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Nose-to-Nose – War, pestilence, urban migration, natural disasters and….perfume - March 19, 2014

Photo - Wikimeda Commons - Provence lavender - nicephore, May 5, 2005

Gwen:    Hey, Kay, a friend of mine just forwarded an article from a UK newspaper, The Guardian, that’s really fascinating – and a little worrying.

Kay:         I know - someone sent it to me, too.

Gwen:    I had no idea there were such problems for big perfume manufacturers in getting supplies! I mean, as if IFRA restrictions weren’t enough to deal with there’s war, social migration and acts of god to factor into the whole perfume-making business. I mean, perfume houses need a constant flow of such high-quality ingredients for their fragrances - things like bergamot, jasmine, orange blossom, rose, iris, lavender, geranium, sandalwood, vetiver, pathcouli, tonka beans…

Kay:        Wow - just a few minor ingredients! Without those notes, we wouldn’t have any perfume-as-we-know-it AT ALL! Sandalwood and vetiver I can understand as being hard to source, but I have to say,  worrying about not having jasmine flowers, or rose petals, isn’t something that keeps me awake at night – I’ve just assumed there’s an endless supply. Everybody has flowers in their gardens!

Gwen:    Right – but according to this article, a 30ml. bottle of Chanel No.5 requires over 1000 jasmine buds, which have been hand-picked in the early mornings from August through October, so Chanel has made a very long-term exclusive contract with a key grower in Grasse, France, to take all they can supply. Guerlain has done the same in Calabria, Italy, which has basically brought jasmine production back to that area again, which means jobs for the locals, which is a good thing.

Kay:         Well, as our world changes from rural to urban, you can see the problems perfumers are up against – the ideal lands which grow these ingredients can disappear to urban sprawl, or farmers want to grow different money-making crops, and then the “growing” expertise disappears as production dwindles , and the older generation dies off.  Companies will have no choice but to become their own suppliers, by buying up growers, or at least financing them. It’s already happening according to Francois Demachy the head of Dior perfumes:

He “…reckons diversification into primary production as a likely move for the industry to make. He says he is "considering [investing] further upstream" in the long term. He is certainly concerned about "availability problems" for certain ingredients, which has prompted him to increase the range of sources for some flowers and even to seal an agreement with a Sri Lankan producer of sandalwood – a rare species protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

Gwen:    Then there’s war and politics – Damascus rose oil comes from Iran and the Middle East. And natural disasters like hurricanes –Haiti supplies over 50% of the vetiver used in perfumes, and we all know what happened there. It’s still recovering. And then there’s plain old bugs, some are good and some are bad, and the lavender fields of Provence have been damaged recently by insect-borne bacteria. Bad bugs!

Kay:        This is not good! But I was glad to read that companies such as the Swiss perfume-maker Givaudin – they manufacture for the big brands – have launched schemes to protect  sources for the future. It’s helped tonka bean growers in Venezuela, restarted sandalwood production in Australia, and helped to improve the quality of benzoin resin in Laos and ylang-ylang in the Comoros islands.

Gwen:     And here’s a piece of good news for vetiver lovers:
“ In 2012 Givaudan started working with Agri Supply, the main producer of the oil. Its refurbished vetiver distillery is now the largest in the world. Some 160 farmers in three villages in the Cayes district have formed a co-operative and negotiated a guaranteed minimum price. They also receive technical support from the Swiss firm.”

Kay:        Sounds like a “Win-Win” to me.

Gwen:     I know we don’t need perfume to live, but the challenges that perfume houses face and they way they are addressing them sure makes me appreciate my frags a whole lot more….

Kay:         Me too!
Here’s our list of scents featuring the key perfume notes listed above:

Bergamot – Balmain de Balmain, Garrigue

Jasmine – Chanel No.5, Sarrasins

Orange blossom – Fleurs d’Orangers

Rose – Voleurs de Rose, Rose d`Amour

Iris – Iris de Nuit; Iris Nobile Edizione Speciale 2008

Lavender – Encens et Lavande, Anat Fritz 

 Geranium – Geranium pour Monsieur, L’Eau Chic

Sandalwood – Santal Majuscule, Santal de Mysore

Vetiver – Guerlain Vetiver, Encre Noire, Mon Numéro 3

Patchouli – Patchouli Patch, Patchouli Santa Maria Novella

Tonka bean – Tonka