December 16, 2012 Update
A big thank-you to Kafkaesque for catching the following factual errors in the original post from December 15, 2012:
- The fragrance industry regulatory body is the International Fragrance Association (IFRA), not as previously stated ISIPCA, which is a post-graduate school for fragrance and flavour formulation.
- The last name of the LVMH’s Chairman and CEO is Arnault, not Renault as previously stated. Bernard Renault is a French slalom conoeist, who won a couple of medals but is not yet running a major luxury conglomerate.
One of the surest ways to rile up perfumistas across the world is to take their favourite perfume and change it without telling them. Don’t believe me? Check out the numerous threads and posts lamenting the now deceased original Dior Homme Intense or Kouros Body or Mitsouko.
When reformulations happen, perfumistas don’t have much sympathy for the perfume houses. Many of them keep asking: “Why would they mess with an already successful formula?” It is not always clear why but it is clear that often times the perfume houses have no choice but reformulate certain fragrances. Below are some reasons why they choose to do so.
Changes in Ingredient Regulations
Every once in awhile International Fragrance Association (IFRA) decides that certain ingredients may act as allergens and therefore must be banned or restricted for use in commercial fragrances. IFRA’s decisions are not totally erroneous. They are usually supported by some scientific research, which shows that in theory oak moss, for example, may cause allergic reaction to some people. IFRA takes into consideration this research and makes a decision whether to ban or limit the use of a certain ingredient in the name of the common good.
One common sense question that immediately comes to mind is: okay, let’s say oakmoss causes allergies to some people. Fragrances like Chanel No. 5 have oakmoss, they are hugely popular and yet there has been no major allergy breakout among the users. So, even though research shows that oakmoss may act as an allergen in some cases, empirical evidence shows that in fact it has no such effect in most cases when used in perfume. Why then, would we deprive the majority from enjoying the original Chanel No. 5 for the sake of the unidentifiable hyper-allergic few? Wouldn’t it make more sense to label a fragrance for potential allergens than just ban them altogether?
Regardless, changes in ingredient regulations present a real problem for fragrance companies. In order to keep their perfumes commercial, fragrance companies must comply with the latest regulations. It is either this or they have to discontinue the fragrance altogether. Of course, fragrance houses can always ignore the regulations and sell their fragrances anyway. In this case, however, they risk losing distribution and their good standing with IFRA. In simple terms, the risk is exclusion from the “club”.
In almost all cases, it just makes business sense that fragrance houses reformulate their perfumes to comply with regulation. Sure, the perfumistas will gripe about it but the new release will still hit its sales target.
Another reason for fragrance houses to reformulate their perfumes is to save money. This is a very common approach in the age of democratized luxury brought to us by LVMH and Mr. Bernard Arnault. When LVMH, P&G or some other large corporation buys a luxury brand, the first task at hand is to trim the fat and turn the brand into a lean money-making machine. When LVMH acquired Parfums Christian Dior their first job was to cut production cost in order to increase profit margins. Therefore, the lavender does not have to be the real lavender and the iris could be replaced with a cheaper synthetic. Inevitably, the reformulated fragrance usually smells differently. Such differences, however, may not be necessarily evident to the general public. Also, the corporations have figured out that the mass market consumer does not buy J’Adore for the particular indolic nuance of the jasmine note in it. They buy it because it is Dior. In the grand scheme of things, this is okay as long as the fragrance hits its sales targets.
Fragrance connoisseurs have every right to be upset when fragrance houses compromise great pieces of art for the sake of maximizing profit. It is similar to making a caprese salad with canola oil and greenhouse tomatoes – it is edible but definitely doesn’t taste the way you had it in that small town outside of Florence. Using sub-par ingredients to make a fragrance cheaper diminishes it from a piece of art to a mere mass market product not different than a widget.
The third reason why fragrance companies reformulate perfumes is keep them relevant in an effort to boost sales. This is particularly true for popular fragrances originally created many years ago. Dior Fahrenheit, for example, was originally released in the 80’s and then reformulated to meet ingredient regulations and match better recent fragrance tastes.
Modernizing a fragrance to meet market demand makes business sense. Regardless of what some people say about the timeliness of certain fragrances, many carry the DNA of the decade they were created in. Take Azzaro pour Homme – it is strong and loud and one can definitely associate it with the 80’s. Knize Ten has a certain vibe of a fragrance from the 20’s. The features of these fragrances reflect the trends, attitudes and thinking at the time they were created. They represent a certain era and stand for something.
From a marketing point of view, however, these fragrances smell dated and they do not sell as much. Therefore, fragrance companies try to update the feel and vibe in order to make them more appealing to the consumer nowadays.
If you look at perfume as art, then reformulating a fragrance to make it more relevant would be the equivalent of repainting Mona Lisa wearing a halter top because it is more relevant. The whole idea sounds absurd. Why should it be any different about reformulating Azzaro pour Homme or Fougere Royale?
These are some of the main reasons why fragrance companies mess with success and reformulate great fragrances. Considering the commercial interests of all fragrance houses, reformulation often makes sense. I believe most fragrance connoisseurs understand these reasons and can be even sympathetic with the challenges companies face to keep their favourite fragrance alive. What bring frustration and criticism, however, is the unwillingness and flat-out denial of many companies that they have reformulated the stars in their lineup.
- The Death of Chanel No 5: New EU Regulation May Ban Classic Perfumes (scentbound.co)
- EU Attempting To Ban Chanel No. 5, Miss Dior Perfume Ingredients (huffingtonpost.com)
- Reformulation Station: Why Your Favorite Perfume Smells Different (bellasugar.com)
- Perfume – Development of an Industry (perfumeknowledge.wordpress.com)