In understanding perfumery, you must dissect the components, and understand the art, science and language of scents. When we speak of fragrance, we are speaking of raw materials, the ingredients found within your perfume bottles. These raw materials are what bring the scent, the character, the skeleton, the body of the perfume. Splitting into two categories, there are the naturals, deriving from plant materials, and then the synthetics, created by chemical synthesis.
A perfume accessorises you; it reflects and mirrors your emotions and inner self. Raw materials, naturals, are found on the surface and depths of our earth, and they similarly accessorise, as well as reflect the wellbeing of our planet. During a time like now, where humans are seen as a large threat to our earth's existence; consequently, the more frequent outbreaks of horrific natural disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, floods or even droughts are unsurprising. Mother Nature is shaken and damaged, and thus the growth and evolvement of naturals on our planet is rather unpredictable.
The recipe of a perfume includes 3 crucial ingredients; alcohol, water and perfume oils, so-called perfume concentrate. The oils are obtained from different processes of extraction from natural ingredients like flowers, aromatics, citrus, spices, woods or resins. So… do the maths yourselves! Naturals are the treasury for the perfume industry and without them companies would truly be put at large external risks!
THE FIGHT FOR NATURALS
Natural disasters, political and economic upheavals, as well as changes in agricultural practices, can all negatively impact the fragrance industry, increasing the vulnerability of raw materials. Each year, natural, raw material companies find themselves under masses of pressure, with threats of either plant extinction, such as the Indian Sandalwood, or more commonly, threats of raw material shortages.
Although ingredient scarcities are luckily and most commonly temporary, with their impact normally short term and lasting no longer than a matter of months, there have, unfortunately, been exceptions of this… In the case of Madagascan Vanilla, the simultaneous natural and economic crisis, both complicated the harvesting and selling of the crop. Responsible for producing 80% of the global supply of vanilla, Madagascan vanilla, although even then luxurious in its price, was still affordable to most. In 2017, whilst the crop demand carried on increasing, the uncontrolled market speculation, as well as crop failure after the hit of cyclone Enawo, made vanilla become untouchable. Still suffering price fluctuations even now, the price of this vanilla has even reached pedestals equivalent to that of gold per kilogram!
From the strong rainfall over North Africa in 2018, producing a bad crop of Bigarade Orange, to the drought in Egypt a couple of years ago, which vastly reduced the harvesting of geraniums; foresighted or not, there unfortunately isn’t a miracle cure, and commonly companies are simply forced to stop production and wait.
You may be thinking, surely perfume houses can just start to use synthetic raw materials? Well, you’ve definitely got a point; however, there are a handful of natural ingredients which stubbornly do not synthesise in the laboratory. These include, Haitian Vetiver, Madagascan Ylang, Egyptian Geranium, French Orris, Madagascan Vanilla, Bulgarian Rose, Indian Jasmine, and Indian Sandalwood; who all ironically have suffered some challenges in their harvesting lifetime! And thus, we are back to square one…
In a dynamic, international market, with exponential growth, the greatest risk, and the ‘victims’ of the dwindling raw material supplies are after all the creative, global, fragrance companies, the “big eight”, including IFF, Firmenich and Givaudan. As the providers of the bulk majority of formulas for the fine fragrance market, these perfume manufacturers are forced to cope with the scarcity of precious supplies. To battle and ensure the sustainability of raw materials, the big eight have adopted methods of managing their own stock, strategically reserving raw materials, as well as developing vertical integrations.
ARE SYNTHETICS THE ANSWER TO ESCAPE NATURAL SHORTAGE?
Although it may seem that natural ingredients are neither sustainable nor responsible, synthetic raw materials aren’t purely the ones to turn to. As mentioned previously, there really is no easy solution!
With panic bursting at the beginning of 2018, when the two main suppliers of the perfume industry saw their plants burn in Germany, China and India within the space of a few months, the domino effect had begun. There were shortages for all fragrance companies, meaning that modified formulas of existing recipes were offered to their customers, in order to reduce the impact of the now non-existent ingredients. With only a few giants controlling the entirety of the synthetic industry, the impact of one failure, one fall, simply means it is harder felt by all and even you with your very own favorite fragrances!
For instance, there was only one company that produced the following three, critical and popular synthetic molecules. Geraniol, used for creating floral accords like rose or fruity accords, such as peach, raspberry, plum, lemon and even pineapple. Linalool, a synthetic present in lavender, bergamot and rosewood; and finally, Dyhydromyrcenol used in scents for fern, as well as having clean, citrus and floral nuances, are being used to freshen up natural lavender. A master ingredient in Cool Water for instance! With limitations in production on one hand, whilst on the other the perfume industry boasts the high growth rates, the pressure for raw materials, especially synthetics (as they are cheaper to use) has been spiraling. Therefore, the recent instability only predicts future difficulties and further limitations or shortages!