear enough.
    You are completely right about bees, and it also applies to shellfish. Both can be extremely dangerous for the unfortunate souls who are allergic. But it's our responsibilty to avoid these things. I'll never travel to Tuscany in the spring because I have a severe respiratory allergy to the blossom of olive trees. I don't expect anyone to cut the trees for me.

    The main culprit for the restriction of materials is IFRA, the International Fragrance Association. Why this entity feels the need go further than the food and cosmetics regulating authorities is a mystery.

  7. Abigail, I'm so relieved to know I wasn't the only one reading the update and feeling this dread.

    I don't get it. It doesn't make any sense. When it comes to the perfumers, I can only guess it's a matter of protecting their livelihood. They need their jobs at the big companies, which in turn need to be commissioned to create perfumes. The independent perfumers have their own fears and they probably lack the means.

    I would have expected the big guns like LVMH, PPR and others who are all dear to the French government to put up a fight and do some serious lobbying. You'd think this is a lot more important than their fight against eBay.

    I'm trying to think what we can do. Obviously- talk and post about this. I don't understand why almost all of the chatter is about why Luca likes this and not that or about Tania's level of snark. Everyone is ignoring the important parts and it baffles me.

    Alysia has mentioned letters and petitions. Maybe. But to whom? Would thousands of signatures from Goutal fans who refuse to buy the new Hadrien push whoever owns the house now to take up full page protest ads in Le Figaro?

  8. Anon, I'm with you. The supplements and vitamins can be downright scary, and there's so much toxic crap everywhere. It's much more serious than anyone's chance to get a skin rash from perfume.

  9. This makes me want to scream. Many of my favorite scents are discontinued already just because, and now old favorites are on their way out! One thing I find very interesting is that there are so many beauty blogs out there, and blogs in general. If we all stood together and started reporting this, like Gia did, maybe the industry would be forced to respond. It happened with Bond No 9, didn't it?

  10. Lucy, what I mostly hope to achieve here is spreading the word and making people aware that this has been going on. The industry's attention to the blogs is still not where it should be, but our readers are consumers who should be informed. The more blogs who talk about this issue, the bigger is our reach. Eventually, someone might take notice.

  11. Gaia,

    I'll post about this at I Smell Therefore I Am, too.

    I'll reference your post with a link.

    Perhaps if all the perfume blogs write about this we can get something started. Thank you for spearheading this critically important issue - we can't just sit here complacently and let this happen.

    Maybe Helg at Perfume Shrine can shed some light from a European perspective and write about this as well.

  12. Thanks, Abigail. This would be a good start. I hope other bloggers join us soon.

  13. I think that if someone has an allergy it's up to that individual to pay attention. My cousin, for example, is allergic to raw apples. So, when I went apple picking and came home with a big bag of apples...she didn't eat them! Wow - such common sense!

    That said, I do think it's reasonable to demand producers of a fragrance to list all the ingredients. If you don't know what is in something then you won't know if you're allergic (and I don't believe I've ever seen a full listing of ingredients on perfume boxes before? Maybe I haven't looked?).

    If people are allergic to peanuts the solution isn't to take Snickers off the shelves. The ubiquitous "Warning: This product may contain peanuts" label was born out of need to inform highly allergic persons of a potential health hazard. Can't we have "Oak moss, citrus oils, etc." listed on the packaging (or an insert) and call it a day instead of ruining a relatively small industry?

    This whole thing reeks of a strange vendetta-driven conspiracy as it seems such a random industry to attack full-throttle and makes no sense. Someone was spurned by a perfume lover who wore Fleur d'Oranger or Lyric.

  14. I'm actually suprised that in the US they're not banned (peanuts I mean), in Canada in most elementary schools they are most definatly banned, to the extent that staff keep a supply of peanut free alternatives to replace the peanut ladden ones. This in classrooms without children without peanut sensitivities.
    It's not so much a ban on selling peanut products, it's the negative influance all the peanut free ads have on parents who chose to stop buying peanut butter.
    But regarless it's completely off topic and I'll stop flailing around about farmers (I get a little carried away about food.)
    Oh no, Fleur D'Oranger? I haven't ordered my bottle yet. Do we know when this goes into effect?

  15. This is scary! I don't get it, what is the reason for this? The creating of perfumes is an art and the bureaucrats cannot understand it.

  16. As someone on POL commented, it is likely due to the fact that natural ingredients cannot be patented and money made on them the way patented molecules can, plus using cheap synthetics is more cost-effective for LVMH than expensive natural ingredients - follow the money. Both the aromachemical companies and the perfume manufacturers stand to benefit from this situation, which is why I suspect they are being very quiet instead of sending in the lobbyists to kill the legislation.

  17. Ok, so NOW what do we DO about this?

  18. Gretchen, I like your theory- someone scorned by a Mitsouko fan ;)
    I fully agree- all ingridients should be listed, so people can make the choice just like we do with everything else.

  19. Alysia, I think Gretchen was joking about this specific fragrance. But just from what we know for sure and from what Luca and Tania reveal in the update to the Guide, it's obvious that many classics are either already ruined or are on the way there. All the current restrictions will take effect on January 1st 2010.

  20. Lavinia, I posted a link to Luca's Duftnote article in my Friday's post. He explains at least some of it.

  21. Tara, I agree. It probably started this way, but if I understand Luca correctly, it is something that gotten out of hand and is now far beyond what LVMH and the others have expected.

  22. 5spice6, talking about it and protesting is a first step. IFRA's regulations aren't exactly new and we should have started protesting a long time ago. I hope now is not too late.

  23. I find this situation to be rather like the science fiction I read in the early 70's. So much control that ultimately destroys a venerated industry. And to what end?

  24. This may sound off the wall but I believe it is the answer to the industry's ban on these oils. The oils that are being banned have spiritual properties such as the ability to stimulate the opening of the third eye or to ward off evil entities. Even if you believe this to be a load of hogwash the powers that be know that this is the truth. Codex alimentarius has been put in place to ban the use of natural supplements and have even gone so far so as to label the antioxidant-rich food, blueberries, as a toxin. Everything that can be used for the upliftment and advancement of mankind is ultimately banned or regulated including empowering fragrances.


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