Fragrance is personal; it creates identity and makes memories. But what if, one day, a fragrance you have grown attached to – or that evokes a significant moment in your past – suddenly changes?
This is not a theoretical question. Year on year, more ingredients, and the amounts of those ingredients perfumers are allowed to use, are being restricted by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA), the perfume industry’s governing body. IFRA’s 2008 regulations, for example, which must be implemented by all perfumers by August, limit ingredients key to many famous fragrances, re-classifying them as allergens. Oak moss, contained in Guerlain’s Mitsouko scent, among others, is now restricted; also jasmine, an ingredient in many fine fragrances such as Chanel No 5; also ylang ylang.
IFRA was founded in 1973 by the fragrance industry to ensure the safety of its materials. So why does perfume production require such close regulation? Jean-Pierre Houri, chairman of IFRA, explains the problem. “Consumer health is becoming more and more important. We do not do [the regulation] for the pleasure of preventing our creators [from making their scents], we do it because we want to be responsible.”
For some, such limitations are unwelcome and seem to have come out of nowhere, as Tania Sanchez, co-author with scientist Luca Turin of Perfumes: The Guide, says. “[IFRA has] been severely restricting loads of things that have been in perfumes for decades and caused nobody any noticeable harm … Mitsouko by Guerlain and Joy by Jean Patou, two classics [that are] rated masterpieces in our guide, have certainly been reformulated in line with IFRA. The regulations on allergens have been a curse.”
As the perfume “artists” lose out, famous fragrances could disappear. Soon, says perfumer and fragrance expert Roja Dove, “the really great creations will not exist the way they did, because the law will not allow it. It’s like an artist being told that they cannot have vermillion any more, so you have to change all of the paintings.”
Christopher Sheldrake, Chanel’s global head of fragrance development, is among those who fear that IFRA’s rulings are altering the soul of their art. “It’s like saying grilled foods are dangerous for you so you shouldn’t eat them,” he says. “But when you consider that we’re all here after millions of years of development and we’ve all eaten grilled food, it makes you wonder how dangerous it really is. When we do think that the regulations are excessive we get involved in a lot of lobbying.”
Chanel has reformulated some of its fragrances, as it attempts to find substitutes for ingredients that are no longer available. “The regulations create a lot of work for us to maintain the quality of our existing products,” explains Sheldrake. Lyn Harris, perfumer at Miller Harris, has also noticed the change: “We have to know everything these days. Things are very different to how they were in the old days of perfumery. I make something and send it to my fragrance house, then they might send it back to me saying ‘This has to be taken out’. You do have to protect your consumer.”
In January this year, Thierry Wasser, head perfumer at Guerlain, François Demachy, head perfumer at Dior, and Frédéric Appaire, international marketing director of Paco Rabbane, spoke out against IFRA regulations in an article in the French newspaper Le Monde. “[The historic perfumer] Jean-Paul Guerlain created Parure for his mother,” said Wasser. “We have had to stop producing it, because we are not allowed to use the ingredients necessary to make it. It’s heart-breaking – the palette we work from is being reduced.”
Perhaps a brave new world for fragrance could bring its own benefits. “My glass is always half full,” says Dove. “New creations are coming that will be what they are because that’s what perfumers are working with now.” In other words, when one ingredient is taken away, it forces new degrees of invention and creativity. There will be a “renaissance” for the perfume industry. Whether it likes it or not.
Think outside the bottle
The fragrance market has long been infused with celebrity creations and the launch in April of two new ones, Jennifer Aniston’s Lola Vie and Eva Longoria’s Eva, suggests there are still noses for them, writes Caroline Brien. But the world of perfume is changing: as more unusual ways of wearing scent appear, might big-name fragrances have had their moment?
It’s the desire for something a little out of the ordinary that is drawing consumers away from conventional fragrances, according to James Craven, perfume archivist at London’s Les Senteurs store in Belgravia. “There is a boredom with the blandness and lack of imagination behind celebrity and mass fragrance,” he says. Choosing an unusual fragrance “helps fulfil our craving to be individual, particularly if you’ve got a really good perfumer and quality materials behind it.”
It’s not just about the type of fragrance. Scent can be worn – and experienced – using other “vehicles”, from fabrics to oils.
Francis Kurkdjian, a perfumer with the Narciso Rodriguez For Her and Giorgio Armani Mania fragrances to his name, has ventured into ambient fragrance. Les Bulles D’Agathe (£15), his violet-infused bubbles were unveiled at this year’s World Expo, currently running in Shanghai. Also available in a take-home version, the bubbles have previously floated in the gardens at Versailles palace and under Liberty of London’s Christmas lights in 2009. Both Liberty and Kurkdjian’s eponymous Paris store regularly sell out of the product.
There’s a reason behind Kurkdjian’s creative thinking. “We’re all looking for new ways to wear and experience scent, as not everyone likes to have a perfume or cologne on their skin,” he explains. “But rule-breaking for its own sake is meaningless. Products have to appeal to consumers so you have to think practically too.”
Ruth Mastenbroek, the former president of the British Society of Perfumers, has done exactly that. Taking inspiration from Japanese women who traditionally burned incense under their kimonos (to scent the air as they walked), she has micro-encapsulated her cashmere loungewear, due for launch this autumn, with a subtle fragrance of its own. “This way of wearing scent is an extension of your personality as you’ve surrounded yourself in a smell that you love,” says Mastenbroek of her fabric. The scent will last for 20 washes.
Even home fragrance, traditionally the territory of the scented candle, has been given a new twist with Frédéric Malle’s Rubber Incense (£65 for five), a small mat made from recycled rubber and infused with his Saint des Saints perfume. Malle describes the mat as the “hi-tech version” of a lavender sachet for a wardrobe, desk or car.
Lyn Harris of perfumers Miller Harris, has diversified further by bringing a Mediterranean staple on to the fragrance market – and into the kitchen. Miller Harris’s Fragrant Olive Oils (£14) contain a high-quality base oil produced by one of the oldest aristocratic families in Spain. To this Harris adds her own blend of citrus extracts, herbs and spices to create oils that are as aromatic in smell as in taste.
And there could be more to come. “New advances mean that the fragrance world is changing rapidly, and broadening the scope of what is possible, hence these exciting innovations,” says Craven. “[Perfumers] are answering the needs of buyers who are better educated on the subject than ever before and are demanding a wider choice.”