This post is a continuation of the last one. First, I’ll mention that the point is to address the claim that 80% of the non-perfumer’s alcohol content of a Creed Viking bottle is “natural.” The “problem” is that this is not consistent with “modern perfumery,” which relies on synthetics to provide potency to these concoctions. Without these, one is very limited in terms of the kinds of compositions one can create that will satisfy consumers’ expectations of longevity and projection. And what makes the 80% claim especially ridiculous, IMO, is how powerful Viking is, and it doesn’t smell at all natural to me (the wood notes in particular seem highly synthetic), unlike some other Creed scents, which are impressive in terms of blending the naturals with the synthetics. What percentage “natural” are those? Perhaps a reader would like to contact Creed and ask them how natural this or that scent of theirs is, relative to Viking. If nothing else, that might provide some humor.
The fragrance chemist I interviewed for a post on this blog a while back was willing to speak to this issue, and here’s what this person said:
I have not had the chance to try it yet, and the claim about being 80% natural is akin to the legal notion of being within the scope of the law but not in keeping with the spirit of the law. Technically they could be telling the truth because so many aroma chemicals are derived from natural sources, but to use that as a selling point is somewhat lazy and disingenuous (like saying that cheetos are made of whole grain, etc.) Also, it’s a very low stakes claim for them to make, because you’d need to do a great deal of leg room to disprove it (and would need some expensive equipment and a fairly deep knowledge of chemistry) so they clearly don’t mind casually throwing out claims that sound impressive to the average joe.
That said, Creed is known for their truth-adjacent marketing, so you’re right on the money to be skeptical.
It’s very rare that a company would use most of the naturals found in one of these blends for any commercial fragrance (or for the parfum in a functional product), for a number a reasons:
1. Cost. Most naturals have synthetic counterparts that are cheaper. Easy enough.
2. Sourcing. It’s very hard to ensure consistent quality when dealing with naturals and is very costly (see reason 1.)
3. Regulation. The rules on safety are tight (and getting tighter every day) for cosmetic products. A place like the perfumers workshops sell their stuff as educational tools and not functional products, which allows them to sidestep the testing you’d normally have to undergo to put a product to market.
4. Technical aspect. Naturals, while often providing a nice finishing touch to a composition (in small doses), can interact with each other in weird ways and tend not hold up as well over time (this applies mostly to high volatility stuff, hence why your vintage perfumes top notes tend to go off.) For companies looking to create a product that can sit in warehouses for years, this is not an ideal setup.
However, as perfumer Chris Bartlett points out, in the industry, a natural ingredient means:
Aroma chemicals isolated to various levels of purity from natural starting materials by means that do not involve chemical transformations. Also in this category are individual aroma chemicals produced by means of bacterial fermentation.
So as I’ve said before, if Creed could produce Viking this way, they have done nearly the equivalent of deriving a pound of gold from a few pounds of lead! If they haven’t had a major scientific breakthrough at their lab, then the list of ingredients on the box may help us out here. For Viking it is:
alcohol, parfum (fragrance), aqua (water), limonene, linalool, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, ethylhexyl salicylate, butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane, geraniol, eugenol, coumarin, cintronellol, citral, cinnamyl alcohol, farnesol, isoeugenol, benzyl alcohol, BHT.
Now this may not mean much to you, but I think that if we look at the labels of other scents, ones that are “mass market” and with no claims to 80% “naturals,” things might make more sense. For example, the ingredients for Calligraphy Rose by Aramis are:
alcohol, parfum (fragrance), aqua (water), butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, cintronellol, ethylhexyl salicylate, geraniol, linalool, benzyl benzoate, coumarin, cinnamyl alcohol, eugenol, benzyl cinnamate cinnamal, benzyl alcohol, citral, limonene, isoeugenol.
Generally, the list of ingredients can provide some idea of what the scent smells like, but more importantly in terms of this blog post, such a list tells us that it’s likely the was made the way other mass consumer scents are. My guess is that polysantol or another powerful sandalwood synthetic (perhaps more than one) was used in Viking, but that would not be listed unless it was considered a potential allergen, from what I understand. And remember, there is something called “natural perfumery;” here is what one natural perfumer stated on his site:
As Luca Turin explained, mainstream fragrances simply cannot afford anymore to use them because of their price: “The big six perfumery firms are aroma chemicals manufacturers, and it is in their interest to keep naturals, with their attendant problems of price and quality fluctuations, to a bare minimum.
He discloses exactly what he uses to make his fragrances:
Absolute as defined by ISO 9235
Animal Extracts and tinctures: (civet, Castoreum, Hyraceum, Ambergris, Honey bee).
Concrete: as defined by ISO 9235
Essential oils: as defined by ISO 9235
Extracts: as defined by ISO 9235
Propylen Glicole (PG) (with my cocoa extract only)
Resinoids: as defined by ISO 9235
Tinctures: as defined by ISO 9235
Why can’t Creed tell us how they define natural? If you are interested in natural perfumery, there’s a New York Times article about it that mentions this perfumer:
NOTE: I have no affiliation with this or any perfumer, other than a small number of messages exchanged with Chris Bartlett quite some time ago through the Basenotes.net message service, though that’s not an affiliation, as far as I know (and I also disclosed obtaining samples and a bottle from the M. Cross company when I reviewed his offerings).