Those skinny fragrances we’ve been getting of late? I suggest calling them iFrags, after our favorite boogeyman (and justifiably so), the regulatory body whose edicts have been ripping the guts and flesh out of perfumery.
In mainstream perfumery, this fleshlessness seems to me to cater to, or express, a trend towards disembodiment. In our increasingly virtual lives, the only vivid colors come from the screen; in our crowded cities, we may be afraid of imposing too strong a presence. And as Uella remarked in a comment to my previous post on the death of chypres, the stick-thin, pre-pubescent-looking girls offered to our gaze in fashion shows and shoots are also a symptom of the fear of flesh, and more specifically female flesh – anorexic bodies wafting anorexic scents.
Another observation that sparked off my thoughts was that of Octavian Coifan, reflecting on the latest Chanel show: “We are in an era of cotton and thin layers close to the skin and the fleshless, dew and petal fragrances bear witness to this.” [my translation.]
But perhaps most significantly, this spaying of perfumery comes from the restrictions, frequently based on bad, incomplete or undisclosed research, imposed by the various regulatory bodies (IFRA, RIFM, the EU’s scientific committee for consumer products, SCCP). I cannot recommend enough reading the presentation given by Tony Burfield of Cropwatch, a lone voice in the wilderness defending natural ingredients, to the British Society of Perfumers Safety Symposium on 11th March 2010 (you'll find a link to his Powerpoint presentation by clicking here). This presentation is long, complex, technical, and when I study it more closely I hope to be able to get back to it, but I’d like to quote fromThe Natural Perfumers Guild blog. Mr. Burfield explains why many perfumers come up with such bland juices. He “was informed once by a well-known perfumer working for one of the major fragrance corporations that the new generation of software-using perfumers has no problem in conforming to the avalanche of new regulations.
He interpreted this as referring to a younger generation who have probably never smelled a genuine ylang-ylang oil, or an unadulterated sandalwood oil East Indian (as they are invariably ‘extended’ at source), and have a sparse knowledge or experience of the massive range of exotic natural aromatic materials.”
Add to this ignorance the pathological fear of potential adverse effects leading to bad press and/or litigation (the recent banning of fragranced products for the municipal employees of Detroit being the most recent case in point), and the extremely high costs of generating data to conform to the new REACH European regulations on the importation of chemical products (natural essences are also considered as chemicals), and there you go: that’s why so many perfumes have no more weight, texture or character than an H&M tee-shirt. We have the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad: now we’re on to iFrags. Easy to carry anywhere you go, but a lot less fun that the rest of the iStuff.
Illustration: Portrait of Annabel, by Bernard Buffet (1960)