Synthetic elements in perfume

“Synthetics in perfume is a difficult subject, since there is a general misunderstanding and misconception of what is organic, natural, synthetic, and nature identical. However, what is definitely synthetic can be the origin of the substances of which the perfume consists – these can be replicated or recreated in the laboratory, whether they were originally organic (from plants or animals) or inorganic (from something that’s found in the earth, like minerals).”  – Max Millies, Perfumer, Earthgro Fragrances

Pure perfume (“parfum”) is derived completely from the essential oils of minimally processed natural, organic materials or ingredients. Most commercial perfumes contain a mixture of natural ingredients and synthetic or laboratory-made ingredients. It’s a sliding scale, with synthetic scents generally lasting longer than natural scents, but natural scents often being more intense than synthetic scents, and of course, limited to what you can actually smell in nature.

”So many perfumes imitate natural scents (roses, jasmine, etc.) with fully synthetic chemicals. Only a few perfume houses make truly ‘natural’ perfumes. Not that synthetics are bad – they make pitch-perfect renditions of priceless extracts that would otherwise cost thousands of dollars an ounce. What’s bad is when synthetics are passed off as naturals. [I agree very much. – Max Millies, Perfumer. Earthgro Fragrances] CdG [Comme des Garçons] forgoes all that nonsense by creating a line of fragrances where synthetics get top billing. This [“Synthetic: Tar”] is one of my favorites, but they’re all fascinating in their own ways. Although the fragrance is called ‘Tar’, the entire concoction smells spicy, exotic, and exciting. Like sneaking that first cigarette behind the middle school, or drag racing on a hot summer night.” (Amy George, Comme des Garcons Parfums Series 6 Synthetic: Tar)

 A fully synthetic perfume

A synthetic and highly unusual perfume in the 2017 catalogue of Comme des Garçons is Odeur 53, which – as in its name – contains 53 components, the main one being hedione, a jasmine-like synthetic. The company describes it as “…an abstract anti-perfume. The latest technology is used to clone odours from inorganic materials. Smells never before used, with no precise name only abstract ideas. The Freshness of Oxygen, Flaming Rock, Freshly Mowed Grass, Wash Drying in the Wind, Sand Dunes, Pure Air of the High Mountains, Flash of Metal, Nail Polish.” (The producers put these in title case, indicating that they are the names of notes.)

It contains only artificial ingredients. Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garçons commissioned Odeur 53 from the laboratory of International Flavour and Fragrance (IFF), which stated that, since it is entirely synthetic, it is also completely environmentally friendly. (Well, that’s one way of looking at it.)

“Very few inorganic materials are volatile, and therefore they can have no smell. So it would be safe to assume that all of the odours produced by inorganic systems are some kind of organic reaction products resulting from the interaction of the inorganic system with an organic source. Freshness of oxygen as in “Odeur 53″? Well, ozone O3  can be smelled [it’s a gas] – but contains no carbon atom…” – Max Millies, Perfumer, Earthgro Fragrances


Banner image: Stocksnap, Source: stocksnap.io, CC0 License – ✓ Free for personal and commercial use, ✓ No attribution required

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