Luxury perfume brands warn 20bn industry faces ruin as EU proposes ban on natural ingredients which might cause allergiesLegacy brands like Dior, Chanel and Guerlain will be most affectedMany perfume brands have been tweaking their formulas for yearsBan will be 'like an atomic explosion' according to Parisian company owner
16:20 GMT, 16 December 2012
Luxury perfume brands fear the European Union's new laws against allergens could severely curb or ban natural ingredients used in vintage best-sellers and put some perfume makers out of business.
But Brussels' proposed legislation — a draft will be unveiled early next year — is also causing a stir for another reason. It sheds light on the best-kept secret in the 20billion trade: many big brands have been tweaking their formulas for years.
'It is a taboo in the industry. People are scared to say anything about it,' said Fflur Roberts, head of luxury goods at market research company Euromonitor.
Brands like Dior, left, and Guerlain, right, will be most affected by the new regulations as their fragrances use many natural ingredients and were created before scientists started looking into potential health hazards
The brands most affected will be those which have been in the perfume industry for more than half a century, such as Dior, Chanel and Guerlain. All those fragrances use many natural ingredients and were created before scientists started looking into perfumes' potential health hazards.
Chanel's No.5, one of the world's best-selling perfumes and named after its creator's fifth trial, was created in 1921.
Chanel declined to comment on whether it has ever changed the formula of its world-famous perfume, as did Guerlain, Dior and luxury brand Hermes, which all make high-end perfumes using natural ingredients.
Most luxury perfume names do not want to disclose the fact that they have had to make tweaks to their scents for fear they could lose customers or damage their carefully nurtured luxury brand.
Perfume lovers, though, are hard to fool. 'Consumers know their perfume better than any expert,' said Jean Guichard, who heads the perfume school in Paris set up in 1946 by Swiss fragrance maker Givaudan.
Chanel's No.5, one of the world's best-selling perfumes and named after its creator's fifth trial, was created in 1921
'We say nothing to consumers, but they
notice when their fragrance has been changed and they may decide to opt
for another product. Brands need to be careful when they reformulate
their perfumes as they can lose consumers.'
Until now, changes to perfume formulas
have come as a result of increasingly severe restrictions imposed by
the industry's self-regulatory body, the International Fragrance
'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.
If new, even stricter rules are adopted, hundreds of perfumes would have to be reformulated with synthetic allergen-free contents.
That, many in the industry fear, could threaten their business.
'If this law goes ahead I am finished, as my perfumes are all filled with these ingredients,' said Frederic Malle, who owns high-end perfume company Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle.
The impact on luxury perfume brands as a whole would, he said, be 'like an atomic explosion and we would not have the means to rebuild ourselves.'
Most fine perfumes are composed of a mix of natural ingredients and synthetic molecules.
Changing a scent can cost several hundred thousand euros depending on the complexity of the original formula, and perfume makers say that replacing natural with synthetic ingredients is rarely an improvement.
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.
Changing a scent can cost several hundred thousand euros depending on the complexity of the original formula
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 [masterpiece] 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 kind of organic chemical compound produced by plants like bergamot that can cause dark spots on the skin when exposed to the sun.
Mr 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.
'Eau Sauvage was a real [masterpiece] in its original form,' retired perfume-maker Pierre Bourdon said
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.
Brigitte Aubert, a 68-year-old Parisian interior decorator, gave up Shalimar in the 1980s after developing an allergy to it.
'My neck became all red but I continued wearing Shalimar for a long time. It was part of my identity, I couldn't just give it up,' she said. 'It reminded me of those carefree days of Paris in the 1960s.'
Aubert is one of an estimated five million to 15 million people, or one to three per cent of the EU population who are allergic or potentially allergic to natural ingredients contained in fine perfumes, according to a report published in July by the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS).
Patrick Saint-Yves, president of the French Society of Perfume Creators (SFP), is furious about the recommendation.
'I simply find that there is a huge
contradiction,' Saint-Yves said. 'We encourage the use of many essential
oils such as lavender in aromatherapy for massages, but we want to ban
it in perfumes. Shops continue to sell alcohol and cigarettes which do
much more harm.'
Part of the problem is the secrecy
surrounding perfumes. Most perfume brands are reluctant to label their
In 2005, the EU passed a law in 2005 forcing perfume brands to label any of 26
potentially allergenic ingredients. The brands now list those
ingredients — but in Latin. Now the SCCS is proposing to extend that list to
more than 100 potential allergens.
Europe is not the only region to look
more closely at the impact of fragrance. Earlier this year Republican
lawmaker Michele Peckham from New Hampshire to ban state employees who
have contact with members of the public from wearing strong fragrances.
The bill did not pass, but there are some hospitals in the U.S. where they have introduced bans on using perfumes.