Chopping Down Chypres

It is something of a dodged bullet, I suppose.  For a long time the SCCS (Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety), the advisory body to the EU, has been toying with a whole slew of ingredients that may be problematic for some people.

This is the news that fueled the stories of Chanel No. 5’s demise, but the real trouble is that IFRA, the Industry’s own organization that sets consumer safety standards for perfume, tends to adopt such recommendations as a matter of course.  Could this be the end of No. 5?

Probably not, but if adopted, it will be the end of all oakmoss based chypres.  You can’t make a chypre without oakmoss.  There are some feeble attempts, from time to time, but they all lack the “guts”,  the darkness and depth, the basso profundo resonance, that chypres need.

Chypres really are the biggest, and most obvious casualties of this decision.  Nothing takes the place of oakmoss, allergen or no, and I have noticed recently that a clutch of classic old chypres are being dropped from some perfume house websites.

Take the case of the Balmains. There is no more Jolie Madame or Miss Balmain listed on the Balmain website.  You can see their dilemma.  They could not manufacture those perfumes without oakmoss.

It makes you wonder what will happen to Mitsouko, or Aromatics Elixir? What will happen to Bandit? Cabochard was already an embalmed corpse propped on its mummified feet, but the deaths of Jolie Madame and Miss Balmain I shall certainly mourn, along with many other perfumistas.*  They were so lovely and so elegant. They suggested that a woman had not only beauty, but brains, and wit, and grit.  No other genre of perfume expresses the range of femininity as well as Chypres did: woman as Medea, and not just as Beatrice, or to express it differently, we may not all be Liliths, but we are all Eves.  Aquolina Pink Sugar, just don’t cut that mustard.

The Reuters article I read, highlighted on Kafakaesque’s blog which see, suggested that the Industry is caught in a sort of internal struggle, fine perfumery firms being against such total bans of natural products, and down market companies, which already use synthetics to the exclusion of  naturals, being pretty much for them. Once again Brussels is proposing better living through bureaucracy.

It does beg the question of what will demarcate industrial perfumery from fine perfumery?  Maybe nothing, in which case, we will all just buy our perfume from the Middle East, as they did in the Dark Ages, which, from an olfactory point of view, we will be re-entering. So goodbye, Peak Oil, hello Dubai as luxury perfume capital of the world; we will evidently not always have Paris**.


*And it’s not just feminine chypres, but classic masculines as well.  No more Derby, Pour Monsieur, or Aramis.

**France may be risking certain cultural losses here, that is, outside Gerard Depardieu and Brigitte Bardot.  Wasn’t it fine French perfume that excited consumers around the globe?  Fine Finnish perfume, even fine US perfume does not have the same ring to it.


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14 thoughts on “Chopping Down Chypres

  1. A group of us fumeheads were just discussing this issue on Facebook yesterday and this morning, and someone pointed out that the companies that produce materials that go INTO perfume will likely be self-restricting in what they produce and offer for sale, so that perfumers on anything other than the Etsy scale are probably going to be likewise restricted in what they are able to work with. Which means that even US perfumers will be limited.

    GAH. I am not the biggest chypre fan – I love old-formula Coty Chypre, I love vintage Jolie Madame in parfum, I love Liz Zorn’s Centennial – but I think we are facing the Very End of the Golden Age of Perfumery. It’s bizarre that cigarettes are still on the market, when everybody knows they can kill you, but suspected contact allergens which affect a few people are to be wiped out of public use.

    Someone else mentioned the word “appeasement” in reference to the self-policing IFRA is doing, and that seems appropriate. We all know how well Chamberlain’s policy worked with regard to giving Hitler what he wanted.

    1. The end of a golden age, that sounds so- final. Not sure how things will work out but I suspect that other perfume producers in the world will not be so picayune about allergens. Market share is at stake here. If these rules are really enacted in the EU and are also adopted in the US (which would be commercially inept because there is market share to be picked up here)I don’t see Middle Eastern or South American perfumers necessarily going along with restrictions because…market share is at stake here.

      The likely fate of European perfumery is to be superseded. Also, to state it baldly, rich consumers will abandon brands that are no longer seen as luxurious. Everybody else will follow suit. Does this mean bottles of Chanel at Walmart’s?

  2. I still don’t get the whole IFRA thing. Product manufacturers don’t really care about consumer health, or else tobacco would be banned, there would be no cleaning products with their highly suspect chemicals, there would be no junk or processed food, no pharmaceuticals that cause more adverse events than they cure, etc. My first question is, who benefits? Who has, or will get, the money? We’ll never really find out the answer.

    Although Mitsouko and Bandit are the only chypres I can wear, I am sorry to see a whole category of fragrance disappear just because someone, somewhere, got a rash.

    1. The down market brands will catch a windfall here because this will make synthetic perfumes even less expensive to produce, i.e. no more lavender, no more citrus,token bits of natural can be removed from formulas. Firms that create synthetics may do well out of such regulations also, so long as their patented molecules stay off of SCCS lists.

      It will be bad for producers of natural crops used for perfumery. I suppose it will mean no more bergamot growing in Calabria for instance, or if they do continue, their customers will no longer be big European perfume companies and suppliers, but other purchasers- maybe small niche perfumers?

  3. I laughed out loud at: “Fine Finnish perfume […] does not have the same ring to it.”

    The Reuters article was interesting, wasn’t it? L’Oreal’s damning silence -vs- LVMH and Chanel’s efforts at lobbying. Also interesting was the perfumers’ lament about how all these essential oils are actively promoted in things like massages but, put them in perfume, never! The whole thing is just depressing madness.

  4. I can’t help it. I saw the title and immediately thought to myself, “Chypres have been sentenced….
    To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark dock,
    In a pestilential prison with a life-long lock
    Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock
    From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big, black block!”

    But I’ll get my comeuppance, because now I have that song stuck in my head, from which it shall not be exorcised for lo, about a week.

    1. But you are far better off, my friend, than your luckless colleague who has got the latest Will I Am song stuck in her head for the last two days.Why! Why? I ask myself at 3a.m. when the Britney/Will collaboration surfaces in my half awake cerebellum. Why me?
      At least you are listening to Gilbert and Sullivan. By the way did you see – you must have – Topsy Turvy? Especially the wonderful segment in which Timothy Spall is sure that his great number “The Punishment Fit the Crime” will be cut. Marvelous. Had a friend in college who sang bits of the Mikado for months at a time. Lord knows why we let her live.

  5. Your second footnote made me want to laugh and cry at the same time: it’s so true.

    I wonder: where can I find the complete list of perfumes on the chopping block? Maybe I need a back-up bottle (or 10)?

  6. Wow, this IS depressing. I love chypres! LOVE oakmoss. And reading the Kafkaesque article, I see that it’s not just oakmoss…why does everything NATURAL have to be eradicated and only synthetics allowed??? GRRR. Thank you, perfumistas, for alerting me to this danger – must be time to stock up on Miss Dior and Chanel No. 5 (ebay anyone?).

    1. Woe is us! I fear it may be time to stock up.

      Was just at Saks with the Hub smelling all sorts of Guerlains, including many facing the (potential) axe, and found myself saying, “But if I bought this, and this, and maybe that…” however, stick with what you love say I, otherwise you’ll lose all your closet space. One can’t contend with too many bottles, and the cat gets annoyed with me if I have too many, because she hates changing smells. I lose not only closet space but purring privileges to boot. Hope your dog is not so fussy!

  7. When I was blogging I wrote reams, it seemed, about this. Having stepped back from it for a few months, all I can say now is: and so on. This business seems determined to destroy its finest products. Somebody is going to profit, of course. In the meantime, I’m glad I collected all the vintage chypres I could get my hands on. At least I’ll always have something to wear.

    1. At least you are covered. Sometimes I feel that I ought to do the same thing. Can’t justify reams of purchases, but I could go and buy one last bottle of Jolie Madame or Caline, and perhaps now I shall. But it is such a shame to lose the best of French perfumery to Bureaucratic butinskis.

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