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Clearing the Air: In Praise of Synthetics Part 2

In the January issue of Perfumer & Flavorist magazine, Steve Tanner (Arylessence Inc. president and CEO) discusses "Misconceptions Surrounding the Fragrance Industry." In his article, Tanner stresses the need for improved communication within and outside of the fragrance industry for the continued use of safe materials (both natural and synthetic). Unfortunately, as the media promotes all-natural fragrances as healthier for the consumer and the environment, synthetic fragrances are misperceived as unsafe. Here, P&Fnow chats with two Arylessence perfumers—Bruce Garlick and Heather Sims—to elucidate the benefits of synthetic ingredients and what the industry would look like if synthetics were lost from the palette.

P&Fnow: What are some of your favorite synthetic materials to work with and why?

Sims: Hedione is one of my favorite synthetic ingredients. It is so widely used in fragrances that it has become a building block of perfumery. Not only is it a beautiful jasmine and used to create beautiful white florals, but it has this ability with almost any fragrance that you use to provide a naturalness and smoothness. It can be used for almost any fragrance type—florals, woods, fruits.

Garlick: You see this ingredient used in men’s fragrances just as commonly as in women’s. In fact, the first commercial use of it was in Dior’s Eau Sauvage, a men’s fragrance.

My favorite synthetics are probably the rose ketones. I work primarily with alpha-damascone, beta-damascone and damascenone. What’s fascinating about these ingredients is how they can give strikingly different effects depending on the context in which they are used. For example, in Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle, alpha-damascone and damascenone accentuate the rose accord, whereas in Juicy Couture the alpha-damascone gives the suggestion of green apple. In Burberry London for Men and Tom Ford’s Tobacco

There are many different facets to the rose ketones. First of all they are all rosy, but they can also be fruity (like plums, berries, apples and black currant), herbaceous, minty and tobacco. It just all depends on the context in which they are used. When I use these materials I’ll often get a secondary scent that I didn’t necessarily intend but that is usually really unique. I enjoy that there is still a sense of unpredictability using these ingredients because of the way they blend with the other components in a fragrance.

P&Fnow: Can you please give a few examples of scents that exploit synthetics particularly well?

Sims: You could go all the way back to Chanel No. 5 with the use of aliphatic aldehydes. That’s probably one of the first fragrances that used aliphatic aldehydes and was tremendously successful. One of our favorites is the Bulgari collection of fragrances. It’s just a beautiful line that is based primarily on synthetics. For example, almost 50% of the formulation for Omnia is composed of musks. They are blended beautifully with other woody notes. Although it smells very sophisticated and complex, it is in fact a very simple formula.

Garlick: There’s nothing “synthetic” about the smell of Bulgari’s fragrances. A customer would not say that it smells synthetic. The fragrances are elegant and beautifully balanced. They are a great demonstration of how you can create with modern synthetics.

P&Fnow: Can you please give a few examples of how synthetics and naturals might be employed in tandem to construct a winning fragrance?

Sims: This is essentially the role of perfumery today. This is what perfumers are good at: knowing when to use the naturals and when to use the synthetics in order to create a beautiful winning fragrance. One of my favorite examples, which Bruce already mentioned, is Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille. That fragrance has a lot of synthetics in it but without the use of patchouli the fragrance would not have the same character.

Garlick: Although by and large natural ingredients play a fairly small role in a finished fragrance, unless it’s a lavender or citrus fragrance, it is a very important role. If you want to create a lavender or citrus note, we, as perfumers, rely on the natural oils. We rely on oils like patchouli, because these are notes that cannot be reproduced synthetically.

The idea of a perfumer’s palette being limited to all synthetic or all natural would severely restrict a perfumer’s creativity. I think a majority of the fragrances in fine fragrance and personal care contain both synthetics and naturals. As perfumers it’s important for us to make the point that while the emphasis of this interview has been on the value of synthetics, naturals are just as important. We are asked frequently to make all-natural fragrances, but it is much harder to make than an all synthetic fragrance, because your palette is so limited.

Sims: I think we will see an increase in requests for all-natural fragrances. We are happy to create natural fragrances and for a segment of consumers it is important for them, but we just don’t want to get into a situation where the claim of all-natural means that synthetics are bad.

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