A philosopher is always a revolutionary because he aims at discovering truth and he does so by uncovering and denouncing falsehood.
Philosophy sets the basics of morals and ethics in whatever field it inquires, because when it reveals truth from falsehood, it reveals also the right from the wrong.
This is also the limits of philosophy, any philosophy is worth only the philosopher.
The first thing which is taught to the students who want to enter a Way, a profession, a trade or an art is its ethics and its philosophy.
Guerlain is reported to have said to perfumery students: “Have simple ideas, work them scrupulously, never cheat on the quality and make good products”.
He said “have simple ideas”, meaning that perfumers should work on simple ideas, because simple ideas are clear and having a clear idea of what one wants to do is indispensable to reach a result diligently and straight to the point. Complicated ideas are wrong because they give birth to no good results.
This sentence is Guerlain’s lesson to perfumers for being practical and have modesty.
“Work them scrupulously”, scrupulosity is the quality of who works meticulously, curing details, thoroughly and rigorously. Scrupulosity bestow to a person the quality of professionalism that belong only to those who do their work with utter seriousness.
The antonym of scrupulosity is carelessness. carelessness is wrong for anybody doing anything.
Never cheat on the quality. It is interesting to note that he did not say “do not cheat on the quality”. “Never” implies that under no circumstances, for no reason and in no way the perfumer should cheat. “Never” implies a discipline and a moral rule from which springs an ethic. Cheating is wrong, the perfumer has the occasion to do it, knowing what others don’t. Never do it.
“and make good products”. This is a call to modesty, reminding to student perfumers that these are just perfumes, products that people will use. They will benefit from them only if they are good.
In this simple sentence he affirms the humility of the goal for perfumers, shying them away from pride and superb of who thinks himself to be a genius and that what he is doing is great. This is doubtlessly a moral teaching.
Making good perfumes that will benefit the people is enough, conceit and pride, self-importance are wrong.
For the natural perfumers, this teaching of Guerlain is only the starting point of ethics and philosophy, because the materials that we use are quite different from Guerlain’s.
Our philosophy of perfume springs from the nature itself of the materials that we use.
In Guerlain’s time, perfumers were using natural and synthetic materials. There was nothing wrong with using synthetic ingredients if people like them, if they cause no harm and if they are legal.
Unfortunately for us this is not the case, many synthetic ingredients lavishly used by perfumers of the past have been since then banned because they did cause harm to people.
More distressing is the fact that many more still used ingredients are not yet banned just because hazard studies about the industry’s synthetic molecules are made by the industry itself and they are the only ones taken into consideration by law making organisms. Then if the studies do not exist they of course cannot be taken into consideration.
Instead of studying the toxicity of its toy molecules, the industry is rather banning progressively (but rapidly) all natural ingredients through its “self-regulating” arm, the IFRA.
Life for the six big corporations will be much easier when it is clear to all that natural perfumes are dangerous and chemical ones are safe.
For modern perfumers of the industry the only rule of ethics that will govern their activity is the one of legality. If it is legal it is good, if it is illegal it is wrong.
The question that a philosopher will ask is “what is the legality really worth today, when the industry of fragrance and flavor, strong of its multi billionaire power, uses all its weight to determine what is legal and what is illegal, exclusively to protect and foster its own interests?”.
For natural perfumers it is not sufficient that an ingredient be just legal or even be made “legally natural” by the industry.
Our philosophy of perfume springs from the nature itself of the natural materials that we use, so it is important for natural perfumers and students to understand what makes natural ingredients of perfumes different from synthetic ones.
To be continued…