At its beginning, towards the end of 20th century, natural perfumery movement was just a bunch of natural fragrances’ lovers happily mixing simple blends while following their fragrance preferences. They came from all walks of life, some of them were aromatherapists, and some had more of an artistic background. Through re-discovering rich, complex, breathtaking beauty of natural raw materials for perfumery and choosing to use only natural components, a lot of them longed to learn the craft and the art of creating perfumes. Everything was right and perfectly aligned (time, communication opportunities, and social consciousness) to start the revival of thousands of years old natural perfumery art, and throw a new, modern light on it.
If ever a book hit the right moment and the right state of conciousness it was Mandy Aftel’s Essence & Alchemy, A Natural History of perfume, 2001. It revealed some secrets of beginning perfumery studies and sparked a strong movement that caught the scene with uncontrolled fierce of forest fire. A whole new world opened up for infatuated natural fragrances’ lovers, with new skills, new raw materials and new language to be learned. In no time, there were peer groups on Internet, very informative blogs, courses, few well written handbooks. And soon the first natural perfumes were offered in health stores and on Internet.
The first generation of natural perfumers and their perfumes were met with rude ridicule and fierce opposition by the commercial perfume industry’s representatives and respected perfume critics. They refused to accept the idea that it could be possible to create beautiful, harmonious perfume without synthetic aromachemicals, and to recognize the new movement as a discipline in its own right.
Here are some of those days’ reactions:
Luca Turin, a renowned perfume critic and co-author of perfumistas’ bible, the book “Perfumes: The Guide” in his blog in 2005 roughly ridiculed samples of natural perfumes sent to him for review, and declared that he would “eat his Panama hat” if he found one of natural perfumes to be exciting and equal to what he regards a great perfume.1
Jean-Pierre Subrenat, Chairman of the World Perfumery Congress in 2007: „When we see consumers rejecting traditional perfumery and traditional distribution in favor of smaller and smaller niches, and even following the latest awful trend … which is mixing their own perfumes – we know that we have a problem because after that will be … to stop consuming.“ 2
This was happening a little bit more than 10 years ago.
In the meantime, natural perfumery scene organized itself efficiently, with different institutes, organizations and guilds working towards the same goal: to educate its members and consumers alike.
To mention just a few of them:
International Perfume Foundation (IPF) in their vision declare commitment to education programs that teach everyone the real purpose of perfume, its origin and its use by most of the civilization since mankind discovered the beneficial power of flowers and plants to preserve its health and wellbeing. IPF offers 6 months long education on natural perfumery, and provides a list of certified natural perfumers worldwide. Last year, in order to promote the teaching of natural perfumery it launched the Teacher’s Academy program. It also declared December 15th as the International Natural Perfume Day.
Natural Perfumers Guild, built upon the goal of nurturing the art of natural perfumery through education, legislative efforts and networking among members, issues the Certification Seal which signifies that perfumes are made only from 100% natural fragrance materials. This year, The American Society of Perfumers added Guild’s President as a member of their professional association. Ms Mc Coy this summer published Homemade Perfume, a book with very useful instructions for all autodidacts out there.
The Institute for Art and Olfaction (IAO), devoted to advancing public, artistic and experimental engagement with scent, promotes independent perfumery via its annual IAO awards. This year it launched the Aftel Award for Handmade Perfume “to honour the community of devoted artisan perfumers and to do justice to a vision of artisanal perfumery best elucidated by Mandy Aftel through her teachings, writings and creative practice”. The Institute offers perfume classes as well.
This decade natural perfumers have been regular nominees for the Fragrance Foundation Awards. FiFi Awards are fragrance world’s Oscars, the highest recognition in the perfumery world.
This is just a fraction of information about natural perfumery organizations, initiatives and events that are popping up all over the world.
This summer a new Turin & Sanchez’s book Perfumes The Guide 2018 was published. It covers all kinds of fragrances released in last 10 years, with more emphasis on niche, artisan perfumes. Natural perfumes are reviewed, too, a few of them rated with 4 out of 5 possible stars. Some even directly recommended!
It is sad though that there is still an animosity towards natural perfumery scene, to which even such an expert and scholar as Mr. Turin is not immune. Here’s a remark from the book: “The lengths to which natural perfumery goes to avoid offending its largely moronic audience always amuse me.”
Quite appalling, isn’t it? Mr. Scholar evidently forgot his manners, not to mention famous Latin proverb saying that there’s no arguing about tastes.
But leaving pointless animosities aside, the fact is that all-natural perfumes are becoming more present and available not only through Internet shops, but also in numerous brick and mortar ones around the globe. More information and consumer education resulted in an increased demand for natural products by consumers, so they are being more curious about what goes into their perfumes, too.
Natural perfumes differ from prevailing commercial perfume industry products. They are subtle, complex aromatics that stay close to the wearer’s body and evolve slowly on the skin. Smelling them is not a linear experience, it is more like a 3D adventure! They are pleasant bend from the norm. Adjusted to their wearer’s fragrance preferences, they are literally a personal fragrant cloud of support and a discreet, sophisticated complement to the impression she/he imparts on those in close surroundings .
Considered to be professional and social blasphemy not so long ago, natural perfumery has come a long way in a very short period of time. It has gained acceptance and its future looks bright and rather exciting, as natural perfumes have come to be another possibility on the perfume landscape.
2 Perfumer &Flavorist magazine, August 2007 p.42-44; in Anya McCoy, The Stages of Public Acceptance of Natural Pefumery, 2008 http://www.basenotes.net/features/2493-20080529natperfcd2