samedi 25 février 2012

IFRA gets a sense of Europe

Pinning half the woes of contemporary perfumery on IFRA has become a quasi-pavlovian reflex for perfume lovers. But it’s worth recalling, because there’s still a lot of confusion around the matter, that our favorite bogeyman’s standards are not legally binding.  One of the reasons for these standards is that the industry decided to self-regulate preventively to avoid having even stricter standards imposed by legislators.

The fact is, the pace of restrictions accelerated after the EU lavishly funded research on the "dangers" of cosmetics ingredients in 2003. Throw millions at a group of scientists and oddly, they'll tend to come up with a lot of findings. A chill ran through the industry. The precautionary principle was applied. We could point out that the industry carried out its policy too zealously. That it would have better inspired to defend the integrity of its products and raw materials as soon as they started being threatened.

Well, now it seems that IFRA is, at last, attempting to reverse the trend with a positive imaging campaign directed at EU organisations and legislators. Since a significant part of the fragrance industry is in Europe, the laws voted by Brussels affect its production worldwide. But European MPs don’t necessarily know more about perfume than their constituents.  This is why IFRA now organizes visits to the labs so that lawmakers can get a better picture of the perfume-making process, and of the jobs and wealth the industry generates. In early February, it also presented the “A Sense of Europe” exhibition in the European Parliament in Brussels.

Throughout the exhibition, installations retracing the history of the European Union were illustrated by landmark fragrances such as Eau Sauvage or the scent of the Ariel washing powder for the “You never had it so good” decade, and by olfactory sculptures created by Christophe Laudamiel: the smell of the Italian palazzo where the Treaty of Rome was signed; “Oranges and Bananas” to celebrate the fall of the Berlin wall (Ossies famously feasted on the fruit when they crossed over to the West); “Sweaty Smoky Nightclub” for the creative boom of the 90s and, ironically, “The Smell of Money” to illustrate the recent woes of the Eurozone…And finally, “Community”, whose entire formula was disclosed to visitors along with Laudamiel’s short descriptions of each ingredient. This unprecedented move aimed to make MPs realize how complex a fragrance composition is (a common misconception is that the allergens listed on boxes are the actual formula), but also to convince them that disclosing perfume formulas would not help consumers determine whether a product presents potential risks, at a time when some groups are pushing for full transparency.

 “Trial and error is the only way to advance and to create in this Art, which is sometimes considered as one of the most difficult Arts there is”, writes Laudamiel. “So please appreciate it, protect it and be inspired! Your nose is made to smell like your eyes are made to see. You will not damage your nose just by smelling scents, like you do not damage your eyes just by looking at pictures. Besides, unlike your eyes, your olfactory cells die and get renewed every couple of weeks, like the teeth in sharks. Perfumers smell every single day and much stronger things because of their jobs and still live very long inspired lives... Finally, smelling is even considered good aerobic exercise for your brain helping to protect against senility and keep a healthy sharp brain. So enjoy!”

Here is a video of the exhibition:

For IFRA’s official press release, click here.

8 commentaires:

  1. This exhibit sounds wonderful exhibit, and IFRA's new approach is such great news!

    Believe me, when American baby boomers hear that perfume is "good aerobic exercise for your brain, helping to protect against senility," the demand for intelligent perfume will sky-rocket! Perfume appreciation is SO much more fun than sudoku. ~~nozknoz

  2. This sounds both wonderful to see (and smell) and very optimistic for the future. :)

  3. Nozknoz, I think a positive imaging strategy that can go over well is health and wellness benefits, though the purist part of me always resists instrumentalisation of aesthetic works. I doubt it would convince the most rabid anti-perfume lobbyists, because it's human nature to only listen to what can reinforce your beliefs, but it might influence people who don't have a strong opinion one way or another.

  4. Ines, anything Christophe Laudamiel gets involved with is bound to be of interest!

  5. Coming out of the shell and talking to the public is a timely move for perfume professionals. Laudamiel surely is a talent at supporting eye- and nose-catching communication events. I must admit I am a bit envious of those EU legislators who could enjoy this remarkable event. Why don’t we have more of such demo’s in our museums? The nicely advertised exhibition at the Museum of Arts & Design in New York (scheduled Nov. 2011) seems to be delayed forever. I would have loved to smell Laudamiel’s “Community “ juice myself. The published composition struck me as a well-set colorful community of familiar and rare ingredients (and not necessarily a typical commercial one, I presume): exquisite natural stuff (Orris Root Natural Headspace Alive, Nigella Superfluid CO2 Extract, Ciste Absolute Spain, etc.) from many countries is contrasted both with widely known commodities (Dihydromyrcenol, Lilial, Galaxolide) and synthetic stars (Ambrox Super Pur, Muscenone, Paradisone), the vanishing oakmoss is being mourned while mentioning some of the replacement (Evernyl), captives are mentioned (Cascalone) where you find only the trademark but not the structural formula, some ingredients (Methenethiol 0,001%, Corps Guava 0,001%) apparently need only a few molecules to call our attention, and - most unusual - all 57 components are commented on, mostly from a perfumers point of view and some with political aspects added. I liked Laudamiel’s half sentence, when he relates to the alleged hazards by saying that perfumers smell every single day and much stronger things because of their jobs and still live very long inspired lives. Denyse, thanks a lot for making us aware of this event.

  6. Joey, lots of things to respond to here. 1) Laudamiel, who now heads the NY branch of the Osmothèque, is indeed a wonderful communicator.
    2) Word is Chandler Burr's debut exhibition was delayed because sufficient funds couldn't be rounded up, and is now back on track.
    3) The Sense of Europe exhibition wasn't advertised because it was held inside the EU Parliament and therefore not open to the public, but it would certainly make sense for it to travel, or serve as a template for further exhibitions.
    I am getting lots of very interesting noises from cultural institutions in France and I think the time is right both for pedagogical exhibitions and more art-oriented ones.

  7. Thanks very much indeed for this write-up.

    The 'positive image' campaigning has spread to the UK too, but I'm not sure it's had much of an impact as yet.

    I like Laudamiel's comments, but he doesn't really address IFRA's chief 'worry': the fact that scents are applied to our flesh.

  8. Persolaise, I think IFRA's chief worries are lawmakers and anti-perfume activist campaigns: it is, after all, and of course you know that since you interviewed the UK head of IFRA, an industry organization. My feeling would be that Christophe reacted to the fragrance intolerance discourse that is gaining traction in the US, i.e. the "we're exposed to horrible chemicals in the air" spiel.