IFRA Promotes Creativity An Interview With Lisa Hipgrave,...
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Its Almost As Though Its A Personal Thing An Interview With Lisa Hipgrave, Director Of IFRA UK
I doubt there are any Basenotes members out there who havent heard of the International Fragrance Association, aka IFRA. Rightly or wrongly, the organisations name has become a label to which perfume lovers from all over the world have attached some of their most impassioned grievances about the industry. Cant find your granny in Mitsouko any more? No trace of your favourite aunt in Miss Dior? Does the jasmine in No. 5 no longer feel as lush as it used to? Thatll be IFRAs fault or at least thats what many people seem to think.
The reality is somewhat more complicated, and whilst this article isnt meant to provide a comprehensive explanation of the history and workings of IFRA, a few basic facts are worth establishing. Contrary to popular opinion, IFRA doesnt set any laws. It makes recommendations about various substances used in perfumed products, and it publishes these in a document called the Code Of Practice. So, for instance, the latest amendment of the Code states that the proportion of oakmoss extracts in a finished, leave-on-skin fragrance must not exceed 0.1% and that the proportion of jasmine absolute must not exceed 0.7%. In some cases, the Code specifies that a material may be used as long as its of a certain quality. For instance, limonene a substance that occurs naturally in citrus rinds - should only be used when the level of peroxides [it contains] is kept to the lowest practical level. Some materials are completely prohibited, verbena being a notable example.
Keeping to the guidelines laid down in the Code is compulsory for all IFRA members. Membership is voluntary, and most if not all major perfume houses belong to the Association.
But although IFRA doesnt possess any direct regulatory power, many people have come to see it as the force that has damaged and is continuing to damage an important sector of the worlds cultural heritage. In an attempt to resolve some of these issues, I arranged an interview with Lisa Hipgrave, the Director of IFRA UK (a body which, until recently, was called the British Fragrance Association).
A trained perfumer who started her career in the 80s, Ms Hipgrave currently represents the fragrance industry - and IFRA UKs members - at meetings with the Health & Safety Executive, BIS (UK Department for Business, Innovation & Skills) and DEFRA (UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). She also attends meetings in Brussels with IFRA Global and she assists IFRA UKs members with legislation and regulatory queries.
I met her on the 12th of April at Londons Institute Of Directors and what follows is almost the whole of the conversation we had together. Needless to say, I could have asked her many more questions, but time and tide wait for no man not even a devoted perfume aficionado wearing vintage Cuir De Russie.
Persolaise: Okay, this may not be the best question with which to start, but Im just curious: why is IFRA interested in granting Basenotes an interview?Lisa Hipgrave: I think were interested in speaking to anybody that has an interest in fragrances, and is interested in hearing anything more about us.Fair enough. So if I could backtrack and start with a few general questions. First of all, would you say that perfumery is an art?LH: Absolutely. Its a very creative form of science and blending, but it is absolutely an art. Im a perfumer. You pick up inspiration from all sorts of areas. (pause) Its really difficult for me to explain, but sometimes you might come across something a flower, a picture, a piece of music, an atmosphere that suddenly gives you inspiration, or, from a perfumers point of view, makes you feel that you need to put that into an odour, and encapsulate it in some way; change it from its current form into something that is tangible, through odour.And if you had to liken it to a more traditional art form, which one would you say is closest to perfumery?LH: For me, personally, painting. When you look at a painting, you can see the whole picture, or you can zone in on little, tiny intricacies. And thats the same with perfumery. You can smell the whole fragrance, but you can also home in on tiny, little intricacies and nuances within an odour.And if painting reflects the world and makes statements about the world, then how does perfumery reflect the world?LH: In exactly the same way. In the way that you may see a painting that makes you feel happy or lifts your spirits, fragrances do the same thing. You can smell odours that reflect moods and feelings and all those emotions in the same way. Its difficult for me to put it into words, but theyre very similar.Which perfumes do you consider to be high artistic achievements?LH: Theres lots and lots of wonderful, fabulous fragrances out there, that may be niche brands or big brands. Now, in my present position, I would feel uncomfortable saying to you this brand, or that brand. But, from an odour point of view, I love orange blossom, neroli. Those lovely heady, white florals.Whats your definition of niche perfumery?LH: Niche would be something that perhaps doesnt have mass consumer appeal. I might not have the correct terms, to be honest, but for me its the small, home-made items that you might come across in a little boutique somewhere that doesnt belong to any particular chain or brand or label.What distinction do you make between a niche perfumer and someone who creates fragrances that are sold in high street shops?LH: I dont think there is a difference. I think if youre a perfumer, you could be one or the other.Just so were clear about terminology, when we refer to IFRA UK, is that the same as referring to the main, international IFRA?LH: IFRA Global as Ill refer to them in Brussels is what they call a hybrid trade association. So it has member companies and it also has regional, national associations. We have been a member of IFRA since its inception. But IFRA Global, in the last five years, has seen a need to reorganise, so that they could defend the fragrance industry and perfumery to a greater degree. Whats happened to us has been part of that, because although we are a stand-alone trade association in the UK, we have had this global reorganisation thats involved rebranding, and weve decided to rebrand as IFRA UK.But all the Standards of IFRA Global apply to IFRA UK?LH: Yes, and to all of our UK members. Its mandatory for our members to comply to the IFRA Code Of Practice.So what was the need for your recent name change?LH: Its a marketing thing. The world has become so much more global, and regulations are more global, and brands are more global.What sort of brand image does IFRA wish to project?LH: They do have a mission statement and it is about defending the industry and ensuring the safe use of and enjoyment of fragrances. I think on the whole that fragrances have never had a champion. And there are trade associations and societies and an awful lot of NGOs who want to ban fragrances, and prevent fragrances from being enjoyed, and I think that IFRA has realised that now is the time to be very much more transparent and say, This is who we are, this is what were doing, and were here to promote the use of fragrances and the enjoyment of fragrances in every product, from toilet cleaners up to fine fragrances.Okay, so perhaps nows the right time to ask: if IFRA is a champion of perfumery, why do so many perfume lovers around the world consider its name to be a four-letter word?LH: I think it has been badly misunderstood and hasnt represented itself in the past, it hasnt been out there and spoken about what theyre doing.But you must be aware that in the perfume community, IFRA has almost become shorthand for Watch out, theyre going to ruin my favourite fragrance.LH: I think IFRA has been very late at representing itself and explaining to people what it does. I think that the industry itself has been quite clandestine. Over the last few years, I think theyve realised and said, Well, hang on a minute. Fragrances are there to be enjoyed and should be celebrated.But wheres that message supposed to be coming from, because were not getting it.LH: No, I dont think you are getting it. But I think that it will happen. But I dont think theres enough of us. I think the industry as a whole hasnt ever really been out there and touched the consumer. Weve never had a consumer-facing website, weve never had consumer days. And I think that that is changing.So whats the official IFRA response to the charge that because of restrictions, a lot of classics of perfumery have been butchered?LH: Do you know, I dont even know how the accusations have come about in the first place. I dont know where theyve come from. And Im guessing that IFRA havent been putting the story right, and therefore its snowballed.But are people wrong to think that their favourite perfumes have been affected? Are all their protests just a storm in a tea cup?LH: I dont think the restrictions are affecting fragrances in the way that people are saying that they have been affected. I think that fragrances that have been discontinued, have been discontinued because they didnt have a big enough following, they were out of fashion. Look, can I talk to you about the Code Of Practice?Please, go ahead.LH: As an example, oakmoss has been a trigger for allergies for as long as Ive been in the industry. And certain dermatologists have, for that length of time, been concerned that oakmoss is being used in consumer products. And so the SCCS the Scientific Committee for Consumer Products, the advisory committee to the EU Commission, which is made up of a panel of people, most of whom are dermatologists and none of whom is a perfumer push to get things banned or restricted. So what happens is that when IFRA and RIFM (the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials) find out that the SCCS has suggested that something is to be restricted or banned and on the whole, they go for banning things we would all go to our membership and say, The Commission has written to us saying that they are looking at banning, for instance, jasmine. And obviously the members will go, You cant ban jasmine!So we get as many people together that are prepared to form a consortium and fund, for instance, allergy testing. And then after extensive testing, if there is a positive result, theyll say, Okay, this is a really important material. We must drill down to the point to find the level at which it can be used without being banned. So theyll put an extensive dossier together. That will go to the IFRA Scientific Committee, who would look at the test results and say, Okay, this is acceptable at this level, and so on. We would then write back to the Commission and say, Look, this is our safety dossier. We absolutely are defending this material. We want to continue to use it. We will recommend to our membership that we would reduce the usage down to such-and-such a level in consumer products. We can prove that, at that level, there isnt an elicitation of sensitisation*. And that would go through to the SCCS, who then review it and then come back and say, Okay, we agree with the findings, or, We disagree.Obviously, its not just the SCCS that are trying to ban everything. Theres various groups of people who are looking at consumer safety and are making recommendations that things should be restricted and banned. At that point, when IFRA find out about it, thats when they go, Okay, what test data have we got? Lets have a look at it. What would then happen is that it would go out on consultation to as many people as we can get. We would send it out to all our members. And we would also send it out to our client associations. And we would say, Look, were looking at restricting this particular material to this percentage. How do you feel about that? So it goes out for consultation for four weeks. If nobody comes forward with any extra test data, or any objections, it would then go forward and become a Standard.Okay, thanks for that. But I just need to ask you my earlier question again. As far as the official IFRA line is concerned, you think that, by and large, it is something of a storm in a tea cup when people say that because of IFRA Standards, lots of perfumes have had to be reformulated or discontinued?LH: What I would say is that to my knowledge there arent any fragrances that have had to be discontinued because of IFRA standards. I mean, there might be something out there, but I just dont know of any. And on top of that, I think there are many, many, many materials that are still able to be used because of IFRA, that absolutely would have been banned by the EU Commission**.Even something like a classic chypre that would have contained a lot of oakmoss?LH: Well, it wouldnt have contained a lot of oakmoss.But you said, discontinued. What about drastic reformulations?LH: If you are a pure perfumer, and youve just about finished your baby, and then someone says, Oh, by the way, that materials in there at too high a level, you get frustrated, because you have to do more work and more experiments. But we have a palette of 3000 materials. And I know this sounds a bit odd and I know there are some perfumers that wouldnt agree with me, but actually, you love to have a creative challenge. So if someone comes forward and says, You cant use that at that percentage, then I have ways of getting round these things and finding other materials that do a similar job. Theres always something else that you can use. Were creative. Thats the whole point. We creatively overcome these things.So what about the claim that IFRA is playing into the hands of aromachemicals manufacturers, because it helps them increase their profits?LH: I dont believe that its playing into the hands of the aromachemical industry in any way. Actually, if you look at the Standards, 90% of them are aromachemicals and not naturals.But very few of them are the patented chemicals that make the big companies the big money.LH: Im not sure that there are that many patented chemicals. When I first joined the industry, there were captive materials. Theres not a great deal of that going on any more, because so many people are manufacturing molecules now, that I think there are many, many fewer being patented, and being kept captive. And with something like oakmoss, all of the smaller companies would be going to essential oil producers and saying, I really love the oakmoss that you currently give me. Can you please make one with lower levels of atrenol (one of the problematic constituents of oakmoss)?But look, Ive got to say that I find your claims intriguing. Where has the anti-IFRA feeling come from? Why has it arisen? When I informed my blog readers that I would be interviewing you, I invited them to come up with suggestions for questions. Many of them gave me excellent ideas, but a lot of them also emailed me to say that they cant even bear to try to think of a question, because theyre so deeply upset by what IFRA has done to perfumery. So where has that feeling come from?LH: I dont know. Its almost as though its a personal thing. I dont know how its been so badly misrepresented.END OF PART ONE
Dont miss the second and final part of this interview in which Ms Hipgrave tackles the issue of the labeling of ingredients on perfume packaging... and invites you to submit your own questions and observations to her.
* Sensitisation is a type of allergic reaction. It occurs on first exposure to a substance, but on this occasion, the noticeable effect on the skin will be slight or absent. However, subsequent exposure to the same material, or to a similar one produces a severe inflammatory reaction. The severity of this subsequent response can seem out of proportion to the concentration of substance present - from Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand & Tony Balacs
** After the interview, I asked Ms Hipgrave if she would give me examples of items that would have been banned if it hadnt been for IFRAs intervention. The list she provided is as follows: taget; dimethyl anthranilate; oakmoss.
About the author
Persolaise is a Jasmine Award shortlisted writer and amateur perfumer who has had a strong interest in the world of fine fragrance for over 25 years. You can find out more about his work at www.persolaise.com or by emailing him at persolaise at gmail dot com.
- Blogging The Forbidden - an exclusive interview with Denyse Beaulieu
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