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The Death of Chanel No 5: New EU Regulation May Ban Classic Perfumes

Chanel No 5New proposed legislation in the European Union may serve as a death sentence for many classic fragrances by putting unprecedented restrictions on the use of natural fragrance ingredients.  Such restrictions imposed by The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) are not new.  IFRA updates its list of disallowed ingredients to use in commercial fragrances on an ongoing basis.  What is different this time around is the magnitude of the proposed restrictions.  If turned into law, the proposed legislation would have impact on all aspects of the industry and consumer worldwide.  While the impacts are seen mostly as negative, they also present an opportunity for the archaic fragrance industry to take a new approach to doing business.

Impact on the Industry

The proposed legislation is believed to have a game-changing impact on almost all areas of the fragrance industry.  The updated list of potentially allergic fragrance ingredients has grown from 26 in 2005 to 100.

Most fragrances, which have been on the market since 2005 will likely be negatively impacted.

Perfumes that contain natural ingredients such as oak moss, will be hit the hardest.

The implications for the fragrance houses are that they will either have to reformulate their signature fragrances or discontinue them.  Discontinuing Shalimar, for example, is probably the easiest way to deal with the situation but it is also the least preferred for the fragrance companies and consumers alike.

Reformulating the fragrances poses a two-fold problem: first it costs money and second it draws attention to the dark side of the perfume industry – reformulation.

Reformulated fragrances are rarely better than the originals containing natural ingredients.

Reformulating a fragrance can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the complexity of the formula.  Even when a lot of money is thrown are reformulations, there is always a risk that the end product may be a commercial flop.  Reformulated fragrances are rarely better than the originals containing natural ingredients.  For example, the reformulated Eau Sauvage currently sold on the market is just a pale copy of the original fragrance release in the 60’s.

The other problem around reformulation is the one that scares fragrance companies more than the high reformulation costs.  It is bringing the practice of reformulation itself to light.

…reformulations are taboo in the industry and that they are rarely talked about.

Flur Roberts with Euromonitor says that reformulations are taboo in the industry and that they are rarely talked about.  It seems like fragrance companies live in this illusionary world where consumers are oblivious to all the tweaks and changes to the original formula go unnoticed by the consumer.

Jean Guichard with Givaudan says “Consumers know their perfume better than any expert…We say nothing to consumers, but they notice when their fragrance has been changed…” Just because I keep buying Eau Sauvage doesn’t mean I don’t know you are playing with it.  I am just waiting to screw it up completely before I give up and move on to something better.

Eau Sauvage

The proposed legislation would require thousands of commercial fragrances to be reformulated.  It would also allow fragrance companies to come clean about reformulations and have a fresh start building relationships with consumers based on honesty.

How impacted each perfume company will be will depend on how many of the potentially banned ingredients they use in their fragrances.  LVMH, for example, will be impacted to a much greater extend than L’Oreal. LVMH owns the houses of Guerlain and Dior, which have strong traditions in perfumery and most of their best selling products contain many of the to-be-banned ingredients.  Chanel is in a similar situation.

Guerlain Shalimar

Perfume companies, which use mostly synthetics in their fragrances will likely be impacted to a lesser degree.  Coty, for example, has built its business model around short-lived celebrity fragrances, which use mostly synthetics.  The risk around future restrictions for Coty is limited for two main reasons: first, most of their ingredients will most likely not be on the list; second, it would be much easier and cheaper for them to drop the current version of Kim Kardashian‘s True Reflection and reissue a flanker without the banned ingredient.  No one would even notice considering the saturation of celebrity fragrances on the market.

The success of Coty’s celebrity fragrances are also dependent on the success of the celebrity.  Provided the volatility of celebrity popularity, Coty has probably built a short-term strategy around each fragrance.  Would anyone even remember Kim Kardashian 20 years from now let alone wear her fragrance? I bet no.

“If this law goes ahead I am finished.” – Frederic Malle

The proposed legislation could have a very opposite and dramatic impact on smaller niche brands.  “If this law goes ahead I am finished.” says Frederic Malle.  Unfortunately, he may not be very far from the truth.  His fragrances are known and admired among connoisseurs for the fragrant nuances and creativity given partly by the use of naturals.  Take those away and Musc Ravageur will not be the same.

Some industry experts say that fragrance ingredient companies (e.g. Firmenich, Symrise, Givaudan) will likely profit from the proposed legislation.  After all, they are the ones manufacturing the synthetic molecules to replace the naturals.  This would make sense if it wasn’t for the fact that the large ingredient manufacturers also produce many of the naturals used in perfumery.  Therefore, any potential gains may not be as evident

Impact on the Consumer

IFRA’s motivation behind the ingredient regulations is to protect consumers from the exposure of potential allergens used in fragrances.  In a way, they protect the interest of the general public. Do they really?

1 to 3 percent of the population in Europe is allergic or potentially allergic to the natural ingredients found in fragrances.

The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) have estimated that approximately 1 to 3 percent of the population in Europe is allergic or potentially allergic to the natural ingredients found in fragrances.  Logically, the remaining 97 to 99 percent of the population enjoy fragrances with natural ingredients without any allergic reaction. With this in mind, how does the ingredient restriction at hand serves the majority of 99 percent?  Wouldn’t killing historical and cultural symbols like Chanel No 5, Eau Sauvage and Miss Dior deprive the majority of the population from enjoying these unique artistic creations? How are the SCCS and IFRA serving the majority of consumers?

Quite intelligently, when I wear a fragrance, which gives me a rash, I stop wearing it.

It seems like SCCS and IFRA think of consumers as brainless creatures who, for the life of them, can’t figure out what to do when they have allergies.  In fact quite the opposite is true.  People can actually take a pretty good care of themselves without having agencies telling them what is bad for them.  Quite intelligently, when I wear a fragrance, which gives me a rash, I stop wearing it.  I don’t need SCCS or IFRA to tell the dumb me that I should stop using it and take away my choice of using it.  I can figure that much by myself.

In the spirit of the IFRA’s regulations, I suggest we ban all dairy products, nuts and shellfish because they all are potential allergens. While we are at it, let’s ban wine too because when I drink it I turn red and I am pretty sure that’s an allergic reaction.

Possible Solutions

Other industries successfully deal with allergens in their products by listing them on the packaging or displaying warnings.  For example, it is quite common in any donut shop to see a sign that says “Allergy Warning: Products may contain traces of nuts.”

Fragrance companies, however, are not as eager as donut shops to list their ingredients.  The reason for this is the lack of copyright on fragrance formulas.  Therefore, protecting key ingredients and formulas is paramount for maintaining market advantage.

Even if fragrance companies list their ingredients, they wouldn’t mean much to the average consumer.  Linalool, Limonene and denatured alcohol may get a chemist excited but will get a blank stare from the average consumer.

If listing chemical ingredients is useless, then how about listing potential allergic reactions a fragrance may cause.  This seems to work with most medications but then they do not try to sell you the dream of sensuality and intense allure.  Fragrances do exactly that: they try to sell the image of feeling glamorous, sensual, a better version of you and this is hard to do when talking about eczema and rashes.  Then again, fragrance companies continue to peddle the illusion that their fragrances come from pure nature and how can such innocent purity as jasmine petals cause you a rash?  In fact, it can and is more likely to than the unsexy 2,3-benzopyrrole.

How restrictive the future regulation is going to be will become evident in the first half of 2013.  Until then, it may not be such a crazy idea to stock up on your favourite scent because it may not be the same after IFRA is done with it.

11 thoughts on “The Death of Chanel No 5: New EU Regulation May Ban Classic Perfumes”

  1. Somehow, I’m not getting notifications of your new posts. I’ll have to figure out why, but that’s neither here nor there. The thing which is, is the crazy, crazy way that you and I are on the same wavelength *at the exact same time.* While you were no doubt drafting and typing this, I had an extremely long conversation on FB this afternoon with one of my oldest friends. She lives in Paris and was telling me that she’d just bought a bottle of vintage Miss Dior. So then, I proceeded to tell her about the EU proposals that you discuss here, complete with links to articles from The Telegraph and the Huffington Post.

    She was horrified. (Did I mention that she’s French? This sort of stuff is blasphemy to the French.) After a long discussion about all her favorites — which are heavily in the chypre and/or citrus aromantics category — and how they were doomed and dead, she was almost in tears. She didn’t know about IFRA, the rules re. oakmoss and citruses, let alone how the EU is planning on getting into the action. People like her, like me, like my mother, and undoubtedly you too are just left with one question: where do we turn? What are we supposed to do?

    I feel badly for those like Malle and Serge Lutens, but honestly, I feel far more sorry for people like us. To put it succinctly but crudely, we’re screwed. I may link to your post on FB tomorrow (I have to give some friends time to digest all the perfume stuff that I’ve already posted, lol) but, then again, my friends have already heard me beating the IFRA drum so much they may tune me out. ;) But thank you for writing about this really important subject.

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    1. Haha, it is an interesting observation. I guess great minds think alike :).

      I’m sure a lot of people are upset about this new proposed regulation. It is definitely going to hurt everyone. I sympathize with you, your friend and definitely the niche fragrance companies. They’ll probably be hit the hardest. LVMH, Estee Lauder and L’Oreal are going to be okay – fragrance is just one of their many businesses. For Tauer, Heeley and Malle, this may be more or less the end of the game. I don’t think there are any winners that are going to come out of this legislation.

      You know what they say though: there is an opportunity in time of change. If the industry is flexible (which it is not) it may actually minimize the impact. Here are some ideas how:

      1. Companies can always sell IFRA non-compliant fragrances online. Andy Tauer, for example, can set up a numbered company in the Caribbean, which sells his banned fragrances online. EU residents go on the site and buy their stuff from there. Andy can continue making his fragrances just the way he does now and say they are for export. The restriction will not be on making these fragrances but on selling them. True, doing it this way is more complicated but it’s better than nothing.

      2. I am sure the Middle Eastern companies (Amouage and Ajmal) will keep creating their fragrances without reformulations. There will also be an opportunity to create more Western-style fragrances

      Of course, it is very upsetting that the classic will be close to gone. I guess at this point the only thing we can do is stock up on our favourites. Also, the more awareness we create about the issue and the more unpopular it becomes, the harder it will be for any government to pass such a law.

      On Wed, Dec 19, 2012 at 11:18 PM, scent bound

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  2. This pisses me off. How dare they try to restrict the use of naturals from perfume. If they are so afraid of people being allergic why dont they go cut down every tree and burn every plant that could cause an allergy. Its your responsibilty to know what you are allergic too and its NOT anyones fault. Leave the perfume houses alone. If every perfume becomes synthetic I will not buy them. I detest Givaudons synthetics and can tell when they are sometimes used. Unless its the only option, like you dont want to hurt and kill a whale… but otherwise dont ban naturals! Synthetics are much worse. People will always be allergic to different things. You can not create a perfect world with synthetics. What you will create is a cheap smelling, artificial mess and the next time that “overly sensitive” patient goes for a walk in the woods with her synthetic perfume, she will still get an allergic reaction to a tree! Why not bN camping,parks, forrests, & woods while your at it too?!! Honestly, I have never heard something so absurd. Who ever thought this one up has too much time on their hands.

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  3. Living causes allergies, and in the end .. you die-
    EU is more repulsive tyranny’m thinking of emigrating

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  4. i wanted to so love the originals of guerlain and le male. it makes me sick to the stomach that the names i cherished and enjoyed, even listening to, will now forever be gone :( . i wanted to buy for my wife the originals of dior and chanel. i mean what the hell. i believe IFRA members are being paid by synthetic production companies. or else i do not see a logical reason to deprive all the people of lovely fragrances. it is naive and insane. curse you IFRA.

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  5. i can only see a material benefit here. Only a fool and a mad man can only take a decision that defies 97% of people, and that too based on some hoax story of allergens. and i am damn damn sure, it has nothing to do with the welfare of general public, it will only benefit the few, in terms of material benefit, or may be who is taking such a decision is naturally deprived of smelling amazing fragrances, and can’t withstand the idea of others enjoying the work of perfumers due to his/her intrinsic jealousy. i wish i could spit some more, but whoever reads it, would definitely know, what havoc IFRA is playing with sentiments of perfume lovers

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    1. To a degree all of these agencies proposing these changes are trying to justify their existence. They want to be able to say “hey, look, we are doing something, we add value, don’t cut our budget.”

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