That means perfumes such as Shalimar, Chanel’s No. 5, Dior’s Eau Sauvage and Poison, Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium and Cacharel’s Anais Anais are only a shadow of their original, olfactory selves, according to industry experts.
“Eau Sauvage was a real chef d’oeuvre in its original form,” retired perfume-maker Pierre Bourdon, who created Dior’s Dolce Vita and Yves Saint Laurent’s Kouros, said of the 1966 scent. “It used to be very green and fresh. Today, it has been replaced by something softer and duller.”
He contends the scent has been stripped of furocoumarins, a class of organic chemical compounds produced by plants like bergamot that can cause dark spots on the skin when exposed to the sun.
Mr. Bourdon said he still wore Eau Sauvage because it reminded him of his father, Rene, who as deputy head of Dior perfumes in the 1960s and 1970s supervised the creation of the perfume.
Raymond Chaillan, who collaborated on the creation of both Anais Anais and Opium, believes both have changed. When it was launched in 1977, the original Opium was full of eugenol and also contained linalool, and limonene found in citruses. In large doses, eugenol can cause liver damage, while oxidized linalool can cause eczema and prolonged exposure to pure limonene can irritate the skin.
Edouard Flechier, who created Dior’s Poison in 1985, says that fragrance has changed since its inception.
“I know the original formula by heart and I imagine they (Dior) had to change progressively because of new IFRA regulation.”
Natural ingredients are more supple than synthetic ingredients and give more depth to a perfume as well as a subtle play on various notes, says Mr. Malle, adding that IFRA restrictions have cost him “hundreds of hours” and “endless tests.”
If the industry largely got away with quietly tweaking its fragrances up till now, however, experts say that will be impossible if Europe backs the proposals aimed at wiping allergenic substances from the perfume-makers’ palettes altogether.
Brigitte Aubert, a 68-year-old Parisian interior decorator, gave up Shalimar in the 1980s after developing an allergy to it.
“My neck became all red but I continued wearing Shalimar for a long time. It was part of my identity, I couldn’t just give it up,” she said. “It reminded me of those carefree days of Paris in the 1960s.”
Ms. Aubert is one of an estimated 5 million to 15 million people, or 1 to 3 per cent of the EU population, who are allergic or potentially allergic to natural ingredients contained in fine perfumes, according to a report published in July by the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS), an advisory body for the European Commission. Symptoms can range from severe rashes to blotches to hay fever-like symptoms.
Europe is not the only region to look more closely at the impact of fragrance. Earlier this year U.S. Republican lawmaker Michele Peckham from New Hampshire proposed a bill in the state House to ban state employees who have contact with members of the public from wearing strong fragrances.
The bill did not pass, but other lawmakers are considering reintroducing similar legislation. Meanwhile the city of Portland in Oregon has asked public workers and citizens visiting and using public spaces to limit their use of scented products.
Some hospitals in the U.S. have also introduced bans on using perfumes.
The SCCS, whose recommendations Reuters was first to report in October, recommended that 12 substances used in hundreds of perfumes on the market today be limited to 0.01 per cent of the finished product, a level perfume makers say is unworkable. The SCCS has proposed a total ban on tree moss and oakmoss, which scientists say are strong allergens.
If the SCCS’s recommendations are enforced by the European Commission, IFRA estimates some 9,000 perfume formulas would have to be changed.