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

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