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World Perfumery Congress 2007

The first day of the World Perfumery Congress, held at the state of the art Palais des Festivals in Cannes, saw Ana and I, at 7:30am, behind the front counter sorting through the 1036 (plus guests) names on the delegate list and confirming that there were badges to match filed in perfect alphabetical order.  We saw all the names of the industry greats who would be attending- Michel Roudnitska, Luca Turin, Guy Robert etc.  Then, at 1pm, security opened the doors and the crowds arrived to register. It was a bit like the beginning of a rock concert, and the 6-8 of us were swamped for the good part of the afternoon. The delegates are the elite in the Perfume industry from all sectors; from advertising to creation- representing everything from Armani and Chanel, to the behind-the-scenes creation experts from companies such as International Flavours and Fragrances (IFF), Givaudan, Robertet, Mane, Proctor & Gamble, Firmenich, Takasago, Danisco, L’Oreal etc etc. The theme of the event was “The Future of the Fragrance World” and to sum up with a few words, the lectures which took place in the massive state of the art auditorium (the most fantastic sound quality I have ever heard!) , I would say ‘innovation’, ‘creativity’ , ‘circular advertising’, ‘quality’, ’ social consideration-fair trade/organic’, ‘niche markets’, and ‘challenge the status quo’. The speakers were fantastic, powerful players addressing many subjects. One even spoke about the importance of fragrance in detergents and actually made the topic interesting! Humour seemed very important and my favourite presenter was a 71 yr old French man from a giant advertising company who began his career by driving a French car around the world- and whose sense of humour and good-natured classic French appreciation of sex, love and life, had the crowd weeping with laughter. He showed some of his major success ads, (Evian water in particular), and talked about how to market products without the typical slogan/logo reliant methods. He said that the British way to market is from the mind to the heart; the French way, from the heart to the mind; and the American way, from the mind to the wallet. I realized by this summary, why I love France so much. Because it is true, here, everything begins in the heart, as sentimental as it may be. He also used the analogy that in N America, a lover will pick the petals off a daisy saying, she loves me, she loves me not. But in France, he will take the daisy, press it in a book of poetry and send it to his lover, and that night she will be in his bed! An exaggeration perhaps, but an example of a fundamental cultural difference. The people of this country are warm, fun, refined, romantic, old-fashioned, decadent, and proud; and that is only the surface. I have much more to discover, I know.

However, I digress……..I worked 3 mornings in total, and spent the afternoons exploring the Exibition area in another part of the complex, where the companies had huge and extravagant booths set up for delegates (the whole event was closed to the public), to sit down in easy chairs at low tables in living-room like environments complete with orchids and art, and smell the various materials that each company creates. It was the week of the muyettes- the smelling strips. As part of the promotional gift-bags given out by each company, there is the inevitable ‘port a muyette’- a metal logo-bearing smelling strip holder. I have quite the collection now. (A little aside note- if anyone wanted to get creative, I think this would be a great little business- designing and manufacturing interesting/artistic versions of these. Tourists to Grasse would love them….)

The idea these days, keeping with the look to the future theme of the event, is the constant search for and development of new fragrant molecules to expand the possibilities of the perfumer’s palette. In keeping with this, companies like Givaudan and IFF both launched new molecules at the show- almost as if the product was a new perfume. The naturals world is doing the same, with new technology allowing for techniques such as molecular distillation to isolate specific fragrant molecules from existing raw materials. Biotechnology is also playing more and more of a role. The need for this has been made greater by all the new legislation that has just been implemented through what is called the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemical Products) program. There are now great restrictions put on many substances, not only naturals (although they are unfairly and detrimentally effected- according to many critics), but also on the many synthetics that have been shown to be dangerous to humans and the environment. So, in effect, the palette has shrunk and alternatives need to be found. In the case of the naturals, sometimes the solution is to remove a certain sensitizing chemical constituent from the oil- such as the resins from Oakmoss.

More and more, we will see essential oils with components removed to render them ‘safe’ according to these new rules. While I’m on the subject, I have to say, that the conclusions that were arrived at about certain oils were based on studying the effects of isolated chemicals within the oil, not the oil as a whole. Therefore, linalool, likely synthetic, tested on its own is considered a sensitizer, and because certain essential oils, such as lavender, contain this chemical, their safety is called into question. There doesn’t seem to be any consideration of what is called the ‘quenching’ effect, which sees the negative effects of a chemical constituent nullified by its synergy within a complex such as an essential oil. There was much discussion about the ridiculous paranoia behind the REACH rules, especially from the many large companies in the Grasse area who traditionally specialize in natural raw materials. 

One fantastic new rule will be a complete ban on the testing of cosmetic materials on animals- beginning 2009.

If you would like to know more about REACH, you can go to the International Fragrance Assoc. website at and click on the tab ‘News and Information”, then scroll down to see the QRA Booklet which provides 74 pages of information.

Last night was the final party of the week, and we all attended the cocktail dinner atop the Palais des Festival, where there was a huge and delicious buffet dinner, champagne, and an 18 piece big band playing great jazz. We were all dressed up, and got to mingle with the crowd, exchanging business cards and chatting with the people we had met during the week. A Fabulous Affair.

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