The Last Straw: Could Rose Essence Be Banned By IFRA One Day? {The 5th Sense in the News}

The-Perfumer)statue.jpgAn article in Le Monde dated January 12th, 2010 attempts to gauge the French perfumery professional milieu's positions, or more modestly as it turns out, reactions to the International Fragrance Association's (IFRA) work on listing, regulating and banning health-hazardous ingredients in perfumes. For now, reactions are subdued and expressed with the help of an emotional register rather than a firm political stand...

It seems that perfumers with curatorial responsibilities such as Thierry Wasser of Guerlain or François Demachy of LVMH, which includes Guerlain under their umbrella, would be the most immediately concerned by the cultural impact of such regulations. The boss of LVMH Bernard Arnault has expressed his personal views on patrimony and artistic patronage in La passion créative (Creative Passion), Entretiens avec Yves Messarovitch, 2000, and could become more sensitive to the issues presented by perfume regulations made outside of a cultural framework of reference.

The marketing directors and perfumers cited in the article agree that their jobs have become difficult, if not downright painful. This is a change of tone conveyed by a mainstream left-centrist media, and can be contrasted with the past reaction of a perfumer like Jean-Claude Ellena (and others) who merely seemed to shrug their shoulders at IFRA and remained confident in their creative abilities to overcome these types of restrictions. Journalist Nicole Vulser has succeeded in reproducing the voices of those who worry, especially that of Wasser while Demachy remains more reserved,    

"Certains parfums ont été développés parce qu'il n'y avait aucune contrainte pénalisante" explique François Demachy, le nez de Dior. Le plus en guerre contre ce carcan n'est autre que Thierry Wasser, le nouveau nez de Guerlain. "Nous vendons des parfums dont le plus vieux a plus de 150 ans. Si un jour, Bruxelles ne veut plus d'essence de rose, comment pourrais-je faire ? Il y a de la rose dans presque tous nos parfums... C'est un patrimoine à défendre."

thierry-wasser-portrait.jpg"Some perfumes have been developed because there were no penalizing constraints" explains François Demachy, the nose at Dior. The one most pitted against this stranglehold is none other than Thierry Wasser, the new nose at Guerlain. "The most ancient amongst the perfumes we sell is more than a 150 years old. If one day, Brussells wants to do away with rose essence, how am I going to be able to manage? There is rose in almost all of our perfumes...they constitute a patrimony that needs to be defended." (Picture of Thierry Wasser)

An anonymous French perfumer points out the awkward course things have taken in the comments section on website. In summary: one says yes to measures protecting consumers from substances that are carcinogenic, mutagenic and impede reproductive abilities; one ought to say no to banning ingredients that are allergenic. Otherwise why not ban "strawberries, eggs and cats...?"

By contrast, the food industry seems content with pointing out allergenic substances on the packagings of their products rather than prohibiting foodstuffs that are tainted with allergenic traces such as peanuts or eggs. The labeling solution does not seem to have been seriously considered by the perfume industry in part it seems out of a traditionalist reflex to protect the secrecy of their formulae, a concern largely outdated by the possibility of analyzing and laying them out technically nearly 100% of it in the open.

While IFRA has been made to look in most personal accounts as an organism which mission is to rain on perfumery as best they can, a look at their website indicates for example that they have come to the defense of coumarin, a traditional ingredient found in masculine fougères since the 19th century.

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) wanted to adopt a precautionary principle towards it in 2007 to align its risks to those known with oral ingestion. This move was officially discouraged by IFRA which had reached a different conclusion in 2008 and recommended otherwise (the document is downloadable in their site under "Statements.")

Another counter-example showing that it is useful to cross-examine IFRA's activities nevertheless is the debate that ensued around the 44th amendment to IFRA and the case of Vanillin in particular. In this example, conclusions have been put on hold until further evidence come to support the Vanillin standard elaboration.

According to the American Society of Perfumers,

"The implementation of the IFRA 44th Amendment Standard for VANILLIN has been placed on hold due to evidence indicating higher Category limits may be supported.  IFRA is taking appropriate measures to clarify if a revision of Category allowable amounts is warranted.  Do not disregard efforts you may have already achieved.  This is only a temporary suspension until further data is obtained and reviewed.  The Standard for vanillin will not be eliminated but republished at a later date."

The situation is complex.  More transparency and communication are no doubt needed to prevent the circulation of irrational rumors and discourses.

And science too can be biased.

From the consumers' points of view I find it interesting that the regulations on animal substances like musk, civet and castoreum have not provoked the same level of outspoken response as those on oakmoss and hydroxycitronellol for instance, probably because those belong to an older era, the 70s, and have already been psychologically accepted. They are also better in tune with today's animal rights sensitivities as well.

Read Les Créateurs de Parfums ont la Commission Européenne dans le Nez...

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