Wednesday, 5 June 2013

 True, this is oak, not oakmoss, but I like the pic.

Perfumery materials I like - 4 -

Oakmoss (Evernia prunastri)

And yet more on EU's regulations and restrictions

Oakmoss is the backbone of all the classic chypre fragrances. For perfume fans who aren't familiar with the techie talk, a chypre is a perfume based on the original Chypre by Francois Coty. Chypre is French for Cyprus, the island, not cypress the fir tree. People get mixed up. 

 Back in the day before registered trademarks and intellectual property rights, the entire perfume industry watched Coty's Chypre scent become a best seller and all made one of their own, many of them also called Chypre. (There were loads of perfumes called No 5 until Chanel hammered them with IP lawsuits. The French are the ultimate trademark defenders, so much for liberty and equality and all that. Don't mess with them.)

Chypre fragrances have things in common, usually patchouli and bergamot - sometimes opoponax and other lovely sticky base notes - and always oakmoss. Whether there's a huge biff in the nose of it, or just a smidgen, you'll always find oakmoss. 


Well it's deep and dark but delicate. (A bit like the picture of the oak tree up there.) It smells like essence of forest. It holds a light fresh perfume together somehow, like grandad sitting calm and smiling at the head of the table while all the children are laughing, playing and exploring the house. Think of Edmond Roudnitska's gems - Miss Dior, Eau Sauvage, Mystere de Rochas, Diorella - and you'll understand. If ever there was a wizard working magic with oakmoss, that was your man.

The moss itself grows on oak trees and makes them look as if they've got excessive body hair. It's the one thing that gives some of the world's most beautiful perfumes - and almost every single one of my favourites - their certain something, their je ne sais quoi. You don't have to be able to smell it to know it's there; it gives a scent a beauty that starts a spinal shiver, in a good way. And it's in danger.

Nope, it's not because the oak trees are being chopped down to make way for a gated community. Nor because they are threatened by a deadly beetle. It's the deadly bureaucrats who have it in for oakmoss. It might give one in 1000 people a rash. 

You might think that the people who get a rash from perfume might avoid perfume and this would be enough. It's not. It's because it's possible that someone who tried a perfume with oakmoss might become sensitised to it, when they weren't before. The EU wants to help people avoid ever getting a rash at all. That's kind of them. It's generous towards the 0.1% of people who might get a rash from oakmoss. They've restricted its use to 0.1% in the final fragrance. It has a certain pleasing mathematical symmetry to it, but other than that, this figure is very irritating. Far more irritating than oakmoss.

Myself, I can wear it at 20% strength with no problems at all. That's 200 times higher than the official amount I'm allowed to put in a scent.

This restriction is why lots of classic scents have disappeared from the shops, or why you can no longer buy them in anything but Eau de Toilette strength, or why they have been reformulated to smell almost the same, but without the spine tinglyness.

So fingers crossed that it isn't replaced entirely by synthetics which smell very similar but are missing the mysteriousness. You can get it from Hermitage Oils if you want to give it a go. Buying it is fine; it's putting it in perfumes you want to sell that's the issue. And that, boys and girls, is my problem.

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