"Cool Whip Original is made of water, hydrogenated vegetable oil (including coconut and palm oils), high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, skim milk, light cream and less than 2% sodium caseinate (a milk derivative), natural and artificial flavor, xanthan and guar gums, polysorbate 60, sorbitan monostearate and beta carotene (as a coloring). In some markets, such as Canada and the United States, Cool Whip is available in an aerosol can using nitrous oxide as a propellant."
It's easy to become disenchanted and slide into a sad cynicism when one observes what has happened to the corporatized perfume industry in recent years. There are ridiculously many flankers and trivial launches. Under the guise of IFRA health directives, companies are mangling former masterpieces left and right. At the same time, industry views about how perfumes should be made seem to be changing.
I've noticed of late that many perfume houses which did not formerly list BHT among the ingredients in their perfumes now do. Does this mean that they are only now acknowledging that BHT is an ingredient but it was in fact there before? Or is the ingredient now being added when before it was absent? My suspicion is the latter, as entire houses' line-ups have changed as they have come under the yoke of LVMH and Coty, to offer two examples where I have observed a preponderance of labels boasting BHT among the ingredients of perfumes formerly produced independently.
Let us take the case of the house of Marc Jacobs. Perfumes launched by this house before its takeover by Coty did not list BHT as an ingredient. In the last few years, all of the labels of this house, whether the cocktail splash series, Curacao, Cranberry, and Ginger; earlier splashes such as Fig or Gardenia (also produced in the post-takeover period); or recent launches such as Lola and Bang, have listed BHT among the ingredients. In contrast, there is no BHT listed for pre-takeover perfumes such as the original (eponymous) Marc Jacobs or Essence or Blush, all of which I own and which were produced in connection with Givenchy, according to the boxes.
Another in some ways even more disturbing example is Guerlain. Pre-takeover perfumes, such as the early Aqua Allegoria fragrances, or earlier versions of Shalimar, Samsara, Mitsouko, L'Heure Bleue, among others, did not list BHT among the ingredients. In recent years, all of the Guerlain perfumes (all of the ones I've seen, at any rate), including Eau de Cologne Impériale—which is said to be the original formula from the time of Napoléon—have come to list BHT as an ingredient.
Clearly the head chemists at LVMH and Coty think that adding BHT to perfumes is a good idea. Why else would it be found in virtually all (if not all) of the perfumes now being put out by those companies, while it continues to be absent from the perfumes of most independent and niche houses and all traditional houses I've looked at, which suggests that perfumers were not using BHT before.
I'll offer one further example, the house of Fresh. Pre-takeover Fresh perfumes such as Sugar and Sugar Lemon appear not to have contained BHT. All of the following Fresh perfumes now list BHT among the ingredients: Cannabis Rose, Cannabis Santal, and Hesperides, along with what appear now to be discontinued perfumes such as Strawberry Flowers, Sake, and Pink Jasmine. I do not understand this. The whole image of the Fresh company is that of being, well, fresh and natural. Image and reality appear to be diverging...
It is obviously possible to produce fine perfumes without adding BHT. None of my Hermès boxes (and I have several) lists BHT among the ingredients. Not a single one. (Thank goodness that house held its ground!)
I should perhaps make clear that I am not making a global claim here about the safety of BHT, although I am not at all convinced that it is safe. I realize that its use is currently legal. (Is there a need to list here all of the morally repugnant practices which used to be legal and even a part of longstanding tradition?) Despite the legality of BHT, I certainly avoid it in foodstuffs—as readily as I avoid sucralose, which, although also currently legal, completely and utterly repulses me. The question for me (and anyone relevantly similar) is: given that I do not eat BHT, should I wear it in my perfume?
I already appear to be leaning that way, as I've noticed in a few cases that purchases which I was on the verge of making I changed my mind about after reading the label and seeing those ugly three letters yet again. I do not think that I am being overly cautious here. The problem has been exacerbated for me as I've been noticing that the quality of these BHT-laden perfumes is degenerating in direct proportion to what I believe to be their potential toxicity.
A case in point: I purchased a tester bottle of La Perla J'aime from an online emporium. This is not an old perfume, having been launched in 2007. Upon arrival, the liquid in the previously unsprayed clear glass bottle was pink. In the ensuing weeks, although the bottle was stored under controlled climate conditions and away from light (in a closed armoire), the liquid turned brown. To be honest, I did not like the perfume from the very beginning: the first time I wore it, I woke up in the middle of the night wanting to wash it off. I had made the purchase scent unsniffed based upon my love of the original La Perla, which appears since its launch to have undergone serial reformulation and now no longer appeals to me nearly as much—evernia prunastri has been replaced by evernia furfuracea, among no doubt other changes.
I eat well, and whenever possible choose natural and organic foods over “stuff” containing long lists of nonsense and the ultimate mystery ingredient, “artificial flavor”. Think about it: it could contain literally anything. All bets are off when you buy a food which lists among its ingredients “artificial flavor”. Why, then, should I be any less exacting when it comes to my perfume, which I apply directly to my skin and breath in as well? I may not be able to find out what all is contained in the mysterious, carefully guarded secret parfum ingredient of a perfume which I purchase, but if the blaring letters BHT are staring back at me as I glance at the box before checking out, I have the option of just saying “No.”
In some ways, it's quite odd that as modern people become more health conscious when it comes to food, perfumes seem to be becoming far less appealing aesthetically, with restrictions placed on many of the key natural ingredients of the masterpieces of the past, and the scents of household products such as dryer sheets and laundry detergent, along with shampoo and conditioner, all now being bottled and sold as perfumes. At the same time, these less aesthetically appealing perfumes may actually be more toxic. In my manifesto on this topic, PEOPLE WITH ALLERGIES DO NOT WEAR PERFUME, I attempted to navigate all of these seeming contradictions.
At the end of the day, given the natural historical trajectory of capitalism and its effects upon profit-driven corporations and those who run them, what has been transpiring in the perfume industry is not really all that surprising to me. In some ways, none of this should be surprising at all. Many of the big players in the perfume industry are also big players in the fashion world, and everyone knows (don't they?) that fashion is much more about business than it is about art.
Our tastes are molded by the fashion companies and magazines, which is the only possible explanation for how ultra-low-rider jeans are nearly the only ones available, with the result that sightings of plumber's cracks and muffin tops have become virtually ubiquitous, not to mention—though I will—the increased display of mid-back tattoos and thongs. So fashion is supposed to be about aesthetics, true believers continue to claim? (I have a very nice plot of land for you near Alligator Alley...)
The clothing designers all begin, of course, as artists, but many at some point along the path to success become much more involved in the management and augmentation of businesses than in the direct creative production of their line and the many objects which come eventually to bear their name. I recently watched Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008), directed by Matt Tyrnauer, which relays the story leading up to Valentino Garavani's retirement. The overall picture painted in the film of this fashion icon is pretty much that of a diva. He gives his teams of dress designing seamstresses a few vague ideas, and they get immediately to work attempting to realize the capricious deliverances of his will in cloth. Meanwhile, Valentino himself (at least as depicted in the film...) seems far more occupied with his various residences and keeping up the appearances of the diva which he has become.
So what is the point? The point is that when design houses are in cahoots with companies such as Sephora, devising schemes by which to persuade people to part with their perfume wallet share there, not somewhere else, then the tastes of those people will indeed be molded so as to reflect what is currently available—which is dictated by the taste makers. An abundance of sweet patchouli perfumes were launched in the post-Angel period, and in the twenty-first century, shampoo and conditioner and sweet laundry scents seem to be holding sway.
What to do? Should we throw our hands up in dismay and spend the best hours of our day placing bids on e-bay for vintage perfumes which may or may not smell the same as they did decades ago? I am happy to be able to say that there is a better way. It may seem that perfumery is a dying art, given all of the developments outlined above, but what we need to do is to recognize that designer-based perfumery is merging with the fashion industry and thereby moving farther and farther away from the original vocation of the perfumer as an olfactory artist. True perfumers do still exist, but they are often working in their own ateliers, not under the yoke of corporate conglomerates.
The solution to the changes in the perfume industry is not to give up hope but to, in a phrase: follow the perfumers. Where have all the perfumers gone? some may ask. Have they all become hacks? The answers to these questions may not be obvious because of our long-engrained habits of believing that the designers are an excellent source of fine perfume. No, my fragrant friends, just as those hoping to imbibe fine wine exhibiting the traditional virtues need to seek out smaller producers, we perfumistas, too, have a much better chance of finding perfume worthy of its name by patronizing the indie and natural perfume houses.
Should we really be supporting the perfume industry's equivalent
of plumber's cracks and muffin tops?
Follow the Perfumers, my Fragrant Friends!