Let’s take a look at IFRA/EU restrictions on oakmoss, the future of chypres, the reasons why fragrance houses are eschewing chypres, fractional distillation to remove IFRA-forbidden allergens, the use of seaweed to supplement or create an oakmoss base, the type of oakmoss that suppliers make available to perfume houses, and how the fear of still more restrictions in the future is impacting the types of scents that perfume houses are making. A fascinating, highly informative discussion of these issues took place last night on Twitter with several experts chiming in to explain what is going on behind the scenes and its significance. I learnt a considerable amount, particularly regarding the type of oakmoss currently on the market, and I’d like to share that with you here.
What’s it like to be a professional nose? How difficult is it to become one? How does one deal with the restrictions inherent in perfume creation, whether IFRA/EU-related, a client’s brief, or basic price constraints? And why do so many perfumes smell the same?!
Those are a few of the questions I posed to Viktoria Minya, the award-winning perfumer and owner of Parfums Viktoria Minya. She’s a rare creature in the industry for a few reasons. First, she’s one of the few professionally trained female noses who also runs her own perfume house. Second, she’s both an insider and, in many ways, an outsider as well. She’s not part of the stable of perfumers hired by the big companies like Givaudan, IFF, or Robertet, but she was one once. Now, she’s independent but, unlike Bertrand Duchaufour, she’s not a nose for hire in the typical sense and she works primarily on her own creations. Her closest counterpart might be Patricia de Nicolai, but the latter is arguably a part of the establishment, whether through her presidency of Osmothèque or her membership in the Guerlain family.
A new era is dawning at Parfums de Nicolai, the venerable brand that was one of the pioneers of niche perfumery. Founded and led by the legendary Patricia de Nicolaï, the company recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, changed its name to NICOLAÏ: PARFUMEUR-CRÉATEUR (hereinafter simply referred to as “Nicolai“), and brought in Axel de Nicolaï, Patricia de Nicolaï’s son, as both the General Manager and her collaborator in the perfume-creation process.
It’s a significant step for a few reasons. Axel de Nicolaï was raised in the Nicolai perfume and family tradition, but he also brings a different perspective to the mix after working in the larger mainstream fragrance industry with the big perfume conglomerates of LVMH and InterParfums, and spending time in the Middle East. It was his idea that Nicolai should explore the oud genre, resulting in last year’s Rose Oud and Amber Oud, and his influence also helped to shape the direction of Nicolai’s newest release, Ambre Cashmere Intense. In his main role as the new General Manager, he’s made changes to the company’s marketing direction and sales strategy, but he’s equally determined that marketing should never impact or alter the Nicolai olfactory “DNA.”
As many of you know by now, Estee Lauder has purchased Les Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle after a two-month spending spree that included Le Labo and Rodin Olio Lusso. The sale of Le Labo — a niche brand seen as hip, edgy, and expensive — came as a shock, but it was nothing compared to the outcry which greeted the news concerning Frederic Malle. He was different, he was special, he was Frederic Malle! His Editions de Parfums was considered one of the leaders of niche perfumery, adulated for its elegance and class, and respected for its innovations. For example, it was Frederic Malle who truly made us all pay attention to the men or women who actually created the fragrances by featuring the name of the “nose” on the actual bottle, and giving them the recognition that they had heretofore been denied. Malle symbolized niche and sophisticated luxury to such an extent that the Estee Lauder news was greeted with cries of “Et tu, Brute” and claims of a sell-out.
My response was something else. The very first second, I was utterly astounded but my disbelief soon gave way to an inexplicable (and admittedly hard to explain), “I’m not surprised.” My real, main, and primary reaction, however, was to see the news through the lens of Estee Lauder as the flip-side of industry trends represented by Elizabeth Arden and Coty. Most of you will probably wonder what on earth they have to do with anything but, as I’ll explain here, the Frederic Malle acquisition symbolizes the way the industry leaders respond to market changes by diverging into two, very separate, polar opposite directions, and that may be telling for the future.
As a result, the focus of this piece will be as much on the perfume industry and its market changes as it will be on Frederic Malle himself. I’m afraid that means quite a lot of financial information and business figures from the middle section onwards, but I’ve noticed a definite trend over the last 8 months that I think is significant. The Malle acquisition accompanied by the latest Estee Lauder quarterly earnings report seems to underscore my theory, to my eyes at least.