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.
For the next few days, I’d like to take you a trip around the world, starting with a visit to Tarzan in a forest of vetiver green before going to the Sahara where bedouins travel on camels in an oud caravan and finishing in Cuba where men drink coffee, smoke cigars and wear spicy cologne. It’s a journey that was actually created in Italy by the master perfumer, AbdesSalaam Attar (“Dominique Dubrana“) of La Via del Profumo. The fragrances will be Oakmoss (nicknamed “Tarzan”), then Oud Caravan No. 3. and Cuba Express. Today, we look at the first of those.
Oakmoss or “Muschio di Quercia” was very first fragrance AbdesSalaam Attar ever made, and it’s still one of his most popular. In my interview with him, AbdesSalaam shared that it was originally an attar, not an eau de parfum with alcohol as it is now, and called it “Tarzan’s perfume,” a telling sign of his inspiration and vision for the scent. (I love the nickname, so that’s primarily what I’ll call the scent from this point forth.) On his website, AbdesSalaam elaborates on Tarzan’s style, its compositional structure, and the one modern ingredient which he used in order to create a bridge between modern and classical perfumery. I’ve taken the liberty to format his sentences into paragraphs for reasons of space, and they read in relevant part as follows:
Oak Moss is the ideal scent for interpersonal exchanges, either informal in your spare time or professional for your work. This perfume, actually, allows you to propose your personality in a sensual way but without being provoking
The delicately woody aroma of the sandalwood, and the almost human note of the Oak Moss, make it at the same time intriguing and reassuring – in one word charming. Although the composition of Oak Moss is a classical one (Vetyver, Sandalwood, Oak Moss), its perfume stands out for its refined sobriety and although it is a perfume for men (Tarzan) it is most loved by the women who like masculine fragrances, who will wear it for a specific goal: to impress the people around them, wearing an aura of woody notes that emanate the quiet strength and stability of the great trees. […] Put on the back of your hands, it will spread all around you in fragrant waves, thus reviving the technique of the ‘perfumed glove’ of the French court. Oak Moss can be easily customized by adding some drops of patchouli, vanilla, incense, tuberose, or of the preferred fragrance.
‘Oak Moss’ contains one of the new scents of the classical perfumery: the vetyver acetate, obtained from the chemical transformation of the natural vetyver. This is my only concession to the modern perfumery and makes ‘Oak Moss’ an ‘olfactory bridge’ between the perfumes of yesterday and the future ones, exclusively natural and holistic.
AbdesSalaam Attar generally doesn’t give a complete list of notes for his scents, only a nutshell synopsis but, based on what I smelled on my skin, I’d add a few things to the ingredients mentioned in the description, like patchouli and labdanum amber.
Tarzan opens on my skin with oakmoss, vetiver, patchouli, and a hint of labdanum’s golden warmth, all swirling together to create a deep, foresty earthiness. It feels like humus, the dark earth festooned with wet leaves, budding green sprouts, gnarled roots, springy moss, and mushroom-like sediment. Minty vetiver lies on top in an emerald layer, while a quiet, balsamic, resinous darkness stirs underneath.
For the first five minutes, it’s very similar to the opening of Oriza‘s Chypre Mousse, though there are differences. Tarzan is less herbal, earthy, barely fungal, and not at all strewn with violets or their leaves. It’s brighter, less otherworldly, and more traditional, with a balance that skews towards minty vetiver on my skin, instead of moss and mushrooms. In fact, the moss feels like an abstract and heavily refined note, a swirling suggestion instead of a solidly concrete, dense blanket. It’s also a fresher sort of greenness than the sort of mineralized, sometimes fusty or musty, grey lichen moss that you’d find in many vintage chypres.
10 minutes into its development, Tarzan begins to shift on my skin. The vetiver grows stronger, emitting constant ripples of mint. That last part is due primarily to my skin chemistry which tends to amplify the note, as well as its minty side. I cannot stress this enough, my skin does odd things with vetiver, particularly the Haitian sort that AbdesSalaam loves to use in his oriental compositions. Whenever a fragrance has a substantial amount of vetiver, my skin amplifies it to the point of overshadowing much else and, to my dismay, almost always turns it into either fresh mint or smoky mint. I’m really not fond of the note as a core element in my fragrances which is the reason why I struggle with all vetiver soliflores, but it is an issue of my skin’s idiosyncratic chemistry and not something that others commonly experience. Please keep that in mind.
As the vetiver blooms, it intertwines with the mossy greenness to form Tarzan’s core essence, but other things are happening under that rich cloud. Occasional flickers of leathery, chocolate-like patchouli peek out, accompanied by fresh grass and what I’d swear was a touch of hay once in a while. A subtle, undefined spiciness weaves in and out, perhaps from the patchouli, while a growing haze of soft warmth appears to lie over the whole thing as if the vetiver were dappled by sunshine.
That last part is key because it distinguishes the vetiver in Tarzan from that in many other fragrances. This is not the crisp, mineralised note in scents like Hermès‘ Terre d’Hermes, the smoky vetiver of Oriza‘s Vetiver Royal Bourbon, or the purely earthy vetiver of Olivier & Co.‘s Vetiverus. Yes, it’s woody vetiver, but it’s also simultaneously the grassy sort and a heavily refined, almost clarified vetiver that is surprisingly warm and sunny, too. At times, it’s even got a hint of sweetness as well. (If only my blasted skin didn’t make it minty above all else.)
As the first hour draws to a close, Tarzan is primarily (minty) woody vetiver with spicy patchouli in a warm green cocoon. It really doesn’t smell like oakmoss, per se, the humus-like vibe has vanished, and so has the resinous darkness in the base. The thing I really enjoy, though, is a mysterious leathery earthiness that smudges the vetiver’s edges. It first appeared as a tiny flicker about 20 minutes into Tarzan’s development, but becomes really noticeable at the 90-minute mark. It’s not like black truffles, porcini mushrooms, labdanum, patchouli, leatheriness, or sandalwood, but something ineffable that has small traces of all of them combined. Actually, it reminds me of an almost purified oud because there is a whisper of almost curried sweetness that snakes around under the wooded, earthy spiciness. It works so beautifully with the vetiver that I really wish there were more of it, but it is merely a hushed breath on my skin.
From afar, and for hours to come, Tarzan smells primarily of spicy, minty, woody vetiver with flickers of muted earthiness, abstract mossiness, and sunny warmth. It’s a much deeper scent than that description might lead you to believe because it feels as though layers of all sorts of greenness were placed one atop the other, conjoined by earthy and spicy fillings, to create one inseparable whole. It’s not my personal thing due to the vetiver and mint reasons I described above, but I think Tarzan would be very sexy on the right skin. It’s that mesmerizing whisper of sweet, spicy, almost “oud”-like wood and earthiness that would draw me back again and again to sniff this on someone’s neck.
Tarzan’s main contours never change substantially and it’s a very linear scent on my skin except for its smaller nuances. The earthiness retreats to the sidelines after 2.5 hours; the warmth and sweetness grow quite pronounced near the end of the 8th hour; and, in its final stage, a soft creaminess arrives to coat the vetiver. It must be from the sandalwood but, whatever the cause, the velvety creaminess of the vetiver is really pretty.
Tarzan fades away in much the same way, ending 12.5 hours from its start. It’s an astonishing amount of time for an all-natural fragrance, particularly on my wonky skin which rarely holds onto natural scents for long. Perhaps it’s due to the use of “vetyver acetate, obtained from the chemical transformation of the natural vetyver,” but whatever the reason, Tarzan has excellent longevity. The projection and sillage surprised me, too, particularly as most AbdesSalaam scents are inordinately discreet on my skin. Using 4 smears equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle, Tarzan opened with 3 inches of projection. It dropped to 2 inches after 20 minutes, then 1 inch after 2.5 hours, but what surprised me was that it remained there for the next 5 hours. Tarzan only turned into a true skin scent on me at the start of the 8th hour. Again, my skin amplifies vetiver, but that’s still an unusual amount of time, particularly for a natural fragrance.
Tarzan or Oakmoss has generally received very positive reviews. Luca Turin briefly talked about the scent back in 2005 in a piece quoted on the La Via del Profumo website. After trying a sampler of scents, Mr. Turin wrote that Oakmoss was one of his favorites:
My favourites are Arabia (Damascus rose-castoreum), Muschio di Quercia, a dry, uncompromising oakmoss, and Legno di Nave, a very nice woody fragrance. All are very skilful, none heavy, trite or overegged. Indeed, many feel surprisingly modern, showing that there may be more life left than I thought in the pre-chemistry tradition. [Emphasis to perfume name added by me.]
On Basenotes, almost everyone likes Oakmoss, too. There are 11 reviews, 9 of which are positive, while 2 are neutral, stemming largely from of the woodiness of the scent. “Darvant” has a detailed analysis about Tarzan’s layers (which include an “incensey” quality on his skin), says that it is one of his favorite vetivers, and concludes with a “buy it” recommendation:
Muschio di Quercia is another great favorite of mine among the AbdesSalaam Attar Profumo’s natural oily creations. A virile traditional fresh-aromatic mossy chypre. Muschio di Quercia is an exceptional vetiver/sandalwood accord (over an obscure dark-mossy base–real animal moss beyond the IFRA inhibitions) and probably one of my two-three favorite vetivers of the worldwide olfactory panorama. All is natural, incensey, realistic, marvellously boise (but extremely wearable and finally subtle). The note of vetiver is (especially along the first stage) really earthy, wild and mossy/incensey in a dark boise way conjuring me immediately the first Etro Vetiver’s formulation (also Etro Sandalo comes in mind at once). I feel in the air the aroma of deep dark forest, it seems to catch dry leaves, oakmoss, musk, tree trunks, barks, dry woodsy berries, woods, earth, hints of resins and misty dust overall combined in to a marvellously realistic olfactory concert of forests fruits. The perfume itself is well crafted for sure, extremely measured and balanced yet elegant and comforting. The aroma is never too much heavy or oppressing, the vetiver is woody for sure although I would not define Muschio di Quercia as a properly “fresh”-woody vetiver. Not so much to add to describe this marvellous composition. Buy it guys.
Others feel the same way, talking about how it’s a full “bottle worthy” fragrance that evokes the great outdoors warmed by sunshine, or is simply a very “satisfying” woody vetiver with high quality ingredients. “Alfarom” and “Flathorn” write respectively and in relevant part:
- it is mainly a vetiver centered composition. After the initialy mossy-dark green opening, the fragrance evolves into a simple, old fashioned yet extremely satisfying fresh-woody vetiver base that would make the happiness of any vetiver freak out there. [¶] Well crafted with high quality natural ingredients. Totally endorsed.
- This one is much warmer, woodier and grassier [… than real oakmoss]. And wonderful. As Quarry said it is a walk outside in sun-warmed earth, fields and woods. I love naturalistic fragrances, and this one, with it’s warm earth vibe, feels very easy-going and relaxing in the same way an actual walk might.
Other reviews mentioned green, but it has little green ambiance to me. It’s more an early spring or autumn walk, more about the other notes of the outdoors. A warm grassy vetiver is the biggest player in this to me, but what brings this alive is the feeling of sunshine warming all the notes, making them mid-tone, even that darkest and densest of wood inhabitants, oak moss. It is a companionable fragrance made more attractive by the fact of it’s mostly natural ingredients. It’s a linear fragrance, but as is usually said, when you love the note it is, you welcome the fact it doesn’t change. Bottle worthy!
On Fragrantica, there is only one review for Oakmoss thus far (under its Italian name of Muschio di Quercia), and it’s a very positive one. “Colin Maillard” writes:
A deceptive name for a beautiful silent symphony built around vetiver. The opening is already centered on this great wood note, a superb, realistic, dense and honest rendition of all nuances of vetiver, from humid hay to its green, zesty, hearty sides. I’d say it’s the quintessence of wood, without boundaries, restrictions, artificial shapes and without synthetic tricks, just pure vetiver woody greatness – as usual with Dubrana, one of the most honest and sincere perfumers in nowadays’ perfumery when it comes to enhancing the voice of nature. I also detect a sharp cedar/oak note, and perhaps sandalwood too, which gives a sweet-syrupy woody note on the very base that perfectly blends with the sweet/wet side of vetiver. Despite being so natural and “free” to express all facets of wood, it’s a really elegant and noble cologne, with a superbly aromatic but discrete presence on skin. In its early stages, the drydown is still boldly woody, aromatic and rich, evocative and utterly refined in its compelling simplicity and naturality. The oak moss note is there, although quite light, to support and enhance the earthy-mossy and “rural” side of vetiver more than acting as a “separate” note itself. The very final drydown is a pleasant, silky, aromatic, super cozy and elegant earthy-woody accord with a hint of talcum and a subtle ambery warmth. Worth a try, a purchase and a gift!
I very much agree with all the commentators. Oakmoss is definitely worth a try if you are a hardcore vetiver lover. It’s easy to wear, versatile, unisex, long lasting, and has a very polished feel. It may not evoke an animalic, jungle “Tarzan” for me, or be a true oakmoss soliflore — something which isn’t really possible anyway in this day and age of IFRA/EU restrictions — but it’s an elegant, rather sexy woody vetiver with smoothness, subtle depths, and a rare sunshine-warmed character. Very nice.
Disclosure: My sample was provided courtesy of AbdesSalaam Attar. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my views are my own.
Cost & Availability: Oakmoss/Tarzan is an eau de parfum that come in a variety of sizes, and is exclusive to the Profumo website which ships its scents world-wide. The following prices for Oakmoss are all in Euros without VAT tax: €54,55 for 15.5 ml; €105,13 for 32 ml (a little over 1 oz); and €156,70 for 50 ml/1.7 oz. The site says: “Prices are without VAT and are valid for USA and all non EEC countries[;] for shipments in the EEC 22% VAT will be ADDED to the amount in the shopping cart.” There is also a Mignon Discovery Coffret which is available for any 5 fragrances, each in a glass 5.5 ml bottle. The price depends on which perfumes you pick, as the choice is up to you. The 5.5 ml bottle of Oakmoss is €18,54. On a side note, shipping is always very fast. I generally receive my samples from AbdesSalaam roughly 4 or 5 days after he sends the package. Also, Profumo provides free 2 ml samples with all full-bottle purchases and I think with the Mignon set as well. In short, if you’re ordering fragrance, you may want to ask for a tiny sample of something that strikes your eye. Samples: Surrender to Chance sells samples of Oakmoss starting at $7.99 for a 1 ml vial.
Last night, I was transported to the Dust Bowl of the American plains during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The problem is, I wasn’t supposed to feel like Tom Joad in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I was supposed to be on horseback near orange groves and the moss-strewn craggy cliffs of Morocco’s coastline. I was supposed to be in Azemmour, one of the most ancient cities of the kingdom of Morocco, a Moslem and Jewish place of pilgrimage.
That is the goal of Azemour by Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, the founder and nose behind Parfum d’Empire. And it is a goal in which he seems to have succeeded for 99% of the people who have tried Azemour, a critical darling and much-loved perfume that has received endless praise in the blogosphere. I seem to be in the 1% of people for whom the perfume simply did not work.
I’m truly saddened by that fact, as Azemour was one of the perfumes which I was most eager to try in the last few months and one which I expected to adore. For one thing, on paper, the description of Azemour is not only breath-taking, but filled with notes that should send me into a state of euphoria. Orange, clementine, tangerine, orange blossom, neroli, rose…. My God, it’s as if it were tailor-made for me! And the description even surpassed some of the notes.
In fact, I cannot remember the last time I was so transported by the sound of a perfume as I was when I read the following on the Parfum d’Empire website:
This fresh, timeless chypre plays on all the facets of the orange tree: the sparkling zest and sunny flesh of the fruit, the dark green of the leave, the honeyed sweetness of the flower, the force of the wood. But the word “amour” which nests in AZEMOUR also expresses the perfumer’s deep love for the land where he was born, and this fragrance is an evocation of the Moroccan landscape with its dunes, wild grass and orange groves… AZEMOUR, timeless elegance in the kingdom of Morocco…
A tribute to Azemmour, one of the most ancient cities of the kingdom of Morocco, a Moslem and Jewish place of pilgrimage; a tribute to his parents’ orange grove and to his long horseback rides on the lands that stretch along the Oum Er r’Bia wadi up to the ocean…
The golden light of the Moroccan Atlantic coast suffuses the top notes of AZEMOUR, a blend of sparking citruses dominated by the zest and flesh of orange, set in clementine, tangerine, grapefruit and citrus. Coriander, cumin, black pepper and pink pepper add their vibrancy to this burst of flavours; blackcurrant and galbanum set it in a dark green nest of leaves.
Then AZEMOUR speaks its heart with the freshness of neroli, intensified by geranium, fleshed out by suave, honeyed orange blossom absolute and delicately spicy old-fashioned rose.
Hay, moss and henna extracts conjure dry grass exhaling the day’s heat in the orange grove. Wood notes trace the undulating silhouettes of cypresses in the Atlantic wind. A tinge of saltiness evokes dunes swept with ocean spray…
Reading that lyrical imagery is almost enough to make one want to buy a plane ticket to Azemmour itself or, in the absence of that, just buy the perfume unsniffed! As for the notes which I mentioned earlier, the full and complete list (provided by Luckyscent) sounds simply marvelous:
orange, clementine, tangerine, grapefruit, coriander, cumin, black pepper, pink pepper, blackcurrant, galbanum, neroli, geranium, orange blossom, rose, hay, moss, henna and cypres[s].
Alas, on me, Azemour was not a trip to the orange grove by the sea. It was dry, dry, dry dust for a good portion of its opening, before settling into less dry green moss. My beloved orange notes were ghosts that taunted me, mocked me, laughed at me as they occasionally popped up for an instant before flitting away, teasing me with their presence in a constant vanishing act.The opening seconds of Azemour were a blast of bitter hay, strong henna powder, black pepper and moss with just the faintest hint of bitter orange. It smells of actual dust, and it evokes the barren, ravaged plains of America in the 1930s or the Sahara. Nor does it get better in those first ten minutes. In fact, as time passes, the dustiness just gets more bitter and green. The oakmoss is pungent and musty, evoking images of grey, mineralized lichen and dust. Usually, the scent of oakmoss in most fruity chypres (which is what Azemour is classified as on Fragrantica) is alleviated by the sweetness or freshness of citrus notes. Not here. Not on me. Instead, its pungent mustiness is accentuated by bitter hay and by the acrid greenness of galbanum. The overall impression is not helped by the dustiness of henna whose scent, here, occasionally, evokes ashtrays and leather.
As time passes, the oak moss becomes even more dominant but, still, no sweet mandarin, clementine, orange blossom, or zesty fruits. Instead, the dryness is joined by the faintly mentholated, tarry, pine notes of the galbanum and the dry woodiness of the cedar tree. There is the bite of black pepper, sea salt, and, fleetingly, that faint ashtray smell from the henna powder. Thirty minutes in, there is a light touch of cumin, coriander and some green geranium notes. It is at this point that the ghost of the orange notes becomes more evident but it is only momentary. It flits away like the very worst kind of tease.
My attempts at locating that ghostly note is not assisted by the fact that the sillage of Azemour drops substantially within the first hour. Quantity is not to blame, either, as I had put on a lot of the perfume in anticipation of loving the scent. (Plus, my vial partially broke on me at the time.) No, a solid, good dosage of the scent did nothing to help me locate the elusive orange. The perfume’s projection dropped so dramatically that — by the second hour — I was quite inhaling at my arm like a wild animal about to attack flesh. In all honesty, my discouragement and mood at this time were reaching an all-time low.
By the end of that second hour, Azemour was essentially just oakmoss, sea salt, an ambered leather accord, a hint of cumin and the occasional ghostly presence of orange. The oakmoss was, thankfully, much less pungent, musty and dusty than it was at first. To the extent that the leather felt “ambery,” I suppose you could say that was a subtle effect of the orange, blending with the leather for some resinous richness. And, in truth, the slightly animalic notes underlying the leather were quite nice. Or, perhaps, that’s just relief at smelling something other than dry dust for a while.
Nothing really changed for the remainder of the perfume’s development. For the last few hours, Azemour turned into a perfectly pleasant moss scent with ambered leather and a flicker of orange. There were traces of the perfume on my skin at the end of about five and half hours, I think, but I can’t be sure because, honestly, it was just so damn evanescent on my skin. I looked like a madwoman attacking my arm in hopes of smelling faint hints of something. And,yes, there were those hints. It just took monumental effort to find them! By the end, you can add intense frustration to the gamut of emotions that I experienced when testing this scent.
My experiences do not seem to mirror that of others who talk with gushing adoration of whole oranges, juicy pulp, citrus explosions over lovely mossy greens. My experiences don’t even seem to match in the longevity department, though that latter bit is not particularly surprising given my perfume-consuming skin. Others report that Azemour lasts on them for hours and hours, although many do say it’s an airy, light scent. But, as a whole, I seem to find few people who aren’t completely worshipful of the scent. There are a handful of slightly less enthused comments scattered here or there — and one person commented on Bois de Jasmin that she too smelled ashtray notes which Victoria also chalked up to the henna — but that’s about it.
I can’t even say it’s a gender thing. Yes, the vast majority of the worshipful reviews have come from men, but a large number of female bloggers have raved about Azemour, too. From Bois de Jasmin, to Grain de Musc, to Now Smell This — they’ve all loved the scent. Only Birgit at Olfactoria’s Travels noted that it could be a difficult scent to wear, but she too thoroughly enjoys wearing it from time to time. If the perfume smelled on me as it did on all of them, I might feel the same way. After all, I enjoy chypres and oakmoss, and I absolutely adore orange notes.
Unfortunately, what I experienced was simply too, too dry, dusty and masculine. I say that as someone who not only wears unisex perfumes, but who wears actual men’s colognes too at times. Azemour was simply not enjoyable in the way that it expressed itself on my skin. And I fear that the “for women” part of the title, as well as that stunning list of notes, may lead women who like more traditional, very feminine, “fruity” chypres into thinking this is the perfect scent for them. No, unless you like really DRY, dusty scents, this is not a perfume for you. As Birgit at Olfactoria’s Travels admits, this is “somber,” “severe and stern at times, hard and unyielding[.]” I think that’s very well stated. She thinks, however, that “in the end you realize that this inability to bend and give way is for your own good.”
I don’t quite agree with that. I think it depends on the person and their perfume experience. In my opinion, women who like more traditional, very feminine fruity chypres won’t bend and come to like this at all. Nor will those who prefer for more cozy, warm, or sweet scents. Or those who like more traditional, soft, feminine florals. Not one bit, and not even if they have the slightly more fruited experience that some others have done. In my opinion, this is a perfume for an adventuresome, very experienced perfumista who knows and likes niche scents, but who, most of all, can appreciate her pungent oakmoss on the masculine, dry, “severe” side.
Men, in contrast, will probably continue to worship at Azemour’s feet. And I have no doubt that it would smell wonderful on them.
Azemour Les Orangers eau de parfum is available on Parfum d’Empire’s website where it costs $110 or €92 for a large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle. You can also find it at Luckyscent which sells the smaller bottle in a 1.7 oz/50 ml size for $75, in addition to the large $110 bottle. Beautyhabitat sells the smaller size, The Perfume Shoppe sells the larger. For all other countries, you can find Azemour at a retailer near you using the Store Locator on Parfum d’Empire’s website. To test Azemour for yourself, Surrender to Chance sells samples starting at $3.49 for a 1 ml vial.
We all know the horrors resulting from the existing IFRA regulations and how they have gutted some of the most famous perfumes in history. And most of you know that the EU is now trying to completely ban some of those legends, like Chanel No. 5, Miss Dior and a few others. But a Reuters article I recently read pointed out just how extensive the impact of some of the proposed changes would be, if they are passed — changes that could cripple the $25 billion a year global perfume industry.
As many of you know, the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS), an advisory body for the European Commission, is proposing a total ban on oakmoss and tree moss in all perfumes. These changes are different from prior restrictions on perfume ingredients because they’re coming from an agency outside the perfume industry. Before, “changes to perfume formulas [came] as a result of increasingly severe restrictions imposed by the industry’s self-regulatory body, the International Fragrance Association (IFRA),” though ingredient shortages or cost-cutting … also played a part.” Now, however, the proposals would come from an outside body — the EU — and would be part of a European law that would impact perfumes world-wide through even more severe restrictions. In addition, the SCCS wants 12 substances used in hundreds of perfumes on the market today to “be limited to 0.01 percent of the finished product, a level perfume makers say is unworkable.”
What I didn’t realise is the extent of the damage that would result if those proposals are passed. IFRA estimates that over 9,000 (!!!) perfume formulations would have to be changed. 9,000!
The SCCS also wants extensive perfume labeling which is fine, but I think it would definitely add to perfume costs. “Consumer groups were behind an amendment to an EU law in 2005 forcing perfume brands to label any of 26 potentially allergenic ingredients. The brands now list those ingredients – in Latin. Now the SCCS is proposing to extend that list to more than 100 potential allergens.” (Emphasis added.)
While I was extremely amused by that Latin bit, the thing that I found most surprising and interesting in that article was the apparent rift within the perfume industry on how to respond to the proposed EU changes.
The proposals have also revealed schisms in the perfume industry – a lack of unity that makes it harder to lobby with one voice.
Brand owners such as Chanel and LVMH and scent-makers such as Coty, L’Oreal, Procter & Gamble, Givaudan and Symrise all have different goals.
LVMH, which owns Dior and Guerlain, and Chanel are lobbying Brussels to protect their perfumes, many of which were created decades ago.
“It is essential to preserve Europe’s olfactory cultural heritage,” LVMH told Reuters in an emailed statement.
L’Oreal, however, already uses many synthetic ingredients in its perfumes and is thus keeping a low profile on the issue, industry representatives said.
Other companies making perfumes on an industrial scale for luxury brands, such as IFF, Givaudan and Firmenich, are less concerned about the SCCS proposal because they can rely on synthetic materials and make new perfumes using them but the restrictions, if enforced, would force them to reformulate many of their scents on a scale never seen before.
Givaudan and L’Oreal declined to comment for this report.
The sharply differing reactions was fascinating to me. I must admit, my favorite part though was the bit about L’Oreal. It is a company which I blame in large part for their destruction of my beloved Opium, along with much of the YSL perfume brand, so I rather enjoyed Reuters giving them a sharp dig and emphasizing the synthetic nature of their fragrances nowadays. I bet they’re keeping mum over all these changes! Of course they are; what do they care about natural ingredients or the use of oakmoss? I mean, have you smelled what they’ve done to Opium?! Have you read people’s reactions to reformulated Kouros? I could go on, but this is not the place for my pet peeve about the end of Opium or YSL’s glory days.
Still, the article’s discussion of Chanel and LVMH’s lobbying efforts made wonder why those companies shouldn’t have their perfumes be designated as the olfactory equivalent of a historic landmark? Such protected status has been accorded to the Taj Mahal and for the Great Wall of China — why not for Chanel No. 5 or Shalimar? Is being a nanny state for the 1% (or even 3%) of EU citizens worth destroying an olfactory part of Europe’s heritage as well as a world treasure? Isn’t French perfume as much a part of France’s culture, heritage and identity as the Eiffel Tower or Versailles? I certainly would argue that French perfumes have given the world more concrete, daily, extended benefit or joy than the Eiffel Tower ever did. You don’t see anyone trying to cordon off the Eiffel Tower due to 2% to 5% of the world’s population suffering from vertigo, do you? I wish LVMH much luck and think their argument is an utterly brilliant one. Bravo to whichever lawyer thought it up.
Another interesting part of the article to me was the deep sadness of many actual perfumers at the changes that old, beloved classics have gone through, changes that far preceded the 2008/2010 IFRA rules but which perfume companies have snuck in quietly over time. Some changes go as far back as decades ago!
‘Most perfumes which are 20 years old or more will have already been reformulated several times because science has evolved and we want to ensure the safety of consumers,’ said IFRA president Pierre Sivac.
Many traditional essences that perfume creators consider core to their craft have been blacklisted in recent decades. Birch tar oil was removed from Guerlain’s Shalimar several decades ago because it was thought to be a cancer risk. Clove oil and rose oil, which contain a component called eugenol, and lavender, which contains linalool, may only be used in limited quantities in case of allergies.
And oakmoss, one of the most commonly used raw materials because of its rich, earthy aroma and ability to ‘fix’ a perfume to make it last longer, has been increasingly restricted because of worries about skin sensitivity.
That means perfumes like Shalimar, Chanel’s No. 5, Dior’s Eau Sauvage and Poison, Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium and Cacharel’s Anais Anais are only a shadow of their original, olfactory selves, according to industry experts.
“Eau Sauvage was a real chef d’oeuvre in its original form,” retired perfume-maker Pierre Bourdon, who created Dior’s Dolce Vita and Yves Saint Laurent’s Kouros, said of the 1966 scent. “It used to be very green and fresh. Today, it has been replaced by something softer and duller.”
He contends the scent has been stripped of furocoumarins, a class of organic chemical compounds produced by plants like bergamot that can cause dark spots on the skin when exposed to the sun.
Bourdon said he still wore Eau Sauvage because it reminded him of his father, Rene, who as deputy head of Dior perfumes in the 1960s and 1970s supervised the creation of the perfume.
Raymond Chaillan, who collaborated on the creation of both Anais Anais and Opium, believes both have changed. When it was launched in 1977, the original Opium was full of eugenol and also contained linalool, and limonene found in citruses. In large doses, Eugenol can cause liver damage, while oxidized linalool can cause exzema and prolonged exposure to pure limonene can irritate the skin.
Edouard Flechier, who created Dior’s Poison in 1985, says that fragrance has changed since its inception.
“I know the original formula by heart and I imagine they (Dior) had to change progressively because of new IFRA regulation.”
Natural ingredients are more supple than synthetic ingredients and give more depth to a perfume as well as a subtle play on various notes, says [Frederic] Malle, adding that IFRA restrictions have cost him “hundreds of hours” and “endless tests.”
If the industry largely got away with quietly tweaking its fragrances up till now, however, experts say that will be impossible if Europe backs the proposals aimed at wiping allergenic substances from the perfume-makers’ palettes altogether.
You can read the full article here, but I am interested in your reactions to some of the points it raised. Did you find the schism within the perfume industry to be as surprising as I did? Did you know of some of the ingredients removed from scents like Shalimar (the birch tar oil), Opium or Eau Sauvage? What about the point raised by Patrick Saint-Yves, president of the French Society of Perfume Creators (SFP), regarding the contradiction in encouraging the use of fragrance oils in aromatherapy massages (and hence, in use on the skin) but, yet, targeting them when used in perfumery? Do you think niche perfumers like Frederic Malle and Serge Lutens — both of whom have recently stated flat out that they may no longer be able to continue in this business — will be able to manage even half as successfully as they have now if their existing and future fragrances are essentially restricted?
I’d love to hear any and all thoughts you may have on this subject.