The first cautious, semi-official statements about perfume reformulation, and the first public grumbles against IFRA and European regulations have just been heard from the labs…
And not just any labs. The big boys at luxury behemoth LVMH, Thierry Wasser, the in-house perfumer of Guerlain, and François Demachy, who oversees perfumes at Dior, were quoted in the January 13 edition of Le Monde, France’s newspaper of reference, in an article by Nicole Vulser entitled: "Les créateurs de parfums ont la Commission européenne dans le nez" ("Perfume composers have the European Commission up their nose", a wordplay on a French expression: to have someone "dans le nez" is to be annoyed with them -- thank you to Alyssa -- and Bela -- for reminding me of the English expression).
Both perfumers complain about the necessity of reformulating the historical fragrances of the house.
“Some perfumes were developed because there were no penalizing constraints”, explains Dior’s François Demachy.
“Among the perfumes we sell, the oldest is over 150 years old. If some day Brussels doesn’t want essence of rose any longer, how am I to do? There is rose in almost all our perfumes… It is a heritage we need to defend”, says Guerlain’s Thierry Wasser.
“Jean-Paul Guerlain, he adds, had composed Parure for his mother. We had to discontinue it because we could no longer use the ingredients necessary to make it. It’s a heart-break.”
Sylvie Polette, marketing vice-president for Parfums Jean-Paul Gaultier, says: “Brussels will be killing off part of the profession: we aren’t able to rebuild everything in the same way. This will spur research, but it is perceived as a real constraint.”
“Our palette is diminishing. This is a bit as though you told a painter he’s not allowed to use red, then blue or yellow”, states Frédéric Appaire, international marketing manager of Paco Rabanne.
Is this the beginning of long-delayed measures to oppose the (self-imposed) overregulation of the perfume industry? Or at least to limit the damage?
Of course, anyone with a nose knows the damage has already been done to each and every classic perfume, and that there probably isn’t a single fragrance that’s safe from vandalism, since regulations change every year. Something that came out this fall could be different when the next batch is produced.
But if the people quoted in Le Monde’s article are speaking up, however tentatively, there’s a good chance that they’ve received clearance to do so. My sources indicate that the status of the classic Guerlains as an official part of the French heritage – which could mean restoring the formulas – is under discussion. And in a very vague, unsubstantiated, “I know someone who knows someone” way, I’ve heard rumors that perhaps Mr. Bernard Arnault was getting just a little annoyed at a law project affecting both the perfume and the champagne industry, and authorizing a task-force to be assembled.
IFRA has backed down once now, on vanillin. Pressure can be brought to bear on European lawmakers and the scientists who advise them, who for the most part are utterly uninformed about the process of perfume composition (this ignorance boils down to: “Well, if one ingredient is a problem, just stick something different in the juice”). A case can be made that the classics are part of the French national heritage, and should be protected as such, though it’s such a complex matter that no one has succeeded yet – though it’s been attempted several times, apparently.
Whatever happens, it’s about time it started to happen.