Monday, December 9, 2013

Fragrance group brings scents to the Hill

Even your perfume can’t avoid a Washington connection.

The International Fragrance Association, whose Washington operation is based out of Arlington, Va., is one of those only-inside-the-Beltway organizations, a niche-sounding group that proves the theory that Washington touches everything.

“We’re active all day, every day, on issues, whether they be in the regulatory agencies or on Capitol Hill,” said Jennifer Abril, the president of IFA, which boasts more than 60 members in the fragrance industry. “We’re involved quite heavily in regulatory efforts to make sure that our members are well-informed about their requirements and to improve the business climate of our membership.”

And they have the office to prove it. Most every mainstream fragrance or cologne you can imagine can be found there — but it’s really the private blends that they get a first look at that prove to be the real highlight.

“I come to the office most days without wearing a scent and then I decide what I’m wearing for the day,” Abril confessed. And friendly lawmakers might also get a small take-home gift of those private blends, providing, of course, that it fits within the ethics guidelines.

It’s a field that, traditionally, has not emphasized its Washington connections.

“For many years, our industry was part of the broader supply chain of a consumer product and so we were not very active as an industry up until about the last five years,” Abril said. “That’s when we really started to build out our voice and be more active in both lobbying and in education and awareness about the fragrance industry, what we do for them, and the safety programs that we have.”

You can get a peek at its Washington work Wednesday, when the IFA hosts an event on Capitol Hill called “A Symphony of Senses,” for which they invite lawmakers, staffers and other interested parties “to experience these fragrances for yourself, enjoy cocktails and meet the perfumers behind some of the world’s most popular scents.”

But despite the group’s fancy title, it’s not all about high-end perfume.

“A fragrance is a scent and so we are scent innovators, we’re scent specialists,” Abril said. “Whether that fragrance is going into a fine fragrance — which would be a cologne or a perfume — or whether that scent is going into a household product or a personal care product, so it could be lotions, it could be cosmetics, it could be detergents, it could be laundry products. Anything that you can think of that is scented would be made by one of the fragrance houses that we represent.”

Abril says that just her association’s members turn out more than 5,000 fragrance offerings a year.

“It’s an interesting dichotomy — on the one hand, we’re regulated with the broader chemical industry and, on the other hand, we’re thought of being more of a discretionary purchase. But it’s really such an important and mainstream part of everyday life. … It brings pleasure to everyone’s day.”

And for those who opt for fragrance-free products?

“That’s perfectly understandable,” Abril said. “We want to have something for everyone.”

Abril admits there’s typically a big learning curve for most lawmakers on the issues that matter most to the fragrance industry.

“Generally speaking, it’s a new issue for them to learn about.” That is, of course, with one exception: lawmakers from New York and New Jersey, where Abril says 85 percent of its members hail from.

“We’re particularly active talking to those legislators.”

So a President Chris Christie might be a big coup for the IFA?

“We’re pulling for the success of the state of New Jersey.”

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