Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Synthetics Need Love, Too

The Art of Perfume has entered a new era.

While cheap, synthetic perfumes have always existed, there seems to be more crap on the market now than I remember in previous years.  

A big round of applause for Britney, Mariah, J-Lo and, of course, Paris.  

Adding insult to injury, some of our most beloved classics have been dumbed-down and reformulated with cheaper materials.


In the meantime, natural perfumers are popping up everywhere, challenging the synthetic world to a duel and churning out more products than I, for one, can keep up with. 

For me, the issue isn't synthetic vs. natural.

It's mediocrity vs. excellence.

Synthetic materials are not inherently wrong - nor inferior - but perfumers have not yet succeeded in utilizing their creativity, and their skill, when it comes to these materials. 

In fact, synthetics add qualities that are important.

For example:

1)  I want perfume that will last on my skin 6-8 hours without reapplication.  Most of the natural perfumes I have tried are beautiful, but they don't hold up for much more than an hour, maybe two. 

2)  It's not important to me that an ingredient is the 'most pure' representation of the perfume note.  Is it a fragrance of intelligence, longevity and interest?  I care about the end result.

3)  Close-to-the-skin perfumes may appeal to some, but I want a perfume that makes a statement.  Not one that clears the room or exacerbates asthma, but a perfume that confidently occupies the two foot circumference that I consider my personal airspace.

Sillage matters. 

As perfume lovers, and consumers, we have choices.  One is to protest the IFRA in the interest of  Keeping Things the Way They Are or Going Back to How Things Were.  

Lots of energy, low success rate.

At the other end of the spectrum, we can completely switch genres, to challenge the status quo, and risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  

Yet another option is to accept change as an inevitable part of growth, open our minds to new perfume possibilities (natural and synthetic) and keep the focus on excellence.

That's the one I like.

picture from


  1. I love the idea of "outlaw perfume" and my inner rebel cheers at the idea of thumbing my nose at large anonymous regulatory bodies like IRFA. But I don't like natural perfumes. Or to be more precise, of the many different natural perfumes I have tried, from many different companies, I have yet to find one I would buy. Some smell wrong, some just don't last, none strike me as amazing works of art the way that my favourite perfumes do. The ones I like are more nice fragrances than great perfumes.

    I also don't understand the implied moral superiority of a natural oil, say rose, which has hundreds of different chemicals in it, but only 8 that we can actually smell, to a synthetic accord, which when well done is everything a rose ever dreamed of being. They are all just molecules, no matter the source.

  2. I embrace both, as naturals and synthetics work well together. Synthetics are not just about replicating a fragrance found in nature, they also act as "special effects", and the results can be magical.

    I love many natural perfumes and natural/synthetic blend perfumes. I can't imagine I would appreciate an entirely synthetic perfume, but I have not smelled one....

    The only thing I am against is the IFRA's mindboggling restriction list. I sure would like to know exactly what "restriction" means.

    I cannot find a document with IFRA's definition of the word. Does it mean resticted amounts in formulas? Does it mean restricted distribution? Does it mean restricted for some, but not for all?

    Does anybody really know what is going on?

  3. There is no modern perfume that is 100% natural. Most of them are 80-90% synthetic, and that's good, especially for people who are allergic to some natural ingredients.


  4. Joan Elaine,
    Chanel No. 5 is 100% synthetic. :) The classic.


  5. kjanicki - you said it beautifully. I concur.

  6. JoanElaine, you raise some interesting questions. As of yet, I haven't spent much time thinking about them, but it's worth pondering.

  7. Samdy, you're right and that's an interesting point about Chanel No. 5!

  8. I agree that there is a place for both naturals and synthetics in modern perfumery, and the best qualities of each need to be recognised and harnessed in harmonious compositions.

    One example of a niche natural perfume house whose scents have huge sillage and longevity (on me, anyway) is Ajne. If you haven't tried them you could consider giving them a whirl.

  9. Hi Vanessa, I totally agree with you - there is a place for natural and synthetic materials. Both are important. I have never tried the Ajne line, but you have piqued my interest!

  10. I don't know what the natural to synthetic ratio is in Le Labo's Patchouli 24, but it would last for a week if I didn't shower.

  11. Hi Joan - I love Le Labo's Patch 24! Lasting power certainly isn't an issue there, is it?

  12. Hi *jen and welcome! Thanks for your comment!



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