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Captive Raw Materials: Innovation, Competitiveness, and New Possibilities

Over the last decade, perfume brands have increasingly revealed the names of aroma chemicals accompanied by a ® symbol in their official list of notes. Most of these are called “captives” – proprietary compounds patented for several years by composition houses such as DSM-Firmenich, Givaudan, IFF, Symrise, and Mane, which invented them. Captives serve as a testament to innovation, being a key performance indicator for these companies. This article explores the intricate development process of captives and their impact on the perfume industry.





Over the last decade, the names of aroma chemicals accompanied by a registered (®) symbol have become increasingly common in olfactory pyramids published by perfume brands. Such a trend can be seen either as a gesture of transparency or as a marketing tool. These aroma chemicals – sometimes not single molecules but bases containing a blend of synthetics and naturals, even natural extractions – are developed by composition houses. Also called fragrance houses or oil houses, these companies employ perfumers who create formulations for their own customers and supply raw materials to other companies or themselves. Some of these compounds are patented for a number of years – they are called “captives”.




Major composition houses like DSM-Firmenich, Givaudan, IFF, Symrise, and Mane have R&D teams dedicated to developing thousands of aroma molecules per year to enrich the perfumer’s palette. However, only a few – it varies, but typically less than ten – are selected for launch. The development of captives is time-consuming and costly. They must undergo a rigorous approval process involving synthesis studies, scent evaluation, cost viability, commercial potential, and safety testing. Additionally, patent registration can be expensive and take from six months to a couple of years.




Captives are exclusive to the composition house that invented them until the patent expires. But, even before the patent expires, the captive is sometimes made available to the market if the company sees a commercial advantage. Recent examples include Amber Xtreme® (amber-woody) by IFF, Cascalone® (marine) by DSM-Firmenich, Orcanox (ambergris-like) by Mane, and Mahonial® (lily of the valley-like) by Givaudan. In any case, competing composition houses will still need the technology to reproduce the captive molecule or base. They typically create a new name and register it. For instance, Ambroxan is an improved version of Ambrox, first developed in 1949 by Firmenich after identifying ambroxide, a key component of ambergris, synthesized from sclareol found in clary sage. Ambroxan® was released by Henkel in the 1970s, later registered by KAO, and now each major composition house has a variant: Ambrox® Super (DSM-Firmenich), Ambrofix (Givaudan), Ambermor (IFF), Ambroxide (Symrise), and Orcanox (Mane).




Often captives are stronger, purer, and/or more stable variants of existing compounds such as Clearwood® Prisma (patchouli-like) and Ambrox® Super, both invented by DSM-Firmenich. They can be more cost-efficient, more eco-friendly, with a better performance. A significant reason for developing new aroma molecules that become captives is the restrictions imposed by IFRA (International Fragrance Association) and the European Union. For example, due to the EU’s banning of Lyral and Lilial in 2022 – the most common lily of the valley (muguet) replacements – composition houses have spent considerable time, money, and effort to develop their own substitutes. These include Nympheal™ (considered the pioneer and most faithful) and Mahonial® by Givaudan, Beyond Hivernal® and Hivernal® Neo by DSM-Firmenich, and Lilybelle® by Symrise. However, when the primary goal is boosting performance, the focus turns to musks and amberwoods.




Akigalawood® by Givaudan
woody, spicy, fractioned from patchouli oil using biochemistry
in Marc-Antoine Barrois’ Ganymede

Ambertonic® by IFF
amber-woody, musky, with spicy and powdery undertones
in Arquiste’s Sydney Rock Pool

Ambrox® Super by DSM-Firmenich
amber-woody, musky, closer to natural ambergris
in Nishane’s Deziro

Dreamwood™ Base by DSM-Firmenich
woody, creamy, reminiscent of Mysore sandalwood
in Atelier Des Ors’ Noir by Night

Hivernal® Neo by DSM-Firmenich
aldehydic, muguet note with green undertones
in Parfums de Marly’s Sedley

Mahonial® by Givaudan
green, muguet note with a magnolia facet
in Les Liquides Imaginaires’ Blanche Bête

Nympheal™ by Givaudan
watery, muguet note with a honeysuckle facet
in Maison Crivelli’s Hibiscus Mahajád

Orcanox® by Mane
amber-woody, musky, with clary sage and labdanum facets
in État Libre d’Orange’s The Ghost In The Shell

Paradisone® by DSM-Firmenich
fresh, jasmine note, with lemony undertones
in L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Le Chant de Camargue

Sinfonide® by IFF
powdery, musky, skin-like
in Caron’s Musc Oli


Captives Fragrances


(text by Daniel Barros)

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DANIEL BARROS is Brazilian, based in São Paulo, and the author of  ‘1001 Perfumes: The Guide’. He has been collaborating with ScentXplore since 2021, contributing to content production and management, as well as organizing the annual ScentXplore People’s Choice Niche Fragrance Awards. In addition to his editorial responsibilities, Daniel is actively involved in mentoring niche brands and fragrance enthusiasts all over the world. Click here to send him a private message or report an error. Follow Daniel on Instagram @danielbarros_1001perfumes.

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