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Planet-friendly perfumes: Are luxury fragrance houses doing enough to be more sustainable?

Jasmine Alimin
Jasmine Alimin • 6 min read
Planet-friendly perfumes: Are luxury fragrance houses doing enough to be more sustainable?
From renewable ingredients to innovative packaging, sustainability has become a priority for luxury beauty brands.
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Amid increasing concerns about climate change, the beauty industry has been busy pulling up its socks and evaluating manufacturing processes, materials and supply chains to reduce its carbon footprint.

From renewable ingredients to innovative packaging, sustainability has become a priority for luxury beauty brands. This January, French luxury house Chanel launched N°1 de Chanel — a new line of “eco-responsible” skincare, fragrance and makeup — to cater to a growing market demand for clean beauty products.

As part of its commitment to minimising environmental impact with a “strict formulation charter” and carbon-reduced packaging, the lids of N°1 de Chanel’s creams are made from 90% bio-based materials while the glass containers are crafted with lighter glass and packaged without cellophane or paper leaflets. Formula-wise, the products contain 97% naturally-derived ingredients — ideal for sensitive skin — including red camellia, the star anti-ageing ingredient in the line.

Will this initiative translate over to Chanel’s premium perfume line? It is still unknown but for now, the brand’s focus is to reduce carbon emissions across the board by 50% by 2030 and transition to 100% renewable electricity by 2025.

Big on sustainability, Chopard has opted to work with Firmenich’s Naturals Together programme for the sourcing of ingredients for its fragrances. Formed in 2014, the programme brings together artisans, natural ingredients, and suppliers with social and environmental awareness at its forefront.

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Over at the house of Dior, the brand has outlined a sustainability report on its key initiatives to go green by fostering closer ties with the local communities and producers who supply the flowers and botanicals for its skincare and fragrances.

In the Grasse region of France, Dior employs 13 people year-round and 50 seasonal flower pickers to manage 15ha of flower plantations, helping to boost the local economy. All crops are grown using organic methods — 12 plots are certified organic, while three others are transitioning towards certification. By 2024, all the Dior gardens will be Union for Ethical Biotrade (UEBT)-certified, a strict label that will reinforce the house’s commitment to responsible sourcing.

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While Dior takes great pains to ensure the safety of its skincare formulations meets all the stringent requirements for product quality, traceability and safety, it also looks into its packaging. Last year, Dior’s bestselling men’s perfume Sauvage developed a refillable flacon made from aluminium with an innovative auto-stop system — filling stops automatically when the bottle is full. This use of this new material has resulted in a 60% reduction in energy consumption, a 35% reduction in water consumption, and a 56% reduction in greenhouse gasses.

Although synthetic perfume molecules tend to garner disapproving looks among purists, many forward-thinking brands are transforming waste materials into olfactory molecules that smell close to the real thing. Issey Miyake, for example, has found a way to create an extract of vanilla using renewable carbon methods featured in A Drop D’Issey; and Salvatore Ferragamo’s Storie di Seta quartet, created in collaboration with flavour and fragrance producer Symrise, uses the Lilybelle, a Symrise-exclusive molecule derived from orange peel, a waste product of the juice industry.

Kenzo returns to nature

Making significant strides towards eco-luxury is Kenzo Homme — also under the LVMH group — as it delves deeper into nature with newly-launched Kenzo Homme Eau de Toilette Intense and Kenzo Homme Eau De Toilette.

While the latter maintains a familiar airy oceanic scent featuring aquatic top notes, floral heart and woody notes of pine and cedarwood, the former created by perfumer Quentin Bisch from Givaudan, is an alluringly deeper and darker marine-woody alchemy of pink pepper, calypsone, vetiver, fig free, sandalwood and biotech-made akigalawood.

As part of Kenzo Parfum’s commitment to the earth, both fragrances contain naturally-derived alcohol without BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) preservatives, UV filters or additive colours. Two ingredients at the heart of Eau De Toilette Intense — Haitian Vetiver and Australian Sandalwood — have also been responsibly-sourced through Givaudan’s Sourcing4Good programme.

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The beauty of the Kenzo Homme is also in the flacon’s new look, which mirrors the strength and flexibility of the bamboo plant with the bevelled cap reflecting the cut of a katana, a sword used by samurai.

Meanwhile, the material of the bottle utilises 10% recycled glass while the cap is made of 34% less plastic, and the paper packaging is made of FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified paper, printed with bio-sourced inks. All this helps to reduce the total weight of the perfumes by 23%.

Fronting the launch of Kenzo Homme fragrances is Orin Hardy, founder of Bamboo U, a Bali-based initiative that advocates and educates the continual use of bamboo through design and architecture. As part of Kenzo’s commitment to sustainability, it will sponsor scholarships to 10 students to study under Bamboo U’s apprenticeship.

“Perfume-makers are definitely embracing sustainability by taking a closer look at their supply chains, removing controversial ingredients and synthetics, and finding ways to use packaging that is less damaging to the environment. We are committed every step of the way. At Kenzo, we have a goal to be plastic-free by 2026,” says Armel Yver, sustainability director of LVMH fragrance brands.

Ex Nihilo marries bio-science with luxury

On the other spectrum of the fragrance world, niche brands like Ex Nihilo (Latin for “from nothing”) are also taking steps in the commitment to responsible luxury with a more modern approach. A French fragrance Maison founded in 2013 by three young professionals — Benoît Verdier, Sylvie Loday and Olivier Royère — Ex Nihilo is giving customers an alternative to stereotypical luxury with an immersive brand experience and unique olfactory journey across all its stores present in 25 countries including Singapore.

Among its unique services, they offer personalised perfume consultation, discovery of exceptional new materials, electronic fragrance testers, and more. Using an Osmologue machine, an exclusive technology aimed at combining selected in-house perfumes, the brand makes almost tailor-made perfumes on request while adapting them to customers’ tastes.

The New Age brand, which identifies itself as “the Tesla of perfumery”, also works with creative talents and noses from around the world, and partners with Swiss perfumery Givaudan to develop scents containing the highest quality of ethically-sourced raw ingredients. More importantly, it does not shy away from using synthetic molecules to help preserve the environment.

Says co-founder Benoît Verdier, who is the marketing head for Ex Nihilo: “We also are constantly trying to push the limits and find new materials coming from bio-science combined with ethically-sourced premium ingredients. One of our main goals is how to make sustainability sexy and exclusive for our customers.”

Adding to its growing collection of premium fragrances is the Iris Porcelana, a quintessentially floral-powdery Parisian scent designed by French perfumer Dalia Izem. Extremely wearable and intensely addictive, this eau de parfum draws from the roots of the iris pallida flower as the mid-note along with rose and finished with a creamy dry-down of sandalwood, musks and cedarwood.

As with all Ex Nihilo fragrances and accessories, Iris Porcelana is packaged in a recycled black foam material to protect the perfume molecules from light degradation and temperature variations, and bound together by recycled paper. Verdier also shares that the team is looking into 3D printing for packaging and creation of unique pieces. “I really believe this is the future for luxury packaging,” he says.

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