eyeliner on a cat

eyeliner on a cat
beauty, scent & style scrutinized for pleasure

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Natural vs. Synthetic: Fighting over imaginary candy [unfortunate times]

Recently, some very disturbing things have come to light in the world of perfume we love so much, and it truly saddens me when this sort of thing happens. Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is one of my favorite perfumers: she is talented, imaginative and has a heart of gold. Basically, the kind of trifecta that is hard to ignore. She was treated poorly, and in a very public and harsh manner by the Natural Perfumers Guild and Anya McCoy. You can read the details HERE.

I'd like to bring up a topic that is part of what lies at the heart of this unfortunate incident, and that is that there is a perceived battle between naturals and synthetics in perfume. I'd like to go on record by saying that this is exactly like "fighting over imaginary candy" (as my friend Cait so aptly referred to any kind of over-dramatic situation). Both naturals and synthetics are wonderful and have their places in modern perfumery, and I wouldn't want to live in a world without either one of them. Consumers just want good perfume, and most people are very capable of deciding for themselves exactly what that means to them. Fighting battles that don't really exist is not quite my thing, but I do want to make one thing clear on my position: nobody deserves to be blindsided in such a manner. It is unprofessional, unseemly, and just plain ugly. Dawn has a lot to be proud of, and she will find an endless font of support from all over the world. Her natural and blended perfumes show the kind of ingenuity and integrity that has improved the world around her and has cemented her creative vision as one of distinction.

I feel that it is my responsibility as a perfume blogger to stand up for what I'm passionate about, and that's exactly what I am doing. I hope that others will do the same, no matter what they believe in.

the brilliant Cuir et Champignon by DSH Perfumes

45 comments:

  1. Carrie,

    I agree 1000%! It's a damn shame, that she was treated so unprofessionally, and it's a disappointment to so many people.

    Thank you for speaking up about this.

    Amanda

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  2. Amanda, thank YOU for being vocal about it as well. Dawn has made herself dear to me through her work, and I have taken this somewhat personally. You are one of the good ones, too. :)

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  3. Good on Dawn for telling people what was going on. I'm really disappointed to hear how she has been treated by the NPG.

    Personally, I've found very few natural perfumes to be superior to perfumes that contain both synthetic and natural ingredients.

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  4. Thank you Carrie for addressing this head-on. I appreciate your clear-headedness and your very articulate writing and agree with your every word.
    mandy

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  5. Carrie, as a journalist and blogger, I'm surprised you didn't contact me for the Guild's side of the story. There's an saying, "no matter how flat the pancake, it has two sides."

    I just found out Dawn posted a highly-edited version of what happened. I would not publish her responses, because that would be unethical. We also have screenshots of the pages that clearly violated the Guild Code. She could have asked for a Grievance committee to convene, but didn't, instead said she'd contact us when back in Boulder. Instead, she issued a "resignation" letter. I was forced by Mandy Aftel to offer Dawn membership in the Guild.

    In the Guild there are almost 200 peaceful, creative people who support natural perfumery and the work we put into educating the public about the art, protecting the art against government overregulation, and much more.

    Dawn is a great perfumer, that was never in question. Her work will live on, as will the Guild. Her reaction to this is palpably angry and she's on the offense. I hope she finds a perfumery organization that will serve her well, and move on from this public spectacle.

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  6. I feel how we treat people is equally, if not more important, as what we create.

    Amanda

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  7. Why does the NPG remind me of militant vegans who play D&D in their parents' basement?

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  8. Anya,

    I did not "force" you to include Dawn in the Guild. I didn't even know who she was when you included her.
    Mandy

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  9. I completely agree with everything you have said Carrie, it's not nice to see someone treated in such a way.

    I also agree with Nick that there are very few natural perfumes that are superior to natural/synthetic ones.

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  10. Anya- I don't know you or Dawn personally, but it would seem that (even based on the 'edited' version) you were looking to exclude Dawn based on a technicality.

    I would hope that in the future you consider making the group more "inclusive" rather than "exclusive." Indie perfumers are stronger in groups; pre-emptively excluding particularly influential and well-liked perfumers from your group is a good way to diminish your own cause.

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  11. Nick- thanks for lending your support. There are a lot of people who don't care too much for naturals, but I do love them. I'm just very selective about the ones I'll spend my money on.

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  12. Mandy- thanks for stopping by and commenting, your voice of support means everything to me.

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  13. Anya, I'm not a journalist, I'm a blogger. There's nothing objective about reviewing perfume. I'm well aware of the full situation, and I've made my position quite clear.

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  14. candyperfumeboy- thanks very much for stopping by to comment.

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  15. Brian- thanks for commenting, you make some good points regarding exclusion.

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  16. Thank you, Carrie, for standing up with me and for stating great truths: people do want GOOD perfume. Period. And that synthetics as well as naturals have a place of brilliance in the world of perfumery. I agree with everything you said.
    I wish to mention that although my initial reaction to Anya's/NPG letter was to deal with it when I got back to Boulder, upon further reflection, my resignation was the only true course of action. My statement has not been altered nor edited in any way; the entire formal correspondence (exchange of letters) is shown verbatim as they were sent.
    I look forward to moving beyond this unfortunate experience; for all of us to bigger and better things.

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  17. Dawn, I appreciate you stopping by! As for bigger and better things, is this a terribly inappropriate time to mention how incredibly excited I STILL am about our bespoke? :)

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  18. The repeated posts of the announcement on Facebook - was that necessary? It seemed rather passive-aggressive to me.

    Now that Dawn has presented her side of the story, and has all this support, the NPG has stated the controversy is "one sided".
    It certainly was one-sided yesterday.

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  19. Joanne: I appreciate you stopping by to add your voice to this issue. It means a lot to me, and to Dawn!

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  20. I always feel uncomfortable with idealogues whether they be perfumers, scientists or friends.. I am a vegetarian but often feel uncomfortable when I encounter 'militant vegans'. I love natural raw materials and natural perfume, but I feel uncomfortable when I encounter militancy in the world of natural perfumery (I have often come across references to 'synths' as if it were a bad word. I used to be a part of Anya's natural perfumery group). I can understand how the Guild is useful to foster an understanding of beautiful raw materials and what it can do for artisan perfumery, but just like any organization, this too has ended up losing focus of why it exists. To increase appreciation of SLOW perfume , that is not mass-made, that has the perfumers touch and that encourages use of natural materials.

    From the correspondence there are couple issues as I see it. One, ofcourse, as everybody has mentioned, is the non-inclusiveness of the organization. However, even if it was acceptable to terminate Dawn's membership, the manner in which it was done was appalling. I have visited Dawn's webpage many times (while plotting orders) and I have always noticed that she uses the guild logo only with all-natural perfume. Given, that THAT was something that was discussed prior to her joining the group. I don't understand why there was a sudden problem with her membership.

    I do not usually like to pass judgement, because every story has the other side, but in this case, I just had to!

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  21. Lavanya- thanks so much for chiming in, I'm in the vegetarian boat with you, and often don't get along with militant vegans too. :) I think if anyone has an opinion about this matter, they should speak about it, I'm glad you did.

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  22. I value your opinion and that of many other passionate fumeheads. So I will chime in. Although I am not familiar with DSH yet, this does not detract from the shabby way she has been dealt with. Surely as a member of the guild, these 'breaches' could have been bought to Dawn's attention to remedy not have a committee go on a witch hunt. I am in agreeance with Lavanya's point about idealogues. I like your reference "Fighting over imaginary candy" this is applicable to so many things..

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  23. Hi Carrie, I agree with all of Dawn's and your supporters here...and MORE IMPORTANTLY so excited to hear about your Bespoke Perfume!! I hope you will be blogging about the behind the bottle story??!!

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  24. Sharryn, thank you for your show of support, I appreciate it!

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  25. Monica, I'm very happy you stopped by here, thank you for leaving a comment! Dawn will be posting about our bespoke perfume on her blog (and perhaps I will post about it too once it's done). It's been a really fun process so far, Dawn and I are very much on the same wavelength. I just got the first sketches in the mail about two weeks ago, and I was floored. Not too much tweaking even needed!

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  26. Well, Carrie...as the other blogger who wrote about this issue, I'm right there on the firing line with you - and there's no place I would rather be! :)

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  27. The story of how you and Dawn went about it will fascinate ME I know and i'm certain others! I am also having a Bespoke perfume made at this time!(by a different perfumer)I think the co- timing is fun! I would love to trade notes on the experience via blogging. I really feel that Bespoke could be much encouraged. There are many Indie perfumers offering this delightful journey.

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  28. I find it all very ironic and unfortunate. Here I thought the Guild was improving by becoming a bit more flexible including a perfumer with two sides such as DSH. It was always known she had the two styles of perfume making and always clearly labelled all her perfumes exactly as they were.

    I never thought her use of the Guild labels on individual perfumes that are all natural on her web page/site with others that are not implied she was trying to pass anything else off as all natural that wasn't. It's not right to imply she was trying to be dishonest in that way. She is very clear on her site on that issue, knowing how some are phobic about anything not all natural.

    She was invited and then dis-invited, and I recall something similar in my own experience as a writer way back in the day. I didn't take it that seriously back then because it didn't affect me as a writer much and I thought they were moving into a direction of strict exclusivity which was actually not so good for them. Then there seemed to be a bit more flexibility for a while. It's obvious there are many supporters of natural perfume that also love perfumes made by perfumer-chemists such s Dominque Ropion and Ellena Zorn and Tauer and many other wonderful perfumers. Anyone who reads me knows I will write about natural perfumes and I love them, including a number of Anya's perfumes. But as others have said, just because I like something you've done doesn't mean I've handed over the reins.

    I don't think I need to choose one or the other exclusively, no one does, and no one can or should attempt to police the niche perfume world. There are valuable outliers that make both and love both and have had meaningful communication with both sides.

    I believe the Guild could be much improved by having elections for president, rotating committees of people who run the message board and supplier contact lists and varying authors post on the site representing a myriad of voices.

    I know it's a selling point that something is truly 100% natural but that does not mean those who do other products with high percentage of natural materials or are inspired by other kinds of perfumes can't be allowed to mix in company.

    Perhaps this mess will precipitate a change. I will continue to support good perfume, wherever I may find it. True artistry such as DSH is a rare and beautiful thing and if anything the Guild should have been honored that she was willing to be part of it. In my opinion the Guild owes DSH an apology.

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  29. As someone on the outside looking in, I could see evidence of this behavior just by casually reading blogs, FB and Guild messages. I am not a professional but I can certainly recognize unprofessional behavior. This situation is actually a blessing to me because now it is out in the open and I don't have to second guess if my intuition is correct or not. Thank you to all the bloggers, perfumers and perfume lovers who are speaking out and shedding light. May all people have an open heart. Lisa Woodward

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  30. I find DSH to be one of the most talented perfumers in the U.S. As all of you know, and I've stated it many times in my reviews, I am a DSH fan girl. This incident does not change my opinion of her and her work at all. DSH has a cult following of perfume peeps that follow their heart and noses.

    DSH doesn't need a perfumery organization to be successful. This silliness won't make or break her as a perfumer.

    I agree with so many of the comments here. Lucy has raised some wonderful points. It's all something to think about.

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  31. tarleisio: Thelma & Louise, we are!

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  32. Monica: I think bespoke is the ultimate luxury and creative exercise for all parties, it's been such an immense pleasure. Can I ask you to spill the beans on who's doing your bespoke? I already want more-- one from Mandy, one from Liz Zorn and one from Kedra Hart. Oh, and Ayala Moriel. :)

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  33. LLucy- thank you so much for your thoughtful post. You have many good seeds of ideas in there- especially the idea of a democratic natural perfume group. I do believe that was the original intent when the Guild was first started, but things went in another direction when new people became involved in running it.

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  34. Victoria- yes, you are so right. Dawn needs the Guild like she needs twelve toes.

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  35. Carrie, sure, but for a fun project lets talk privately :)

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  36. Carrie - this is just like you said: "imaginary candy." Dawn is talented and kind - there was no reason at all for the way she was disrespected. And for so-and-so to accuse Mandy Aftel of something she didn't do? Geez. Someone has some hard feelings that she is suppressing (guess who). It's good that Mandy and Dawn are free from the NPG. No restrictions, nothing to restrict artistic freedom!

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  37. Carrie,

    I agree that the synthetics vs natural debate plays a roll in this current DSH situation, but in my opinion, just a small one. There will always be people who feel synthetics are superior and people who feel naturals are superior, and then there's the rest of us who may have preferences, but see room at the perfume table for everyone.

    I think the bigger issue is how the NPG and its leadership have conducted themselves. There is no excuse for what occurred and while I feel awful that Dawn went through this, maybe it will help shed light on how the NPG handles itself and others.

    Thank you so much for this post, it is greatly appreciated.

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  38. I agree with Scent Hive. Synthetics vs. natural is a debate that can keep going. No way to resolve it, everyone will have their own opinions (as they should).

    The issue is the poor behavior on the part of the NPG.

    However, despite that, I love your article and think you articulated the synth-natural debate well. Glad you spoke up for Dawn, too! :)

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  39. It's about conducting onself in a ladylike fashion. Always wear gloves. Always wear a hat. Always be scented with lavender water. Thank you Dearest Grandmother, Mary Monica Swann. My namesake. I will always remember your Yardleys Lavender Water, your flower press that you gifted to me, your "Concise British Flora in Colour" that was part of my inheritance. Our joint letters to the British Museum of Natural History that we wrote if we could not identify an English Wild Flower. Be ladylike, be gracious. Be kind.

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  40. Thank you for taking a stand Carrie! I lack the skills to write as eloquently as you, Jen, and Shelia have done already, so I'll post links on my blog!

    I'm with you :)

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  41. Just wanted to say I stand up with you too Carrie against this kind of behaviour. As you say synthetic vs naturals is really a non-issue as surely it is just a matter of personal preference. Dawn is right to say the treatment was heavy-handed and so unnecessary. I'm sure private discussions could have resolved the concerns but maybe that was never the goal. Very sad.

    Tara

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  42. Thank you everyone, for your comments and for voicing your support of Dawn, and for all of the talented people that matter so much to us.

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  43. There are so many obstacles on the global horizon for indie perfumers, I was seriously saddened by this controversy from within. With bigger battles to fight on the horizon, all perfumers of quality, whether natural or mixed media, need to stand together and support each other to the nth degree. Be kind and peaceful toward each other, even when your ego is on the line, even when someone has pissed you off, so we can grow stronger! Thanks, Carrie, for bringing these "un-civil wars" to light.
    -Marla

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  44. Hi CarrieM,
    Since leaving Facebook I've been egregiously out of the news loop. I don't know entirely what happened here, but from the comments above and on Tarleisio's & DeeH's blogs, it sounds positively awful. I have that sick feeling in my stomach I used to get while listening to my parents bellow at each other in an adjoining room. What a world.
    Meg

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