‘Animals are equal – but some animals are more equal than others’. This is a famous quote from George Orwell's Animal Farm that could well apply when making perfume using botanicals. The debate about whether one should use animal-derived ingredients or not is an on-going one: some are taking a stance of being completely against them while others are trying to balance the argument.
As a natural perfumer and one who has a strong stance against harming any animal, it would seem obvious to not use animal ingredients. However, in some of my formulations, particularly the oriental perfumes, an animal, faecal note might be the missing note to give more personality to a creation. I was faced with a choice of either using synthetically recreated musk or amber or selecting a small range of faecal and animal compounds which I knew did not harm the animal. Needless to say that deer musk and civet cat were out of the equation as the first one goes through despicable sufferings mainly for the satisfaction of the herbal medicine market and the second, despite not being killed, is kept captive in a cage in order to collect the matter from his glands. Castoreum is, in my view, sitting between the two thus this ingredient was out of the question.
So what could I turn to? Ambergris, the expulsion from the sperm whale, which, after years of being washed on the ocean, releases a strong amber smell. Unfortunately, at exorbitant cost for a small piece and because it is now part of a worldwide treasure hunt while sperm whale populations are rapidly depleting, I cannot use it on a regular basis. African stone (also called Hyraceum), a urine/feces deposit from the Hyrax, a small mammal in Africa is one that I am more likely to get hold of and I have prepared some tincture of it for the customised perfumes. Its smell is not as strong as ambergris but it does give some intensity to a perfume.
One day, however, I received a sample of an ingredient that has been around and used in cosmetics for hundreds of years, that does not harm the animal (not for the purpose of perfumery anyway – Note: I am neither a vegetarian nor a vegan), and that has proven efficient even for babies but yet is not easy to get hold of its pure form. IFRA also declared it an allergen. I am talking about pure lanolin. The potential occurred to me three years ago when I launched my Oriental perfume, Escapade à Oman. After having blended all the oriental ingredients including Oudh, frankincense, cedarwood, rose etc., something was missing to give it this extra’je ne sais quoi’. I decided to add just eight (thick) drops of the pure lanolin in a 50 ml bottle of the perfume. I forgot about it for weeks until I took it out of storage. On opening the bottle, I knew I had a winner.
Sheep Image Wikipedia.org
But I needed to know how big a winner it was. So I asked my favourite tester aka my wonderful partner-in-life to wear it for the day and give me his frank opinion. Before he left through the door, I kissed him goodbye but this time, I could not get away from his neck where he had sprayed the perfume. It was heaven! Between aphrodisiac and pheromone-like, but getting more towards the pheromone – this intangible scent that wants you to cling to a person for some subconscious reason. The addition of just a few drops of what is simply fat derived from lamb’s wool, had transformed an Oriental perfume into a divine one! My partner phoned me six hours later to say that the smell was still very much there and by the way, he has adopted Escapade à Oman as one of his regular Eaux de toilette!
Next, I am planning to do a trial run with lard (fat from the pig). After all, old French perfumery used to extract essences from the flowers using lard (enfleurage technique). Besides, if we really want to make the best use of what nature offers us, why bother recreating it synthetically. The way forward is to recycle what has been used… and there are many sheep being shaved every day in the world!
Escapade à Oman has been out of production for over 1 year but many of my clients from Germany to the United States, are asking for it as they have adopted it as their favourite Eau de toilette. I am happy to say that it will be available again in a couple of months.
Next: The next article in this series will be published on Monday