There is a new Reuters article on the situation involving the EU regulations, but this one focuses heavily on what the response of various perfumers or perfume houses, along with measures that they’ve taken to deal with the potential oakmoss ban. In Part I of what seems likely to be an ongoing series of mine on this issue, I focused on Frederic Malle versus LVMH, Chanel, and L’Oreal, based on various reports by Reuters’ Astrid Wendlandt. This time, she has spoken to other perfumers like Parfums d’Empire‘s Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, Maurice Roucel, and Patricia de Nicolaï in a piece entitled, “What’s in a scent? Perfume makers adapt to EU rules.”
However, what I found most intriguing of all in the article was Ms. Wendlandt’s subtle hint of a potential bias in the SCCS group (Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety) whose original 2012 proposals started this mad dash towards increasingly draconian EU restrictions. So I looked into the group, and Ms. Wendlandt may have a point. I’ll discuss all that, as well as provide analysis from others regarding the iffy science underlying the SCCS’ theories. There will also be a brief tangent of my own to look at the wealth of several perfume companies who would seem to have every incentive to join in a united front against the EU measures, but are doing next to nothing.
Very briefly, however, let’s start with some background if you’re unfamiliar with the convoluted details of the EU situation. As I noted in an 2014 piece I wrote on perfume regulation, a 2012 Advisory Committee had offered certain draconian suggestions to the EU regulatory body on widespread restrictions of 12 ingredients. These were mere suggestions, but, as I talked about in a 2013 post, it had already led the perfume industry to begin changes to formulas of existing perfumes. To bring you up to date on the current situation, and to put it in a nutshell:
- the EU is currently contemplating banning 3 things: two compounds in oakmoss and tree moss, as well as HICC (otherwise known as lyral), a synthetic that replicates the smell of lily of the valley (muguet). To be specific, in the case of oakmoss, what the EU is targeting are two core compounds, atranol and chloroatranol. (Any oakmoss that is stripped of these elements can be used, but I doubt the process is affordable enough to be widely available to everyone.)
- The EU is deliberating on how much 9 other key, very essential ingredients should be restricted and to what levels they should be limited. As Ms. Wendlandt wrote in an earlier Reuters article a few weeks back, these other ingredients include citral, found in lemon and tangerine oils; coumarin, found in tropical tonka beans; and eugenol, found in rose oil.”
- Finally, they are trying to determine what sort of perfume lists and labeling should be required.
The new Reuters article, “What’s in a scent?”, had some interesting comments from Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, founder and “nose” at Parfum d’Empire, especially with regard to countermeasures he is considering to replace the scent of oakmoss: seaweed.
Seaweed may not be the first ingredient that springs to mind for perfume. But algae are among obscure ingredients to which perfume makers are turning to preserve the scent of their fragrances in the face of new EU anti-allergy restrictions. [...][¶]
“I am crazy about oak moss, it is one of my favorite ingredients,” says Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, perfume creator or “nose” at his niche Parfum d’Empire brand. A 100 ml bottle of scent costs 120 euros.
Corticchiato, like many other “noses,” is anxious about the new wave of potentially costly rules emanating from Brussels. [...][¶]
One solution for oak moss, Corticchiato says, is to add a touch of algae as its wet, iodized smell coupled with other ingredients, can help recreate oak moss’ moldy character.
Equally interesting to me was the fact that more perfumers are slowly going on the record to admit that they’ve reformulated fragrances already. Patricia de Nicolai, for example, points directly to the oakmoss and lyral/HICC issues as reasons for why she’s changed two fragrances. (At least, two that she’s willing to mention by name….)
She says she has never received a complaint about allergy but has reformulated some of her best sellers such as New York and Eau d’Ete because they used oak moss and lyral respectively.
She’s not the only one speaking out about forced reformulation:
“Many perfumes have had to be reformulated even though they were considered masterpieces due to changing legislation,” said Olivier Maure, head of Accords et Parfums, a supplier of major brands including Dior based in Grasse, likening it to “changing the colors of the Mona Lisa”.
In Part I, I noted the sharp change in LVMH‘s comments over the course of the last year or so on the issue of EU perfume regulations. This time, LVMH flat-out refused to make any comment whatsoever, as did its subsidiaries Dior and Guerlain. Perhaps they realized that their sudden shift in the wind had become too obvious. As for the other big brands, Hermès and L’Oreal said nothing at all, which is fully in keeping with their constant silence on the issue, no matter what the year or article.
So consider me shocked when Chanel actually said something this time around. In fact, there are direct quotes from Jacques Polge, though they follow the standard line that you’d expect and nothing of any substance:
Chanel said it stopped using lyral in 2010 and has been evolving its formulas in anticipation of new rules.
“At Chanel, we follow very closely talks about regulation and scientific findings concerning raw materials,” Jacques Polge, Chanel’s chief perfume creator for 36 years, said in an emailed response to questions.
Polge said Chanel controls its formulas and supply chains to ensure its natural oak moss is bereft of the allergens targeted by Brussels. That way, “we can respect the original scent”.
One of the most famous noses around, Maurice Roucel, seems to have a response to that line of argument:
But “once you change an ingredient or two it can be very difficult to keep the scent absolutely intact, especially if those ingredients played an important role in defining the scent,” says Maurice Roucel, creator of many perfumes including L’Instant for Guerlain and Hermes’s 24 Faubourg.
A few years ago, Roucel reformulated Dior’s Fahrenheit perfume to remove lyral along with a few other ingredients and he is now working on the reformulation of about eight perfumes to make them meet new regulation.
“Big brands tell me: replace this and that and make sure it smells the same and costs the same to produce,” Roucel said.
“NO UNITED FRONT”:
I’ve written about the EU perfume regulations about 5 or 6 times by now, and the issue of cigarettes comes up each time, whether from me or from readers in the comments. So, I have to admit, I snorted rather gleefully when Ms. Wendlandt raised the matter bluntly in her article:
Some inside the perfume industry say lobby groups representing the interests of tobacco firms are better financed and better organized than those representing perfume makers.
One reason is the sheer size of the global cigarette industry. In sales terms, it is more than three times the size of the perfume industry. Cigarette lobby groups include the tobacco manufacturers’ association and the tobacco retailer’s alliance.
By comparison, perfume makers rely on Cosmetics Europe, a bulky organization that represents 4,000 companies including deodorant, toothpaste and perfume providers which have very disparate interests.
Even within the perfume industry, there is no united front as some brands are more affected than others by IFRA and new EU regulation.
One of the industry’s biggest players, L’Oreal, says it uses mainly synthetic ingredients in its perfumes. These ingredients raise fewer allergy concerns than natural products found in niche perfumes and brands such as Chanel and LVMH’s Dior and Guerlain.
Another issue is that perfumes are not protected by intellectual property rights. The composition of a perfume is not legally recognized as a “creation of the mind” but rather an industrial formula that can be replicated and altered.
I’m afraid I don’t understand how that last argument relates to the issue of the perfume industry not having adequate lobbies to support their interests. Cigarettes — whether Marlboro, Lucky Strike, Gitanes, or some menthol contraption — are products that might well be considered to have an individual “industry formula” which can be replicated. To my knowledge, they aren’t a patentable product, and there are certainly knock-offs floating around that I’ve seen myself. Yet, that doesn’t stop Phillip-Morris and its brethren from having a powerful lobbying presence. To me, the IP (intellectual property) concerns pertain more to the labeling issue and the third-prong of the upcoming EU regulations. It has nothing to do with the size or power of lobbying groups.
Even if the perfume industry is not as large or as wealthy as the tobacco one, it still doesn’t explain to me why they can’t unite in a common cause. (Well, not L’Oreal whose stuff is replete with synthetics, but I’ll spare you a repetition of my views on that company.) For everyone else, there is ample money at stake to warrant a joining of arms, even if it’s done behind the scenes to avoid potentially negative PR from some tabloid banners. Consider an article in Euronews from June 2013 which discusses the financial cost of the upcoming regulations to just the French perfume industry alone:
There are 2,500 lavender producers in France, covering 20,000 hectars. Grasse is considered by many to be the “capital of perfumes”. It is close to the lavender flower growing regions and home to Robertet, a world leader in natural fragrance production and perfume design. Their 22 branches worldwide turnover 400 million euros a year.
Robertet workers were shocked at the SCCS report with its long list of allergenic substances to declare, limit or ban. To adapt, the French perfume industry would need to pay up to 100 million euros, according to one of the directors. The cost to Robertet would be approximately five million euros. [Emphasis added by me.]
People keep talking about the wealth of the aromachemical companies who are IFRA supporters, like Givaudan, to which I keep countering with the amount of money on the other side of the aisle. Forbes puts LVMH‘s worth at $28.4 billion as of November 2013 is worth. In my article on Coco Chanel, I noted how Forbes estimated the wealth of the Wertheimer brothers who privately own the company lock, stock, and barrel at roughly $19 billion. Businessweek estimated Hermès’ worth in 2012 at $19.1 billion. Coming in at a much lower level is Robertet which Businessweek says had $389.5 million in 2013 revenues. It may be less than LVMH, but it’s still nothing to scoff at. Plus, Robertet’s core business is based on natural fragrance oils, and they are based in Grasse which is currently seeking UNESCO World Heritage protection against the financial depredations already wrought by the EU proposals.
When you add in the financial impact on all the various smaller perfume houses, there is a lot of money in total on the side of those who have a vested interest in preventing more draconian EU measures from passing. The amount that Chanel makes just from Chanel No. 5 alone is something that should interest its Wertheimer owners. In addition, there is the fact that many of these fashion houses rely desperately on their beauty and fragrance sales to support their costly haute couture lines that hemorrhage money but provide a necessary prestige. For example, I highly doubt Armani could never keep up his Privé couture line if a bottle of Acqua di Gio were not selling something like every 8 or 20 seconds in this world. (I read that once in an article, but I can’t find it now to quote you the exact number.)
My point is, the perfume industry may not be as large as the tobacco one, but there is certainly enough wealth amongst certain groups to justify a united front. Why isn’t there one? There may be a split in the industry with those like L’Oreal and Givaudan on one side, but reformulation is a costly enough affair to warrant companies on the other side stepping forward.
The fact that they haven’t is starting to seem suspiciously strange under the circumstances. I have to admit, I’m starting to inch towards the camp of those who have been saying all along that the big perfume houses will benefit in the long run from lower production costs if they have to use more synthetics and if natural ingredients are drastically curtailed in their allowed percentages. Perhaps the companies are simply giving in, or perhaps they see the current wave of reformulations as a temporary financial setback which they will compensate for with decreased expenses down the road.
Whatever the reason, I think the ones it hurts the most are the smaller niche perfumers, the ones we rely upon for truly creative or high-quality fragrances. Perfume houses like Parfums de Nicolai and Andy Tauer (who has written repeatedly on his blog about the serious impact of even current EU regulations on a business like his, including the cellophane rules for his packaging). Or, professional noses like Viktoria Minya who has had to tell clients that she can’t make something according to their specifications because the ingredients are illegal or heavily restricted in the EU. And, then, of course, we have poor Marc-Antoine Corticchiato resorting bloody seaweed as a solution to his perfume woes.
BIAS & NORTH-SOUTH PERFUME LINES:
The most fascinating part of the Reuters article pertains to the SCCS advisory committee (Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety) whose extremely draconian proposals in 2012 made everything so much worse. The new Reuters article states:
The European Union denies targeting perfume any more than any other industry and says its new regulation seeks to address scientists’ and doctors’ concerns about the health hazards related to the use of perfume. [...][¶]
[However,] Some industry executives say Brussels’ recent focus on the perfume industry stems from its main advisory body, the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS). Many of the committee’s members come from northern countries such as Sweden and Denmark where there is opposition to perfume on health grounds.
“Clearly, there are more experts at the SCCS who are based in northern Europe than in the south but it is not a deliberate choice,” said David Hudson, spokesman for consumer policy at the European Commission. “We strive for geographic and gender balance but the primary selection criteria is expertise.”
Perfume is not as important to the economies of northern Europe as it is to southern countries. Perfumes and cosmetics are among France’s top five exports and the southern city of Grasse is the historic capital of the perfume industry where many leading brands such as Chanel, Hermes and Dior source their essences.
Added to that, research shows people from northern regions tend to be more vulnerable to allergies than those living around the Mediterranean. One theory is that people in northern countries are more susceptible because of their lifestyle and generally cleaner environment.
I don’t know about you, but my jaw dropped at the Reuters statements and their implications. So Scandinavians who oppose perfume on general health grounds are influencing proposals that would impact the entire EU and, by its ripple effects, perfumery around the world? The bloody bastards. If it’s true, that is….
I looked into the members of the group, as listed on the SCCS website, and I don’t think that one can say that a majority come from Sweden or Denmark. However, there is no doubt that ALL the current members are geographically based in Northern Europe, even if two seem to be of Indian or South Asian ancestry. Here are the SCCS members and their country, as stated by the organization itself:
- Dr Ulrike Bernauer: Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Berlin, Germany.
- Dr Qasim Chaudhry: The Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA), Sand Hutton, United Kingdom.
- Dr Pieter Coenraads: University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands.
- Prof. Gisela Degen: Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors (IfADo), Dortmund, Germany.
- Dr Maria Dusinska: Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU), Kjeller, Norway.
- Dr Werner Lilienblum: Retired.
- Dr Andreas Luch: Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Berlin, Germany.
- Dr Elsa Nielsen: Technical University of Denmark, Søborg, Denmark.
- Prof. Thomas Platzek: Chair of the Committee : Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Berlin, Germany.
- Dr Suresh Rastogi: Vice-Chair of the Committee: Retired [Location seems to be Denmark according to a Google search.]
- Dr Christophe Rousselle: French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES), Maisons-Alfort, France.
- Dr Jan Van Benthem: National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Bilthoven, the Netherlands.
Out of those 12 people, 5 are Germans (if you include Dr. Werner Lilienblum whose location is not listed but which I looked up). After that: 2 are Dutch, 2 are Danish, 1 is Norwegian, 1 is French, and 1 is British (and of South Asian, Indian or Pakistani origins). Not a Spaniard, Greek, or Sicilian amongst the lot. While there are two South Asians of possibly Indian or Pakistani ancestry, one has to admit that the panel’s composition is heavily skewed in one direction.
What is more troublesome is the very real likelihood that all these doctors or scientists . used unsound, highly limited data as the basis for their ruthlessly stringent 2012 proposals to the EU. I’m wholly unqualified to speak to the underlying science, but Mark Behnke has an advanced degree in chemistry and wrote about this issue for his site, Colognoisseur:
The data used to determine the allergen potential of these molecules is scientifically and statistically unsound. [...] The studies these bans and restrictions have been based on were performed one time at one concentration on 25 patients with no controls, positive or negative! This is what makes me shake my head as this is not good scientific practice and the conclusions made are very preliminary and possibly incorrect.
An even bigger flaw is the idea that it’s really only 23 molecules, so what? If these single molecules are restricted and banned it will have a ripple effect throughout many more raw materials. A natural oil is not a single molecule it is a combination of as many as hundreds of individual molecules. Any one of which could be identified as one of the “bad 23” which would then make that natural oil unusable as well. [...]
Even I know that you need controls in a scientific study, but there seem to have been none used here. And only a one-time test on a mere 25 patients?! It’s rather astonishing.
As for the medical data, a reader of the blog, “Colin,” provided a response to that in a comment to one of my prior articles. He wrote:
Most people who may be allergic to perfumes or specific scent chemicals have a skin reaction which is not dangerous or life-threatening in any way. A brief review of medical literature reveals only two, yes that is TWO, reported cases of anaphylaxis, which is the severe, life-threatening kind of allergic reaction. One occurred in a health care worker when a patient sprayed her directly in the face with 3 sprays of perfume (I’m completely serious, look it up–Lessenger JE. Occupational acute anaphylactic reaction to assault by perfume spray in the face. J Am Board Fam Pract. 2001;14:137-40). The other occurred when a mother sprayed her 2-month infant in the face with cologne. Neither of these would be considered by anyone to be a customary use of fragrance. Incidentally, in the case of the infant, the cologne contained menthol which was the ingredient the authors suspected to have been the main factor in triggering this response. Is menthol even on the list of ingredients of concern? Should any chemical be regulated if, in the recorded history of humanity, there have been but 2 cases recorded of any anaphylactic reaction and in both cases the perfume was being misused?
So, a geographic (and skin tone) imbalance amongst the SCCS, and their reliance on faulty science involving 25 people as proof, even though there have been only 2 instances in medical history of life-threatening reactions to perfumery. If you ask me, the SCCS and their northern issues lie behind all of this. If perfume were up there with automotive engineering as one of Germany’s leading industries, you can bet that they would not do anything so ridiculous as they are doing now. And obviously the fair-haired, pale Dutch or Scandinavians are going to care more about “research [that] shows people from northern regions tend to be more vulnerable to allergies than those living around the Mediterranean,” to quote the Reuters article.
I think it’s going to be important for more and more perfume houses or noses to speak out. The EU legislators in Brussels have not yet finalized their legislation, and they previously indicated that they were interested in hearing from people in the industry with the 90-day period that ended in May. The fight over oakmoss is lost, but there are still the 9 or so ingredients whose restriction levels are being considered, including such key components as lavender, certain citrus oils, compounds in rose oil, and coumarin from tonka beans. In my opinion, the only small hope in making the EU legislators put forth more moderate legislation lies in having numerous figures in the perfume industry speak out to the media, drawing attention to the situation and, more importantly, to the severe economic loss that might issue. I think a media campaign is something that Brussels could not easily dismiss.
No-one can rely on the big houses like LVMH or Chanel to lead what’s left of the charge in the final months ahead, and I think that sad fact is starting to sink in across the industry. As Marc-Antoine Corticchiato of Parfum d’Empire stated in that Reuters article: “I expected big groups to take the initiative on this matter but it turns out that they are the most risk averse[.]”
Mr. Corticchiato, Frederic Malle, Patricia de Nicolai, Maurice Roucel, and a handful of others deserve enormous praise for their public stance. They certainly have my respect and admiration, which is more than I can say for both the SCCS and some of the companies mentioned here.