Monday, November 15, 2010

Introduction: Outlaw Perfumes

 A little over 2 1/2 years ago I started this blog. Within a short while I came across a 2007 article on the death of Mitsouko, which was written by Elena of Perfume Shrine.  The gist of that article was that Guerlain, which had been acquired by giant conglomerate LVMH, was changing the ingredients in an important milestone fragrance. I did more research, and heard the growing rumblings about suddenly restricted substances, and a word I’d never heard before: reformulation.

(Let’s shorten this to "refo", shall we? Pronounced reef-oh. It can be a noun -- “a refo,” -- or a verb “I think this perfume has been refo’ed.” Rhymes with “repo,” as in “repossessed”: for example, “Goddamnit, the car just done got repo’ed!”)
So the fragrance industry began, very magmaniously, to regulate itself, with self-directed (and self-financed) research groups with initials like RIFM, and the most dreaded of all, the IFRA. How wonderful, that they’d look out for the health of their treasured customers like that! Well, of course, expensive, uncertain, naturally sourced ingredients were suddenly found to have all kinds of terrible side effects, and needed to be replaced by synthetic duplications. Who could have known that that these synthetic molecules would be patentable and profitable? 
More and more classic perfumes were remade in a way that rendered them just about unrecognizable. Shelves filled with refo’ed Frankenfumes replaced them. Mass-market and mainstream fragrances began to smell and look very similar -- a little synthetic "white" musk, same as in your favorite laundry detergent, fruit salad, a celebrity’s name. Prices of vintage perfumes on auction sites began to go up -- and up, and up. Bloggers and forum posters began to exclaim in horror over the gutting of the legends -- many LVMH-owned now -- like Shalimar, Joy, Opium, the Diors. Lists of suspected refos sprang up on perfume forums. Still, more and more suspect ingredients were added to the IFRA's no-no list, until ridiculousness was fully achieved.
Here in the perfume blogosphere, we smelled a rat. There are ingredients on this list that I’ve used all my life, that have been used throughout history in perfumery and sometimes food or medicine; I’m still here, and as far as I know, no one has ever died of lemon balm poisoning.

 I suspect that the mainstream perfume industry didn’t know that the perfume blogosphere existed (and some still don’t). No one expected an outcry, since a typical perfume customer, who has a “signature scent” and replaces the bottle when empty, wouldn’t notice any difference.
But the bread-and-butter customers are starting to notice. In casual conversation, I’ve been asked several times over the last few months why a signature scent doesn’t smell the same and doesn’t last as long. It’s probably a refo, I say, and tell them what a refo is. 
They get mad. To make and bottle one substance while keeping the name and packaging of the much better original one is, as one friend fumed, deceptive.
I don’t think a handful of passionate perfume fans are going to change LVMH much. However, an alternative is springing up: the artisanal perfumer.
I often compare the perfume industry to the music industry, as I am a veteran of the latter business and see the former one on a trajectory eerily similar at times. Those of you who can remember the 70’s can also remember the bloated, gimmicky music that characterized the middle years of that decade: Journey, Boston, Bad Company, Peter Frampton -- the sales figures on “Frampton Comes Alive” alone prove beyond any doubt that we were all on drugs -- but I digress.

The music industry kept pumping out this Corporate Rock, and then out of nowhere, appeared back-to-three-chords-with-attitude bands like the Ramones, and punk, which blew it all away. Within five years, punk and its descendants ruled, and corporate rock was a joke.
The world is different now, and of course music news travels faster than perfume trends, but I hear echoes. There are a handful of people, almost all of them women, mostly self-taught, producing these elixirs in small studios, and promoting them on the web. The fragrances are different too: not sneeze-inducing, elevator-clearing synthetic Frankenfumes, but gentler, closer to the skin, more complex, more modulated.
This event is called “Outlaw Perfumes” because the perfumers have all, rather gleefully I imagine, used natural ingredients that have suddenly popped up on the IRFA’s no-no list.*  Hence, outlaws. Outlaw essences, outlaw perfumers; well, I’m pretty typical in this respect I think: after all, who doesn’t love an outlaw?


"*"  You just knew there would be an asterisk, right? Well, the fact is that some of these essences may be photosensitizing, so don't wear them on skin in the sun. Spraying on clothing and/or hair is fine, and even better, makes the fragrances last longer. (See the Appendix for the full proposed no-no list.)

Each blogger gets a full bottle of one of these artisanal perfumes to give away to a lucky commenter after the conclusion of the group blogging session -- leave a comment and you'll be entered.

I plan to post reviews of 2 perfumes, additional information and related thoughts per day, and so will need to post every day to finish by the 21st. Will I make it? Tune in and see!

The lovely, gracious and diligent other Outlaw Bloggers are:

  Perfume Shrine

Thanks to Anya McCoy and Elena Vosnaki for setting all this up!

Appendix: This is a list of oils and absolutes which will be affected by the proposed IFRA Code of Practice.

Essential Oils and Absolutes Restricted or Prohibited by the proposed IFRA Code of Practice (CoP): 
Listed on the following pages are the essential oils and absolutes that are affected by IFRA, either because they are listed directly, or because they contain listed chemicals. Including essential oils prone to oxidation, there are some 200 materials impacted by the IFRA Code of Practice. This list has been drawn up to highlight the extensive repercussions of the guidelines, not to suggest that none of the listed oils should be in any way restricted.*
Ambrette seed oil 
Angelica root oil 
Bakul absolute 
Basil absolute 
Basil oil (estragole CT) 
Basil oil (holy) 
Basil oil (linalool CT) 
Bay oil (West Indian) 
Bergamot leaf oil 
Bergamot peel oil (distilled) 
Betel leaf oil 
Birch tar oil 
Black tea tree oil 
Boldo leaf oil 
Broom absolute 
Cabreuva oil 
Cade oil 
Calamus oil 
Cananga oil 
Cangerana oil 
Cardamon oil 
Carnation absolute 
Carrot seed oil 
Cascarilla oil 
Cassia oil 
Cassie absolute 
Cinnamon bark oil 
Cinnamon leaf oil 
Cistus oil 
Citronella oil 
Clary sage oil 
Clove oil 
Costus oil 
Cumin oil 
Davana oil 
Elecampane oil 
Elemi oil 
Fenugreek oil 
Fig leaf absolute 
Galangal oil 
Geranium oil 
Ginger oil 
Ginger lily absolute 
Grapefruit peel oil 
Ho leaf oil 
Honey myrtle oil 
Horseradish oil 
Horsemint oil 
Huon pine oil 
Hyssop oil 
Jasmine grandiflorum absolute 
Jasmine sambac absolute 
Karo karound√© absolute 
Laurel leaf oil 
Lemon balm oil (Australian) 
Lemongrass oil 
Lemon basil oil 
Lemon leaf oil 
Lemon myrtle oil 
Lemon tea tree oil 
Lemon peel oils 
Lemon thyme oil 
Lemon verbena oil 
Lemon verbena absolute 
Lime peel oil (expressed) 
Lovage leaf oil 
Mace oil 
Mandarin leaf oil 
Marjoram oil (sweet) 
Massoia bark oil 
May chang oil 
Melissa oil 
Mustard oil 
Myrtle oil 
Narcissus absolute 
Nasturtium absolute 
Nutmeg oil 
Oakmoss absolute 
Opoponax oil 
Orange blossom oil 
Orange blossom absolute 
Orange leaf oil 
Orange peel oil (bitter) 
Orange peel oil (sweet) 
Oregano oil 
Palmarosa oil 
Peppermint oil 
Perilla oil 
Peru balsam oil 
Phoebe oil 
Pimento berry oil 
Pimento leaf oil 
Pteronia oil 
Rose absolute 
Rose oil 
Rue oil 
Sandalwood oil (Australian) 
Santolina oil 
Sassafras oil 
Savin oil 
Savory oil (winter) 
Snakeroot oil 
Spearmint oil 
Spike lavender oil 
Styrax oil 
Sugandha oil 
Taget oil 
Taget absolute 
Tarragon oil 
Tea leaf absolute 
Tejpat oil 
Thyme oil (thymol CT) 
Tolu balsam extract 
Treemoss absolute 
Tuberose absolute 
Vassoura oil 
Violet leaf absolute 
Wormseed oil 
Ylangylang absolute 
Ylangylang oils 
Essential oils containing “substantial amounts” of limonene or linalool should have antioxidants added to them. IFRA does not define “substantial amounts”, but adding essential oils containing 20% or more of either or both constituents to this list would grow it by 5060 further essential oils. Essential oils derived from the Pinacea family should also have antioxidants added to them. This would include a further 25 or so essential oils 
*Source:  IFRA/EU Boycott Primer 2007


Isa said...

Outlaw perfums sound really interesting.
I'm not for breaking the law, but I just think some of the IFRA measures are an absolute nonsense.
I would love to try these natural outlaw perfumes.

I'm looking forward to reading all the articles.

Ines said...

I am so happy you are all writing about this and I'm looking forward ti reading reviews of the outlaw perfumes you are smelling. :)
I'm not keeping my hopes up regarding change in IFRA regulations, but who know, when the big companies finally lose enough customers, maybe then something changes...

P.S. I'm telling everyone I know about what these regulations are doing to the perfume industry.

museinwoodenshoes said...

Looking forward, very much, to hearing about Outlaw Perfumes.

I'm not generally inclined to get excited about "all-natural-organic-never-shall-a-synthetic-molecule-touch-my-skin-hippie-vibe" perfumery (I am lucky to not suffer skin allergies or sensitivities, as I suffer quite enough with pollen and dust mites, thank you). I have lived on a farm long enough to know that a)"all-natural" doesn't necessarily mean it won't kill you, and b)sometimes "organic" and "all-natural" is simply a marketing scheme on the producer's part, rather than a deeply-held belief, and it can be hard to tell the difference because regulation is spotty or nonexistent.

It is easy, however, to get excited about natural perfumes that smell wonderful. Thank goodness for these independent perfumers and their efforts!

(Oh, and I love "Frankenfumes" as a description of these modern soulless wispy little so-called fragrances.)

museinwoodenshoes said...

Sorry, I should clarify: I was talking about food up there in connection with "organic as a cynical marketing angle," and I meant that just because that lettuce in your grocers' produce section is labeled organic doesn't mean it actually IS. It might be, and it might not.

Regulation is getting better, but is not 100% reliable.

Tamara*J said...

I love me a baaad girl.(or boy!)
I love the idea of outlaw perfumery. Whatever the outcome, wherever it leads, I'm in!
Long live perfume, and those that love it.

Lisa BTB said...

...until ridiculousness was fully achieved.

It really does seem that way especially when the suspected substances can be found in other areas with little to no ill effects on the person. I look forward to the upcoming reviews. Very interesting subject/project indeed.

queen_cupcake said...

I had previously been thinking about how music had become industrialized--the good ol' days in music were, for me, the 1960s. Thanks for writing about that connection. (Yeah, I didn't understand the Peter Frampton phenomenon, either. Bought the album in the mistaken belief that "Sail Away" was the tune by Randy Newman, as it turned out. Gave the album away.)

I had suspected that some of these natural perfumers would be amenable to using restricted ingredients but wasn't sure. Good to know they are! As I wrote somewhere else today: I am pro-(ingredient)choice and I buy perfume!

esscentualalchemy said...

Personally I think it has more to do with trying to once again edge the "Little Man" out of the business field to leave more room for the multi national corps to get ALL of the $$$

Who would benefit the most if these regulations are put into place?

Always FOLLOW the MONEY$$$

This is similar to the "Organic" label required to say that you grow organic. Who can afford to pay the $5K for that labeling?

Follow the MONEY$$$

Another instance of this is the new rfid tagging proposed for livestock, ALL livestock. Who can afford to pay for each animal to be microchipped?



Vanessa said...

"refo’ed Frankenfumes" - funniest thing I've read in ages!!

: - )

Martina Rosenberg said...

I love outlaws. I am married to one. I love perfumes. Which do deserve this name still. I hoard vintage perfumes. For the days coming.. and I would truly love to support this grand idea, and perhaps even win an outlaw fragrance.
Thanks for starting this...
kind regards,

womo531 said...

As always these projects done by members of the guild bring issues to light while scenting the world~ Can't do better that that! I look forward to reading reviews and descriptions daily =)

JoanElaine said...

Great post. I think you have made a new addition to the perfumista dictionary with "refo".

Totally off topic:
My husband and I are now wondering what really was behind the Frampton Comes Alive phenom. Did Jack Tripper's mention of the album on Three's Company cause Frampton hysteria ? The devil is in the details!

Carole Kenna Nelms said...

Here is hoping that this "Outlaw" blogging event makes a difference in the world of perfumery! Thank you too for listing all EOs that are affected in this! How sad they have so much control over natural oils!