The Good, the Bad and the Nasty

– on taking a stand…

Yesterday morning, I woke up to a fracas of perfume origins. One of my Primeval Forces of Perfume, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of Parfums des Beaux Arts, was requested to leave the Natural Perfumers’ Guild in a highly unprofessional, undeserved and inconsiderate manner for not being quite natural…enough to suit the Guild. A very sorry state of affairs. It’s not my place to expound on the particulars other than to say you can read all about it here.

This does, however, get me thinking about the whole natural vs. synthetic debate. Both can be equally bad – or equally fantastic. I own a few all-natural perfumes, a large selection of hybrid perfumes to varying degrees, and even three samples from Escentric Molecules that never knew a plant to begin with. I’m no fanatic – I believe that both naturals and hybrid perfumes have their place in my perfume cabinet. Just as natural perfumes contain characteristics – a soul, if you will – synthetics never can, synthetic components of a perfume can add other, equally compelling elements, including longevity. Many natural perfumes have left me less than impressed…and a few others have blown me to dandelion fluff. Some synthetic perfumes have been very complex – and others left me running to scrub them off.

You could argue with some justification that if you really DID prefer a 100% natural perfume, all you would have to do is tuck a highly scented flower behind your ear and call it a day. The labor intensive process of steam and CO2 distillation, cold pressing or enfleurage might capture the essence of the plant in question, but is it really any more ‘natural’ than cooking up a chemical brew in a lab? After all, the very process of creating a perfume, regardless of the source material, is in itself artificial.

When I first reviewed Dawn’s ‘Vert pour Madame’ with only the knowledge of her name and reputation, I immediately recognized a spectacular, visionary and unique talent that definitely registered on the SLS Major Moo scale. Since then, she herself has been incredibly welcoming, friendly and hugely supportive of an unknown perfume blogger and writer whose perspectives have irrevocably shifted and whose life has been enriched by her creations to such a degree that I can’t imagine how I’ve managed to live so long without them.

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz may no longer be a member of the Natural Perfumers’ Guild, but she will always belong in that ‘nosebleed stratosphere of badass’ (to quote from Quantum Demonology) that gives her my ultimate distinction – a Primeval Force of Perfume. As such, she will always have my support, profound admiration and a prominent space in my perfume cabinet for all the marvels she has created – and the fragrant wonders that lie ahead for her prodigious talents.


27 thoughts on “The Good, the Bad and the Nasty

  1. It's a damn shame when all is said and done. Unprofessional and disgraceful all around. 😦

    As I said elsewhere, was that how we treat others, is just as, if not more important as what we create.


  2. Well, Carrie…I'm not afraid of controversy or taking a stand for what I believe in. Dawn is a national treasure – and should be recognized as one!

  3. Amanda – I'm with you there! I believe in that karmic law that states you get in equal proportion to what you give. This entire debacle is a crying shame – but on the other hand, it might lead to new and better things, who knows? I rather suspect it will! 😉

  4. Thanks, I had not heard about all this. I though Andy Tauer's comment to Dawn especially telling: 'Welcome to the free world'.

  5. HERE HERE !!
    I wondered why she ( Dawn ) posted on Facebook that she had left the Natural Perfumers Guild…how impolite of the Guild .
    She is too good to be treated in such a way . Ignorance on the part of the powers that be in the Guild , and they know who they are . So do I .
    Vote with your pocketbook .
    And yes , thank you for posting about this !

  6. I'm astounded at this. It's a shame. Purely natural perfumes have their place, just not on my skin for daily wearing — I've yet to find one with any longevity at all (to be fair, most synthetics don't last that long either.) I've met Dawn and received a hand written letter and samples from her and agree that she is a lovely person who makes lovely scents. Didn't Mandy Aftel resign from this Guild not too long ago? I wondered about that, too.

    It does seem rather hamfisted and ugly, the way this was done. And kind of sad. There aren't exactly millions of us.

  7. So true.

    Before all this started I planned my next post to be on the DSH Egyptian collection. All natural, to say the least. Dawn has been making perfumes for decades. She knows her materials and what she is doing and doesn't need anyone to tell her what she can and can't do or what she is or is not.

    I had a similar experience with the Guild, back when I started writing on perfume in 2006. I put it down to just nutsy eccentricity at the time, but I see how it's snowballed and this kind of thing has affected others over time. This last situation with DSH is just gone way too far.
    There's no pleasing some people, and there's no point arguing with them either.
    Like we used to say when I was a kid, it's a free country. Let's try to keep it that way.

  8. I always felt that Dawn's explanation of what was 100% natural on her website and what was not was very, very clear. I'm not a big fan of all-natural fragrances, which tend to last all of 20 minutes on me, but some of Dawn's things are simply gorgeous. In fact, I think I'm gonna hop over to her website and purchase some of her lovely things today.

  9. Thank you Sheila for writing this very important post.

    I have been very public with my complete support of Dawn

    This nastiness towards Dawn, in the name of Guild, is bone chilling. This is one of the two major reasons I was desperate to leave the Guild that I started.

  10. Really nice to see the atrocious behavior of the guild and it's current militant leadership exposed to the light of the blogosphere. That said,these tactics have been standard operating procedure going way back to the incarnation of the original Guild and its leadership, and Dawn is in EXCELLENT company, as both an exiled perfumer and decent human being. There are MB, probably GB of data documenting this type of behavior, but so few people want to deal with this type of hatefulness, and it's very hard to go up against bullying on this scale when the bullies have the biggest megaphone. It's take years, but social media is finally providing a remedy to this situation, and the blogoshpere is playing a wonderfully significant role as well. Thanks for fighting the good fight!

  11. Sheila, as always you have a wonderful way with words and I'm sat here nodding along in agreement with your post.

    In terms of Natural vs Synthetic, both have a place I believe but as I seem to have had some allergic reactions to highly natural scents I will always prefer a blend of the two.

  12. Apparently the rude treatment of DSH is by no means the first nasty incident of this sort on the part of the person who runs the so-called Natural Perfumers' Guild. To arbitrarily accuse her of lying about what's in her all-natural perfumes is just plain wrong.

    Although I do make some all-natural perfumes, I was forewarned about this sort of nutsy behavior and have avoided any association with this group.

    One logical response would be to boycott perfumes made by the person who wrote the insulting letter to DSH. A corollary approach would be to preferentially buy natural perfumes from Dawn and others who have been arbitrarily expelled from the “guild”.

    It seems like it's time for a new natural perfumers' group that operates using courtesy, professionalism and common sense.

  13. Lisa, I was not around at the beginning of the Guild that was founded by Mandy Aftel but I do know that she has completely divorced herself from this current leadership and is as horrified as anyone else at the treatment of Dawn and others. She has made this crystal clear.

  14. Dawn is an enormously talented and versatile perfumer and has always struck me as such a gracious person. Very unprofessional and nasty to treat her this way. I'd say she's better off without these people.

  15. Thank you for sharing your perspective on this debacle.

    On a FB post about “the integrity of the word natural” is a rude, juvenile comment basically stating that perfumes w/ even the smallest bit of synthetics in them are the equivalent of a turd in a punchbowl.

    Now, if one feels only 100% natural perfumes are the only perfumes they want to wear, fine, go ahead.

    If you want to speak against synthetics, fine, go ahead.

    However, I bet that comment is directed towards DSH and says so much more…it demonstrates the passive-aggressive stance the NPG and its supporters have taken. It also tells me the NPG's “well wishes” to Dawn are not 100% natural!

  16. Much as I'd love to reply to each and every one of you, I hope you'll understand and forgive me for posting a group comment.

    From the top: Thank you, ALL of you, for taking the time and reading my take on this sorry state of affairs, and what is more – posting your own thoughts as comments. This is more appreciated than you know!

    Second: Thank you all for your support of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz – she is, as I said, an epic talent and a spectacular perfumer whose dedication and vision continue to bring all of us such incredible pleasure – every day!

    Third: I, too, am a firm believer in the 'give and get' Law of Karma. I try to act accordingly, and so do the people who mean the most to me.

    Fourth – Doc Elly mentioned it, and personally, it might be a great idea – another kind of organization based on commitment to a craft, creativity and inclusion – but why limit yourself to natural perfumery if hybrids or synthetics have their place, too?

    FInally, as Trish stated, this has shown just how much one perfumer has the potential to rally up her fan base and show her their support! I'll bet anything Dawn is getting a lot of orders these days! 😉

    Welcome to the free world, indeed – and the future looks so bright, we'll all have to wear shades! 😀

    Our regularly scheduled program will return tomorrow…with a review of a really great indie perfumer's works!

    Last but not least – one thing on comments. I'm all for free speech, but in the course of yesterday's debacle, I was forced to turn on comment moderation, because one individual posted some truly vicious, personal comments that had little to nothing to do with yesterday's blog post.

    Trolls have no place on this blog and will NOT be tolerated. Want to slam the blog owner? Feel free to do so – through my email.

    But be warned. I bite back!

  17. Sorry I took so long to reply, but I'm sure you know I agree. Well-written article!

    Glad to see Doc Elly chiming in, btw. I wondered where she stood. Clearly she stands on the side of good perfume and nice manners. 🙂


  18. Jen – it comes as no surprise that Doc Elly supports common sense and reason. She knows good perfume – and creates not a few wonders herself! Thank YOU for wading into that fray – and now, let's just move on and get back to our true love…perfume!

  19. Well stated article, thank you for printing the truth. Dawn is a wonderful person, and such a big talent in the world of Perfume. Dawn's reputation is still golden and she has many supporters.

  20. Sheila, I am FLOORED to say the least at your words and just hope to live up to such praise. I am so grateful for your standing up with me on the issue of professional courtesy and respect and also for you as a treasured member of the perfume community. Your gifts are palpable and I am a huge fan of your writing! Thank you for sharing your talent!

  21. Holy moe. I'm on vacation right now and getting caught up with some long-overdue blog reading– and this sounds like a doozy. I don't think I've nearly plumbed all the depths of it, but what I'm gathering from it makes my blood run cold. It seems that perfumery is not immune from the battles for primacy and legitimacy that mar the entire history of art and science…. and it is terrible that DSH must suffer like Galileo today. Thanks to you, Tarleisio, and to others for keeping us slowpokes informed.

  22. First: Thanks for posting this.
    Second: I do hope it’s okay that I’ve read your blog. I hope I haven’t read it too much; I deeply apolgize if I have.
    Third: Because apparently I read Anya McCoy’s blog too much, and have had my IP blocked from her store website and the NPG website.

    Bully, indeed. Apparently my money isn’t green enough for her or others in the guild. DSH, Aftelier, and Ayala Moriel have gotten several hundred dollars from me, thanks to Anya’s paranoia.

    1. Nekosan…I’m amazed that anyone commented on this blog post after such a long time, and second, there’s no such thing as reading a blog ‘too much.’. Read as often as you like and comment as you please. I don’t block IPs and frankly, I can’t be bothered to have the kind of attention span that furthers paranoia. So, as Andy Tauer famously said when this fracas boiled over…”Welcome to the free world!” A world I’m happy to be a part of and happier to support! There are marvels to discover – and some amazing talent behind them, too!

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