Is the old system set up by the perfume industry over half a century ago coming apart at the seams?
As most of you know by now, it goes like this: brands don’t own the formulas of their perfumes, unless they have an in-house perfumer. The owners are the labs that develop those formulas: as a consequence, they remain the sole suppliers of the oil (the mix of aromatic ingredients before alcohol is added). Formulas are neither protected by copyright laws nor patented to protect their secrecy -- of course, gas chromatography has rendered secrecy a moot point since products are analysed within days of their launch.
The system has been rolling along for decades, because the brands need the labs and the labs need the brands, in a kind of gentlemen’s agreement. But now, LVMH has decided that it won’t play nice anymore. The industry has known about it for a while. Now it’s out in the French mainstream media, and that’s a first. In a May 28th article in Le Monde entitled “Le groupe LVMH se réapproprie la fabrication de ses parfums” (“The LVMH group re-appropriates the production of its perfumes”), Nicole Vulser exposes the luxury behemoth’s move to cut the oil houses out of the deal.
When LVMH hired François Demachy as head of olfactory development for the group, it was among other things to compose formulas that it would own and could produce directly in its plants: the countless flankers which might eventually dethrone the originals, thus benefitting LVMH, in addition to original creations like the Dior Escales or Collection Privée (formerly the “Couturier Parfumeur” collection). It also introduced different concentrations of classics, such as Diorissimo, whose eau de parfum is not Edmond Roudnitska’s formula but François Demachy’s, the eau de toilette still being the original, albeit adapted to IFRA standards.
But Demachy has also reformulated the originals of some of its best-known products so that the labs where they were originally composed can no longer claim ownership, and will no longer manufacture them. The four perfumes named in the article are Miss Dior Chérie by Christine Nagel for Givaudan, which was shorn of its wild strawberry and buttered popcorn note and will henceforth be known as Miss Dior (the real Miss Dior being labelled “Original”); Dior Homme by Olivier Polge for IFF, critically acclaimed but not as commercially successful as the brand had hoped; Fahrenheit by Jean-Louis Sieuzac for Symrise and Kenzo Flower by Alberto Morillas for Firmenich.
LVMH can do so perfectly legally. Once a formula is altered, it becomes a different product. LVMH owns everything but the original formula and can therefore put whatever it pleases in the bottles under the name and packaging to which it owns the copyright.
The article further states that LVMH is now not only mixing the oils and alcohol in its plants, but producing part of the blends provided by its external suppliers. LVMH has also centralized the purchase of certain raw materials (Dior and Guerlain retain their autonomy).
The reason, obviously, is cost-effectiveness: LVMH will pay less for products it makes itself, and for bulk purchases of raw materials. It is not entirely impossible that certain products may benefit from better materials, or even the readjustment of a formula that was radically mistreated by IFRA standards. It’s still a bully’s move, disrespecting the perfumers who conceived the products, the labs that developed them, and the consumers who love them as they are.
The difference is that the facts are now in the open, though it’s doubtful that this disclosure in Le Monde will alter Mr. Arnault’s policy one single bit. But it will be interesting to find out how – or whether – the big labs like Givaudan, IFF, Symrise or Firmenich react to protect their business, bearing in mind that LVMH remains a major client for several of their products. Will they increase the number of captives in their products, rendering them more difficult to "repatriate" without altering their smell too significantly? And will other luxury groups take the same step as LVMH?
Meanwhile, hang on to that bottle of Dior Homme you bought at the launch. It’s history.
 In June 16th 2006 the final court of appeal in France ruled that “the fragrance of a perfume does not constitute the creation of a form of expression that can benefit from the protection given to works of art.”
Hmmm....maybe that guy who claimed the world was going to end last month was right after all. :-(RépondreSupprimer
By the way, what is a "captive"? ~~nozknoz
Nozknoz, sorry, I'm getting a little jargony aren't I? Captive molecules are molecules a company (perfume, pharmaceutical, etc) has developed itself and doesn't sell to other companies during a certain period. Their perfumers work with it, hoping it will be involved in the formula of a best-seller. Then other labs come clamoring for it and it is marketed outside the original lab that invented it, thus generating nice revenues.RépondreSupprimer
But if you put a lot of captives or a really special one inside your product, the client couldn't just up and decide they wanted to make the perfume themselves after all.
Of course that's a moot point when a group like LVMH does all its work in-house.
Well, given it's M. Arnault at the helm of this infernal behemoth (reference to Bulgakov here), I'm surprised it took so long for this to happen. As in so much of life these days, the people who care are being forced off the grid, to find new ways of making and distributing the things they care about, like food (slow food movement), clothing (artisan co-ops, etc.), perfumery (indies), housing (tiny house movement, eco-housing, alternative communities) and so on. Now we just have to protect ourselves from the behemoths so we can live our off-the-grid lives in peace! I may buy an older mini of Flower in memoriam. So sad....RépondreSupprimer
Marla, it's a pity that these particular perfumes (at least the three latter) were proof that the mainstream *could* produce beautiful, original perfumes. And considering that all the recourses you mention are mostly accessible to better-informed people rather than to the general public... In the field of perfumery, even educated people who have discriminating tastes when it comes to food or art are generally unaware of the existence of alternative choices.RépondreSupprimer
Anyway, not passing judgement on the current versions of the four perfumes mentioned in the article since I haven't done a comparison. For all I know they may still be great. But it'll be interesting to follow how or if the industry will react.
A side-by-side comparison should definitely be done, that would be interesting and fair-minded. Sadly, LVMH seems to have a history of cheapening and diluting perfumes, and that is certainly the corporate trend in general, LVMH is far from the only culprit. I sure hope Hermes can hold on.RépondreSupprimer
Marla, my fellow blogger Poivre Bleu has just dropped a comment on the French side to confirm what I suspected about Dior Homme: it's been made more masculine, with the carrot and chocolate notes tamped down. I'd have to hunt down the original versions of the others, none of which I own...RépondreSupprimer
I couldn't care less about LVMH but fuck the big labs - Givaudan, IFF, Symrise or Firmenich, they created IFRA standards only to promote their own synthetic molecules and protect a multi-billion dollar industry, it's like Google, they're too big and powerful.RépondreSupprimer
Emma, it's probably more complicated than that: if big groups like LVMH or brands like Chanel had weighed in on the regulatory debate they would have made a major difference. They are, after all, the ones that pay the big labs for their products. And those labs also produce a large amount of natural products: that said, creating naturals shorn of their allergenic molecules will probably be a good source of profit. But while their R&D focuses on that, and while their perfumers slave away on reformulations, there's less research being done on new, beautiful things, which is a pity.RépondreSupprimer
Bernard Arnault is a tool.RépondreSupprimer
That is all.
Stylespy: but pure platinum, yeah?RépondreSupprimer
What depressing news! Dior Homme is DH's signature scent; he has an old-ish bottle from a few years back (2008) - for once I'm hoping it's the post-apocalypse version simply so that he can restock without trauma! Double pox on LVMH (not that bad karma's ever bothered them before ;)RépondreSupprimer
I guess the prospect of the labs retaliating by using higher proportions of captive molecules in their compositions is potentially bad news too, if it means that natural ingredients are sidelined even more than they already are.
Parfymerad, naturals are not going the way of the dodo: big labs invest a lot of money in plantations and production facilities to ensure sustainability and constant quality.RépondreSupprimer
They also tailor-make specific qualities by eliminating unwanted molecules in natural essences, either because they are allergenes or to produce a particular olfactory character (this is what Jean-Claude Ellena asked for in the lavender used for Un Brin de Réglisse). I'm not sure whether these "couture" naturals can be labelled captives, but if a lab produces a specific quality its competitors can't achieve, then it amounts to the same thing.
Denyse, that's really interesting (about the 'couturifying' of natural molecules, that is): I wonder whether such alterations would be visible or legible on mass spectromotry results?RépondreSupprimer
Parfymerad, I'm not frankly conversant with mass spectrometry, but I've seen gas chromatography readings and you'd get an idea about which molecules were present in an essence and in which proportion.RépondreSupprimer
Oh no! I love Flower ... should I be worried?RépondreSupprimer
So, does this mean that if you want to use a captive molecule, you have to buy it from the creator, or do you just pay them royalties to make it yourself? That's how our business works (cell phones) - people pay us royalties to use our technology patents.RépondreSupprimer
Elisa, I'd say the deed is done by now, but I don't know how much the smell has been altered. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news...RépondreSupprimer
Tara, no, you have to buy it from the lab that produces it. Until the Chinese knock up their own version.RépondreSupprimer
Yes. speaking of China, maybe they will be a new world for perfume materials, specially naturals...but the problem is, every now and then they send something horribly toxic or contaminated down the pike...RépondreSupprimer
I was more thinking of inconsistent quality or copying molecules developed elsewhere, but that too. Still, it will be interesting to see how tastes develop in that market -- I'm always surprised at my Chinese student's reactions.RépondreSupprimer
Could a lab that owns the formula for one of the repatriated fragrances submit it to another house, who would release under a different name?RépondreSupprimer
Elaine, not unless they and their client want to enter a world of pain, I'd say. There is just one legal precedent of a brand that lost for counterfeiting, when Clarins who own the Thierry Mugler licence sued Molinard for putting out a copy of Angel, Nirmala. But that wasn't because the formula was "leaked": it was just plain copied.RépondreSupprimer
It'd be interesting if this movement would bring the original idea of Miss Dior (not the Cherie) and Fahrenheit, but from what i understand, this LVMH movement make it even more difficult to happen.RépondreSupprimer
So, if the labs are the owners of the formulas, does it mean that they can bring it back a discontinued fragrance if the brand closes its business?
About Miss Dior, if i understood right, we'll have now 3 main versions: Original, Miss Dior and Miss Dior Cherie, that's right?
And if LVMH owns several brands, why only those specific fragrances were repatriated?RépondreSupprimer
It also occured me that maybe they are preparing themselves to create their own lab, and this would be the firs movement...
Anonymous, I'm no legal expert but a fragrance isn't just a formula: it's also a copyrighted name, packaging, etc. When, say, a couture house shuts down, someone can buy the licence to exploit the perfume line but will not necessarily work with the lab where the formulas were developed: they'll be recreated/approximated.RépondreSupprimer
To my knowledge it's never gone the other way round, with labs re-selling no longer exploited formulas to new clients. The new clients would not be able to exploit the fragrance under its original name so it would be pointless for them to do so.
Of course the changes in the original 1947 Miss Dior and in Fahrenheit are also due to regulations on raw materials, and as current legislation and industry regulations stand, they literally cannot come out.
About Miss Dior: the 1947 fragrance will be known as "Miss Dior Original". Miss Dior Chérie, now reformulated, will be known as "Miss Dior". But what is currently sold as "Miss Dior Chérie", has already been reformulated. Confusing? You bet.
As far as I understand, LVMH do have their own production facilities already, and have had for a long time: it used to be where the oils sold by labs were mixed with alcohol, but now they are also blending a lot of the oils. They can blend the entire formula when it was composed in-house, or part of the formula when it wasn't.RépondreSupprimer
Why those four perfumes in particular? Frankly I don't know.
Oh dear. It's all a bit of a mess, isn't it? But if nothing else, it just serves to show that our expectations for everything to remain the same are just plain unrealistic. Formulae will keep changing, the nature of the industry will keep changing, the tastes/demands of consumers will keep changing.RépondreSupprimer
In the meantime, I'd like to work out how old my bottles of Homme and Homme Intense are...
Persolaise, a comment on the French side by Poivre Bleu may help: the original Dior Homme bottles had a brushed metal tube inside the bottle. In the newer ones, the tube is black.RépondreSupprimer
From what I hear, formulas are often changed within a few months of launch if the product doesn't sell as well as expected... I doubt a grassroots movement will form to flood the LVMH offices with protests though...
Actually, that does help, thank you. Both my bottles are silver! Phew.RépondreSupprimer
I guess the flip side of all this is that someone like say, Olivier Polge, could now take his original Dior Homme formula, tweak it slightly, and offer it to another perfume house.
Persolaise, the practise called "the twist" (take a formula, change a couple of things, then bottle) is fairly common. But I'm not sure IFF would go and offer up something as characteristic as Dior Homme (and expensive! that iris!) to another client, and risk LVMH's wrath. I would suppose they're still clients for lots of things.RépondreSupprimer