The legislation could also hit essence-providers and plant-growers in places like Grasse in the south of France as well as in Haiti, Indonesia and Madagascar. Chanel owns fields of roses and jasmine in the Grasse region to guarantee supplies and mixes its harvests from previous years to ensure the scent remains the same as it can vary depending on how much sun or rain there was.
Patrick Saint-Yves, president of the French Society of Perfume Creators (SFP), is furious about the recommendation.
“I simply find that there is a huge contradiction,” Mr. Saint-Yves says. “We encourage the use of many essential oils such as lavender in aromatherapy for massages, but we want to ban it in perfumes. Shops continue to sell alcohol and cigarettes which do much more harm.”
Part of the problem is the secrecy surrounding perfumes. Most perfume brands are reluctant to label their products. Unlike artists and writers, perfume creators have no intellectual property rights to the fragrances they compose for big brands, and so perfume brands fight hard to keep their formulas hidden.
Consumer groups were behind an amendment to an EU law in 2005 forcing perfume brands to label any of 26 potentially allergenic ingredients. The brands now list those ingredients – in Latin. Now the SCCS is proposing to extend that list to more than 100 potential allergens.
The proposals have also revealed schisms in the perfume industry – a lack of unity that makes it harder to lobby with one voice.
Brand owners such as Chanel SA and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA and scent-makers such as Coty Inc., L’Oréal SA, Procter & Gamble Co., Givaudan and Symrise all have different goals.
LVMH, which owns Dior and Guerlain, and Chanel are lobbying Brussels to protect their perfumes, many of which were created decades ago.
“It is essential to preserve Europe’s olfactory cultural heritage,” LVMH told Reuters in an e-mailed statement.
L’Oréal, however, already uses many synthetic ingredients in its perfumes and is thus keeping a low profile on the issue, industry representatives said.
Other companies making perfumes on an industrial scale for luxury brands, such as IFF, Givaudan and Firmenich SA, are less concerned about the SCCS proposal because they can rely on synthetic materials and make new perfumes using them but the restrictions, if enforced, would force them to reformulate many of their scents on a scale never seen before.
Givaudan and L’Oréal declined to comment for this report.
For now, the European Commission says it is only “reflecting” on how to translate the recommendations into legislation and stresses it is not planning to ban any particular perfume.
Ignoring the recommendations altogether would be difficult. The European Consumer Group (BEUC) has welcomed the SCCS’s report as a “thorough and evidence-based study” that is a starting point for the decisions ahead.
A senior director at a leading luxury perfume brand said the brand’s own scientists had noticed an increase in the frequency of allergies in the past 15 years, partly due to pollution and nutrition.
“It is true we live in a world now in which dermatologists simply recommend not using any perfume at all,” the perfume executive said.