Saturday, May 31, 2008

Steve Earl Responds to Jean Pierre Subrenat of the World Perfumery Congress - 2007

To view the quotes and the context for this blog, please visit my article on Basenotes wherein I trace my take on the evolution of acceptance of natural perfumery in the past few years. What triggered my article was a published account of the closing speech of Jean-Pierre Subrenat, Chairman of the World Perfumery Congress as it appeared in Perfumer and Flavorist magazine.

I have to give a lot of credit to Steve Earl of Glen Custom Perfumery in Greenwich Connecticut. He pointed me to the P&F article, and then he provided me with a copy of the succinct, witty and pithy letter that he wrote to the editor of Perfumer and Flavorist in response to the Subrenat speech. Knowing that P&F does not publish letters to the editor, Steve admitted it was just something he felt had to be said. I am very honored that Steve has given me permission to publish it here.

Editor Stephen A. Earl
Perfumer and Flavorist Glen Custom Perfumery
Allured Publishing 26 Applewood Lane
Avon, CT 06001

August 6, 2007

To the Editor:

Jean-Pierre Subrenat’s closing thoughts at WPC 2007 took me by surprise. He is concerned “because we have a tendency to take the consumer for granted,” and he sees consumers “rejecting traditional perfumery and traditional distribution in favor of smaller and smaller niches…” He sees the need “to come back to the definition of ‘new,’ and therefore, of creativity.” Yet, he goes on to disparage a very new and very creative group of people: “the self-declared ‘natural perfumers.’”

Subrenat observes, rightly, that these people call themselves perfumers, yet most do not have formal training in perfumery. He criticizes them for creating the Natural Perfumers Guild, referring to it as “phony.” He even criticizes a Grasse organization for having the temerity to join the Natural Perfumers Guild. He calls for an end to “glorifying noise makers,” and , instead, to “stay the course with the real perfumers, the ones who, like me, spent many years as apprentices, many years learning their craft and, yes, who once in a while dare to use benzyl alcohol or aldehyde C-12.”

Mr. Subrenat is wrong about “natural perfumers,” and is equally wrong to ignore this new, creative effort to meet consumers’ desires. While Mr. Subrenat is entirely correct that most natural perfumers lack formal training, he is wrong to conclude that they are not going through the very same grueling apprenticeship that he went through. Each day, budding natural perfumers evaluate materials, create and evaluate accords, and endeavor to blend appealing new fragrances. Each day they grapple with supply chain problems, not just for materials, but also for bottling, labeling, and distribution. Every day they search for guidance and inspiration from the only people who are willing the help them: other natural perfumers. Every day they scour bookstores and the internet in search of written materials that would help them learn more about their craft. And, they are in constant search for the very training that Mr. Subrenat notes that they lack.

But, where are the “traditional perfumers” while all this is going on? They are hunkered down in their little world, making sure that nobody outside the club can learn their secrets. Mr. Subrenat and other fine traditional perfumers could write books or articles intended to educate new perfumers. They could produce training manuals, based on their own training, but focusing only on natural materials. They could include natural perfumers in their societies, and encourage the sharing of information. But they do not. They live by the longest of all the perfumery traditions: secrecy.

If, as Mr. Subrenat says, traditional perfumers dared to use benzyl alcohol or aldehyde C-12 “one in a while,” we wouldn’t have a world full of new natural perfumers. But, today’s traditional perfumes are so overwhelmingly synthetic that it is no small wonder that consumers and creative perfumers alike are looking for something new.

Traditional perfumery has to get out of its own rut, and Mr. Subrenat knows this and says it. Sadly, he dismisses the whole world of perfumery that existed for a couple of thousand years before the first synthetics. Maybe going back to one’s roots is a way to meet consumers’ desires. Maybe encouraging and welcoming new entrants into the craft can bring an exciting spark to a faltering industry.

Stephen A. Earl
Glen Custom Perfumery

In Search of Scentless Ben (Oil) ;-)

Posted earlier today on various groups I host on Yahoo and one I don't, but my friend's group is dedicated to oils and herbs:

No, it's not a man, and if he was, I guess he'd be like the killer in Perfume, the book/movie. The image is of a camel providing the power for an ancient oil press, probably like the same one used centuries ago for moringa/Ben/Behn oil.

Oil of Ben or "Behn" is Moringa oleifera, loved for its many useful properties, not the least of which is its use as an extraction medium for flower scent in enfleurage. It has been used for this purpose, and as a perfume base, since the time of the Egyptians. The seed oil can also be used for cooking and lubrication and other purposes. It is believed to never go rancid, but I can't comment on that.

So I was rereading a bit of Piesse the other day and he comments on the "inodorous" Behn oil from Jamaica and notes its use as an enfleurage medium. A few years ago I got some scentless Ben oil from a NP group member who was importing it. The next batch had a noticibly nutty scent which rendered it unusable for perfumery. Then a friend in Hawaii was considering opening a store at the time (2005?) and she got a horrid stinky batch from a dealer in the US.

All this came to mind this past week when I was speaking with Steve, a group member and he was trying to source Ben oil, and he mentioned he got a particularly stinky one, and I popped up with the name of the US supplier and he said, yes, that was from them.

Many, many countries are now producing Ben oil - up from just a few sources a scant few years ago.

If we use the power of the numbers in this group, and y'all go out and source/sample various Ben oils, perhaps we can come up with a scrupulous source that has the scentless stuff we can use.

I guess we can start by googling moringa seed oil or ben oil.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Three Stages of Public Acceptance of Natural Perfumery - My latest article on Basenotes

I had a lot of fun writing this article looking back on the past three years that natural perfumery has had a presence on the Internet. I hope you enjoy reading it and look forward, as I do, to the ongoing development and acceptance of our naturally-fragrant art.

Later today I'll post a great letter that Steve Earl wrote in response to Mr. Subrenat's caustic comments at the World Perfumery Congress in 2007. Such a big ruckus a one-year-old Natural Perfumers Guild caused for Mr. Subrenat - it's actually quite an honor that we were on his radar with only minor press and even less distribution of our perfumes as we struggle for a corner of the market. The world of perfumery is changing, and thus the concept for my article was born - enjoy!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Wake up! It's Study Time and Natural Perfumery is the Subject

Monica and Gloria hit their alarm clocks to make them stop ringing at 5 a.m. in their respective homes in Taipei. Viv and Wendy struggled to find their coffee and limber up their typing fingers at 6 a.m in different towns in Australia. On a Sunday.

On the other side of the world, Lisbeth in Denmark logged on at midnight on Saturday. Everyone else was joining the monthly live chat in time zones spread out between Taiwan and Denmark.

Occasionally we switch the time around, and admittedly we're still trying to find the best times for the Spring 2008 class.

The Module 3 discussion was lively and a lot of fun. Questions came at me fast and fabulous, with the topics ranging from how to fill in #4 on the evaluation sheet to requests for clearer definitions on the order and significance of the aromatics family list versus the fragrance family list. I enjoyed every single moment of it, and the students posted their satisfaction and comprehension levels were high after the chat. All of the chat material is archived on everyone's hard drive, even if they weren't able to attend, so all a student has to do it check the messages at any time revisit the Q&A.

Some couldn't make it this time for work or log-on issues - one student was at a friend's house and on dialup and checked in just as we were signing off. I'm going to schedule a "shortie" live chat in the next week for those who missed the scheduled one. We communicate with each other on a daily basis in our private Yahoo group, so nobody feels left out. In total, there are almost 50 students, and many just lurk and soak it all in, much like the big Natural Perfumery Yahoo group. It's the nature of the artist, as I've found many are just shy and won't put their works or questions out there. Essentially, just like a real world classroom in a brick and mortar school ;-)

Today I held the live chat for the Fall 2007 students on a Sunday this time. They're in Module 7 and we were there help them work their past observations on the aromatics they're studying into workable vertical accords. Saskia in Belgium logged on despite a headache and a long day working - it was 9 PM her time. Lara in Spain was full of energy and brimming with lots of accords and observations to share. Our AU student was MIA, as were some others - the long holiday weekend definitely caused a bit of hookying! However, these students are well advanced in their studies, and know they will be able to catch up by reading the chat.

I originally held the chats on the class website, but found sometimes the javascript there booted people out - myself included. Yahoo has some problems, but so far nobody has been booted, so we using it exclusively now for chatting.

All the live chats are held about two weeks after the Module begins. When a Module launches, the students go to the class website to check the list of topics for that month's studies, find the checklist and assignments, listen to my recorded lecture and download any of the numerous forms I've provided for their record keeping.

I'm getting feedback that the lectures and live chats are the favorite parts of the learning experience. I have a (to me) funny Philadelphia accent, but feedback from the students is so very nice. They say they find my voice soft and soothing, and they like my sense of humor. As far as the chats to, it really helps to have "real time" feedback and the ability to interact with me and the other students as we work through questions about the assignment.

In the next week or so I'll upload bits of my lectures and snippets from the live chats here so y'all can get a glimpse of what is offered in the course.

What you won't get a glimpse of, just because it's so detailed and so full of educational materials is the enormous amount of information on the class website. The Primer is the core of the study, but it's just that - a Primer, a basic publication that is merely an outline and reference point for the entire body of work made available to the students. Every topic in the course is fleshed out by articles, downloadable forms, lectures, chats and detailed materials.

Perfumery study is long, involved and intense. There has to be dedication and passion - and my students, whether rising at 5 a.m. or staying up until Midnight, show they have it, and I am humbled and honored by their dedication.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Scents of the Soul - Reflections on the Art of AbdesSalaam Attar of Italy

Helg of the Perfume Shrine approached me several weeks ago with the proposal that we write a "Double Dubrana" today to pay our separate homages to the wonderful perfumer I know as Salaam of AbdesSalaam Attar Profumo di Dominique Dubrana of Italy.

I was eager to participate in this joint effort, noting to Helg I would not be reviewing his beautiful perfumes as she is doing - instead I will reminisce about the man, the perfumer I know and how his stature has developed and spread as an esteemed natural perfumer.

Salaam joined my online natural perfumery group on Yahoo a few years ago and became an active participant, sharing his knowledge and spiritual philosophy about the pure and natural aromatics we use to create our all-natural perfumes. I was honored when Salaam joined the Natural Perfumers Guild as a Professional Perfumer last year because I had sampled many of his perfumes over the years and found them to have an elegance and quality that set them apart, in a league of their own. Self-taught, Salaam moved from his native France to Italy years ago and set up an atelier where his family and artistic life combine to give ambiance to a fully-rounded lifestyle of aromatic community work.

I remember the first time I read about his public aromatic events that involved engaging the public in the beauty of natural fragrance such as "The Perfumed City." I particularly love this quote from Salaam "In effect over 120 000 doses were sprayed during the 10 days of the show. Enough to make of Riccione the most perfumed city of the word for that period." It can safely be said he does not do anything half way - he is totally involved in, and gives his time and energy to, educating the public as to the beauty of aromatherapy, perfumery, natural aromatics and may I say "living the good life." The reader may use the translation link on this page to read about the little "trenino del profumo" that is part of the Perfumed City event. Quite lovely and a lot of fun!

Salaam is unabashedly straightforward in his belief that animal essences are crucial to the perfume blend. They connect us at the most basic pheromonal level to our past, they are directly linked to our souls, our engrammes and our appreciation of the entire natural world. Over the years I have received as gifts, or purchased from him, some of the highest-quality animal extracts for use in perfumery. Diluted way down, they smooth, exalt and transform a perfume into a beautiful smelling direct link to our innermost soul. His standards in source natural aromatics are relentless, he will not accept anything but the finest osmanthus, the smoothest organic bergamot, the loveliest orris root.

Scents of the Soul - a beautiful soul, an incredibly talented perfumer, a man of true spiritual devotion and conviction, a man I am honored to call my friend and have as a member of the Guild. Saluto, Salaam.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

When Robert Tisserand sends you a lovely card - stop and smell the Wild Rose and Lemon Leaf!

How Anya got her Aromatherapy and Natural Perfumery Groove on With Someone She's Admired for Almost 30 Years.

Ok, that's just silly, but read on for a nice, sweet story about how I got to work with an industry icon I've admired for decades.

(blogged about earlier today on the Guild blog, but here is the personal story behind it all.)

In 1979 I was happily stunned, amazed and excited to find that there was a book that claimed that the beautiful essential oils I loved had the power to heal the mind, body and spirit. Robert Tisserand was the author of that book, and I collected every one of his books since then, and I regarded him as the #1 aromatherapist in the world in both scholarly endeavors and as spokesman for responsible aromatherapy.

Fast forward to 2006. Robert found his way to the natural perfumery group I host on Yahoo and joined in the lively discussion. We corresponded behind the scenes and a true bond was formed. In early 2007 I agreed to join Tony Burfield of Cropwatch in calling for a boycott of the proposed 40th Amendment of IFRA and Robert agreed to join in the writing of a FAQ and Guide to inform the public as to the Draconian measures being proposed that were just plain bad science and would limit our access to, and use of, natural aromatics.

That project consumed about 10 weeks of our lives. We burned out. The information overload was horrific, it was all learning curve on how to put such a publication together, and our businesses suffered. Yet, despite the strain and stress, Robert and I bonded deeply with numerous discussions on our love of pure and natural aromatics, aromatherapy, natural perfumery, the future of the Guild, his business, the new edition of his book, the profession, the industry, us, life - heck, just about everything.

Robert impressed me with his gentle spirit, calm demeanor, attention to detail and ability to cut through the confusion and make sense of it all. At one point he asked me about a blend he was working on for a line of body care products. He had sampled my perfumes and particularly liked Fairchild which, he joked, "had 17 layers of dry down." I love that quote, so funny! Understanding the difference between aromatherapy blends and natural perfumery blends, Robert asked if I would evaluate his latest modification of the scent, as he needed some top note lift.

After receiving the sample, I phoned Robert and we spoke about the need for a diffusive fresh top note. Just loading it with lemon oil or another citrus wouldn't do under the IFRA/EU regs. I suggested something unique: lemon myrtle oil. Typically called a middle note because it has a long dry down period, the intensity of it can also qualify it as a top note. It reaches out and draws people in with its candy lemon scent, and most importantly, it wasn't under the limitations of IFRA/EU.

Recently Robert wrote me and told me that he had used my suggestion and that it had provided the needed lagniappe for the top of his aromatherapy perfume for his Wild Rose and Lemon Leaf body care line. I waited until today to blog on it on the Guild blog and her because I was waiting for Robert's package to arrive with the products. Wow, the scent is beautiful and the products lovely and effective, as one would expect from Robert. The body lotion is silky with a lovely slip, and the hand and cuticle cream unctuous and nourishing.

The winner though, for me was the deodorant! I gave up using antiperspirants years ago, and have been using stick natural deodorants. You know, the stuff you get at Whole Foods, the big name one. Nice enough, it left me smelling "stale" in the humid Miami heat, and sometimes a little more than stale :-(

This deodorant bottle was like none I've used before - a huge roller ball that dispenses liquid deodorant. It smells lovely, yet dissipates and the scent doesn't linger in my clothes, like the former deodorant. The most important part? I have absolutely no stale (or worse) odor, despite being out in several days of scorching, humid Miami weather.

My mother, accountant, assistant and two friends who have had the pleasure of using the body lotion are so happy and excited for the recognition Robert has given me - and they're also delighted with the scent and products.

It's such a nice feeling, twenty-nine years after first becoming aware of Robert Tisserand and aromatherapy to have the acknowledgment of such a gracious man that I helped a tiny bit in the formulation of the scent for his products. Robert didn't have to let me know, he didn't have to acknowledge me or put the Guild logo on his site, but life experience shows you that often the bigger the person, the more sharing in gratitude they are. I am so appreciative of Robert's recognition and the lovely boost it gives to me as I lay my head on my pillow at night words cannot express it. I hope that my sharing with you this sweet little story gives y'all a warm and fuzzy feeling, and the feeling to go forward and look at the lovely path life puts us on.

Thanks, Robert!

PS the illustration for this blog is the pretty card Robert placed on top of the package of Wild Rose and Lemon Leaf products when they arrived, and the inside said "You're the best!" No, Robert, you're the best, and I thank you for your books and sharing and friendship. MWAH!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Egyptologist and Perfumer David Mark - Expert Q&A Guest in Anya's Garden Natural Perfumery online Class

On Saturday, May 3, 2008 Egyptologist and Perfumer David Mark of Chicago's Renaissance Aromas was the guest for the Expert Q&A session (formerly known as Guest Lecturer series) in
Anya's Garden online Natural Perfumery class.

Originally scheduled for the Spring 2008 students' Module, due to popular demand the Fall 2007 students joined the Q&A, resulting in a student audience of 45 for Marks' session. David had just returned from an Egyptologist conference in Seattle, so he was brimming with news and scholarly insight to share with the students.

The subject was the legendary and mysterious Egyptian incense known as kyphi. David has studied kyphi for many years, and he explained that there is no one kyphi recipe - the use of kyphi spanned many dynasties and changed according to new ingredients being introduced to Egypt by trade route introductions. Additionally, it is impossible today to recreate some of the kyphi recipes, since the ancient Egyptian language is now dead, and many of the word descriptors are not related to any plant aromatic known today.

A fun discourse occurred when the subject of one recipe came up - peeled and seeded raisins. Conjecture was that perhaps the word raisin was referring to the date fruit - a more likely ingredient, given the difficulty of peeling and seeding the tiny fruit we today call raisins.

David emphasized that the ancient Egyptians were the original natural perfumers, and the discussion turned to oil and solid perfumes. He promised he will return for a further Q&A on the subject of ancient Egyptian perfume formulas, which is near and dear to his heart.

Natural Perfumers Guild President Anya McCoy, teacher and host of the Q&A noted that there seemed to be enough different recipes for kyphi to elevate the study to a fragrance family study, and that perhaps a coffret of kyphi perfumes (not incense) could be developed to reflect that, e.g., a gourmand kyphi, a herbal kyphi, an Oriental kyphi.

The medicinal use of some kyphis was also discussed, and the historical and spiritual significance of the blends were acknowledged with references to books and journals for further study. All the questions and answers are archived as emails for the student's future reference.

David has graciously volunteered to be the Expert Q&A for all future Module 1 classes in the online program.

David Mark Covill is a Natural Perfumer & Owner of Renaissance Aromas, Inc.; “Natural Fragrances Reborn”, Makers of Authentic, Luxury Potpourris, Sachets & Pomanders TM (website and company launch TBA shortly)

David is also a Charter Associate Member of the Natural Perfumers Guild and a longtime Member of the Yahoo Natural Perfumery Group

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Cropwatch Asks for your Input


CROPWATCH AT THE CROSSROADS - looking for your feedback

note: if you wish to contact Tony about the questions below, you can write him at

After 4 or 5 years of continuous activity, Cropwatch has some choices to make. Do we go on the way that we have been, snapping at the ankles of those who run & regulate the aroma industry so badly, or should we 'old dogs' learn some new tricks? Cropwatch supporters, and organisations sympathetic to our aims, regularly offer us donations and advise us of potential sources of grants, to which we have always said 'no thanks, we're non-financed'. Our current thinking is that this might be a mistake, since we are limiting our potential effectiveness. .

We are certainly not asking everyone for money, but we are asking you to help us with some feedback on how a financial input could potentially help the aroma world to become a better & fairer place, so please mail us if you have any thoughts or ideas.

Our initial list of ideas to use donated funding would be:

1. To finance risk/benefit studies on natural aromatic products. This research is needed because the existing major players such as IFRA/RIFM, are set up only to investigate the risks/hazards of fragrance ingredients (but not the benefits), & EFFA can only present the safety risks of essential oils, absolutes, resinoids etc in terms of the imagined hazards of the individual contained chemicals, rather than adopting a holistic approach for the aromatic ingredient as a whole. Therefore both organisations are badly positioned to defend natural aromatic ingredients against the current avalanche of restrictive legislation.

The EU Commissioners have previously declined to accept safety-data based on risk/benefit considerations, although we believe this policy to be untenable in the long-term - it is the norm in virtually every other regulatory area (biocides, agricultural chemicals, pharmaceuticals etc).

[Neither is this just a European problem. The U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce have just announced draft legislation (Global Harmonisation Act 2008) intended stimulate discussion on how to provide adequate funding and authority for the FDA to ensure the safety of the nation's food, drug, medical device and cosmetic supply in an increasingly globalised marketplace. The draft legislation already highlights several areas which will affect the fragrance industry].

2. To develop statistical data on the adverse effects of restricted & prohibited aromatic materials. This data would be a potential bombshell to blow apart the over-precautionary approaches of the cosmetic regulators and career toxicologists, who are in such a powerful position in global regulatory circles. Where this data exists (e.g. the Schnuch data on alleged allergens) it is already causing red faces. The EU Commissioner has previously indicated to Cropwatch (Brussels 2007) that this type of adverse reaction data is inadmissible as safety evidence. But if you are familiar with English history, you might recall that King Canute failed to hold back the waves and so his followers realised he was not all-powerful. So too, the regulators will not be able to ignore the fact that many restrictions on natural products are based on corporate toxicological constructs which don't manifest in the great numbers of negative health effects predicted.

3. To assist with the growing & production of useful commodities from threatened aromatic plants, for cosmetic, aromatherapeutic, flavour & medicinal outlets, in a way that benefits the poor.

4. To set up or help set up a natural aromatics products professional body, with the help of other interested parties. Already we can identify several sub-divided areas which badly need assistance: natural perfumery, the use of naturals within conventional perfumery, natural biocides, herbal drugs & medicines, aromatherapy, natural cosmetics etc.

5. The lobbying of officials & regulators. As we have seen, the more the establishment closes ranks (and its mind) to contrary & dissenting views, the more popular support we have been able to attract. In terms of numbers we are potentially a powerful force. However we have to ask ourselves whether there is any point in continuing the lobbying game. Many of the points we make go unanswered because the officials involved are not sufficiently technically adept or experienced to even understand the arguments put forward. So is it better to plough ahead with a voluntary regulatory system of our own making - at least we might have the experience, familiarity & resources to do a better job. The enormity of the task is detracting, but this is put more into perspective if sufficient funding were to be available.

6. To keep the flame of our traditional perfumery heritage alight. When we read that several major aroma corporations are training fledgling perfumers in pure synthetic perfumery, it makes us wonder if the world has gone quite mad. Once perfumers used to be creative artists with forthright temperaments, views and opinions, passionate about their art. Now, are we all to be reduced to company drones?

I was related a story recently concerning a certain essential oils salesman who offered unmarked samples of real good quality Bulgarian lavender oil, and a synthetic lavender construct to a group of young perfumers at a certain megacorporation. The group preferred the artificial lavender construct because "it smelled like linalyl acetate, like its supposed to." Heaven help us! But maybe some of us 'old-timers' should organise courses & lectures to pass on the 'ancient knowledge of the art of perfumery' before it is lost forever.

OK, after 5 or so years of trying, we pretty much know what the problems facing us are - what we don't have is a consensus on the best way to solve them. Maybe you can help?
Cropwatch Team