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> Some questions for Alan Moss, Sales Director of La Fée.
Oxygenee
post Nov 19 2005, 10:02 AM
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QUOTE(alanmoss @ Nov 16 2005, 12:37 PM) *

I'll come clean and confess that I am La Fée's Sales Director

Welcome Alan!

I'm delighted that another significant player in the industry has joined our Forum. If you've been lurking and reading in the past, you'll know that many of the most knowledgable absinthe enthusiasts - and active consumers - are members, as are the principals behind many modern producers, including Jade, Liqueurs de France, Sebor, Montmartre, Muse de France and others.

Over the years, La Fée Parisian has attracted a lot of comment here, as you'd expect some positive, some negative. The positive comments comments can broadly be summarized as: good taste, reasonable value, great packaging, excellent availability.

The negative comments - which are, as you'll see, pretty extensive, relate less to the product, but to perceived misleading marketing by your company. Nothing upsets folks here more than the suspicion that they've been misled, or told a tale, whether by accident or design. You're in a unique position to shed light on these contentious issues. Let me list them, and perhaps you could offer your comments:

1. On your website, you say:
QUOTE
La Fée (Parisian) is a distilled absinthe — the botanicals are macerated in alcohol and then distilled in accordance with the most traditional methods.

By saying "distilled in accordance with the most traditional methods", you're implying that it's made from a dried herbs macerated in alcohol, directly distilled, and then coloured by the addition of further herbs. This is how all the great brands of the past - Pernod, Cusenier, Premier Fils, Berger, Junod - were made, and it's also the method used by artisanal modern manufacturers, like Jade Liquors. This is the "traditional method". The problem, is that your absinthe doesn't look and taste like this at all. It looks and tastes like a high quality macerated absinthe, artificially coloured. The supposition here is that you use the original herbs to distill a herbal essence. This herbal essence is then added - perhaps by the original distiller, perhaps by contract distillers elsewhere - to neutral alcohol, and then coloured using EU approved food colourings. Are you able to clarify this for us? I understand you may be reluctant to reveal all the details of your manufacturing process on a public forum like this, but are you able to give unambiguous answers to these two questions:

i.) Is La Fée Parisian distilled directly from a herbal macerate in one continuous process, or is an essence made first, which is later added to alcohol?

ii.) Is the resultant distillate coloured by further direct herbal maceration, or by the addition of commercial colouring essences?


2. Moving on to La Fée Bohemian, on your website you say:
QUOTE
La Fée Bohemian Absinth re-creates the traditional Bohemian drink that was produced in the 1920s, with subtle herbal undertones of fennel, mint and rather less aniseed than that absinthe produced in France at the end of the 19th Century. Bohemian tastes have always meant that less anise is used in the drink's production, and explains why Bohemian Absinth does not turn milky ('louche') when water is added.

and
QUOTE
Traditionally, the drink is prepared by burning a small amount of absinth soaked sugar on a spoon, which you then stir into your glass of absinth and douse with water (1-2 parts water to absinth).

and
QUOTE
In fact, the drink was extremely popular, thriving in the 1940s. Rationing during the Second World War was based on the volume of liquid, rather than the strength of alcohol (similar to the alcohol taxation that contributed to absinthe's initial popularity in France) and it wasn't long before people realized that to multiply the effect of rationing, they could buy absinth and simply water it down.

The implication here is that there was an actual Czech absinthe tradition in the 1920's, that continued until at least the 1940's. The only evidence for this though, is the claim on your website. No-one has been able to produce any independent evidence - a contemporary newspaper clipping, a label, a photo, a reference in literature - nothing at all. The fire ritual in particular is so dramatic and unusual, that it seems extraordinary it's not documented in any contemporary source, if indeed it existed prior to the 1990's. On my site devoted to the history of absinthe - The Virtual Absinthe Museum - I summarize my understanding of the real situation as follows:
QUOTE
A Czech entrepreneur, Radomil Hill, having inherited from his father a small distillery dating from the 1920’s, decided, with the return of a free market economy, to start producing absinthe. Hill claims that he is using an old family recipe, that the distillery produced absinthe prior to the Communist occupation and that he is reviving the "Bohemian absinthe tradition". Integral to this is the so called Bohemian absinthe ritual, which involves soaking the sugar cube with absinthe, and then setting it alight, before plunging the caramelised sugar into the glass - a necessity with Hills, which, since it apparently contains little if any anise, doesn't louche. Hills claims that this is an alternative and historically authentic alternative to the traditional French ritual, but there's no evidence to support this assertion.

In the 1930's, it was common for jobbing distilleries to make a very wide range of house-brand liqueurs for use in cocktails. These were often only crude approximations of the real thing, made from purchased essences. So a distillery might have made a curacao, a creme de menthe, a kirschwasser, a "Chartreuse", an anisette, a "Grand Marnier" etc. It's theoretically possible that Hills did this, and that some kind of absinthe substitute was included in their list. A price list from an Austrian distillery in the 1930's that includes "absynth" is known, and absinthe substitutes were produced in the US, the UK and in Denmark in the 1950's.

But no evidence of a pre-1990 Czech absinthe has ever been produced - no pricelists, catalogues, labels, bottles, posters, invoices, nothing whatsoever. It seems reasonable to assume that if anything like this existed, it would have turned up by now, and be prominently featured in Hill's promotional material.

So one can say with certainty that there was no widespread Czech "absinthe tradition" prior to the new Hills product. As to whether an ersatz absinthe product once briefly existed there in a minor and inconsequential way, it's hard to prove a negative, but no trace of it has ever been produced. Notwithstanding all this, sales of the blue-green Hills "absinth" took off in the early 1990's , especially in the UK, where an innovative publicity campaign soon made absinthe a must-have drink in trendy nightclubs and bars. Other manufacturers in Czechoslovakia and elsewhere soon followed suite, and today this style of "absinth" is made by many eastern European and German producers.

Am I wrong here?

i.) Is there some hidden evidence you are aware off that proves the existence of a widespread Czech absinthe tradition before the introdution of Hill's in the 1990's? Or did Mr Hill just spin a yarn that has since become folklore?

ii.) Is there even the tiniest shred of evidence that the Bohemian fire ritual existed before the 1990's? Or did Mr Hill, on realising that his absinthe didn't louche, and on observing the success of drinks like flaming sambuca, simply make the whole thing up?


Alan, you'd be doing a service to your company, and I think to the absinthe community in general, if you could shed light on some of these issues. I eagerly look forward to your reply.


--------------------
...et c’est l’absinthe enfin, la grande absinthe ou la petite, parure chaste des montagnes et des rivages marins, fille des grand vents purs, blé des espaces vierges, emblème de la liberté farouche.
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alanmoss
post Nov 20 2005, 07:17 AM
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Wow … that's a good read for early on a Sunday morning, UK time. Thank you for all the thought that went into the way that was put. Yes, I have lurked for a while, but having only joined La Fée a year ago, I wanted to listen more than talk. But it's good to be here officially. And I realise that I still have a lot to learn.

Given the detail you have gone into, I feel I must also give a lot of thought as to how I reply. I have had similar questions put to me privately in another forum and I (and my company) need to consider how to address this.

Perhaps I can ask the rest of you if you have other questions, or if the questions so far summarise all the issues.

It will take a few days to answer your questions: supplying our customers is, you'll understand, my priority at this stage!


ALAN MOSS

PS By the way, how can I tell "who is who" here? At least amongst the major absinthe companies …

For the uninitiated like me, it can be difficult to tell!




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Kirk
post Nov 20 2005, 01:47 PM
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QUOTE
Perhaps I can ask the rest of you if you have other questions, or if the questions so far summarise all the issues.

Oxy pretty much summed it up.

QUOTE
supplying our customers is, you'll understand, my priority at this stage!

We understand. Some of your customers are here though.

QUOTE
how can I tell "who is who" here? At least amongst the major absinthe companies …


Ted posts as T.A.Breaux.
Peter posts as Pierre Verte.
Pretty much everyone else that posts regularly here is nobody, relax, the major companies rarely speak to us.
It is really nice to see someone from a major company like yourself,
welcome Alan.


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Fredie
post Nov 21 2005, 04:19 PM
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Just a Yank of med. Absinthe IQ here chiming in…..

Though it's fairly obvious it's not a (pardon my lack of better phrasing)"Complete" Distilled Absinthe, Parisian still tastes great to me Al…. As for the Bohem. I don't know what the Fxxk your company was thinking other than there was a market amongst the Absinthe Amatuers that wasn't being tapped….
It may go over well with University students on Holiday who find lighting things on fire when you're blind drunk some kind of fertility ritual, but the release of that product has done NOTHING in the Absinthe world to bolster La Fee's credibility.

As for your Ads and such….I have no problem with your marketing campaign…. but Abisnthe's Truths are just as intriguing as it's myths…. and just like Oxy says…. it's the MYTH's that your company is perpetuating that We all have a problem with…..

I would think that if you are going to use Mdm. Marie Claude's endorsement then you should be a little more aware of what you are putting in your brochures….


Fredie in Florida


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"...like Flaubert or the flowers of Baudelaire. Much maligned yet so refined, come dance with me sweet La Fee Verte. She’s my weakness – My rhapsody in green. A Pandora’s box of secrets, hold me please.... my sweet Opaline."
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Donnie Darko
post Nov 21 2005, 05:02 PM
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Alan sounds like a good guy. He just probably hasn't been privy to information which indicates some of their marketing info about their products is false. Now is his opportunity to correct some of those errors. I hope that happens.

This post has been edited by Donnie Darko: Nov 21 2005, 05:02 PM
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Fredie
post Nov 21 2005, 05:12 PM
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True….and even then that doesn't mean that those in charge will heed his advice…. frusty.gif

(or maybe we shouldn't let him off the hook so easy?) harhar.gif



HAHA…. Hey Al, if they give you any trouble just send 'em to this forum and we'll rip 'em an new one!! winnie.gif


--------------------
"...like Flaubert or the flowers of Baudelaire. Much maligned yet so refined, come dance with me sweet La Fee Verte. She’s my weakness – My rhapsody in green. A Pandora’s box of secrets, hold me please.... my sweet Opaline."
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SoulShade
post Nov 21 2005, 09:24 PM
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I appreciate your responses Alan. -s


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alanmoss
post Nov 28 2005, 02:22 PM
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Hi Oxygénée,

We are grateful for the opportunity to clarify the issues you have raised. We propose to give a quick summary now, and will give more detail in separate postings over the next few weeks.

Firstly, we believe that our company, via both the La Fée brand and our new multi-brand emporium, www.eAbsinthe.com, shares many of the aims and desires of the forum membership.

We would like to help bring absinthe to a much broader market than it currently enjoys. In our case, we would like to do so via a strategy that encompasses the right product (appearance, nose, taste), in the right pack, at the right price and in the right places.


We believe that we have done more than any other organisation to bring absinthe to a broader market, but are very conscious of the fact that the absinthe category has different segments: including the upscale (perhaps "niche") absinthes loved by this forum and those absinthes with a more "mass market" appeal. We also recognise that there is consumer demand - in the bars of Europe, Australia, Canada and elsewhere - for absinth without the "e," and have had a big part to play in its development.

You have summarised your issues with 4 specific questions, including 2 on La Fée:-

1. Is La Fée Parisian distilled directly from a herbal macerate in one continuous process, or is an essence made first, which is later added to alcohol?
2. Is the resultant distillate coloured by further direct herbal maceration, or by the addition of commercial colouring essences?

Using the definitions in the Forum FAQ, La Fée Parisian Absinthe is a type two 'Distilled Absinthe other than Swiss', falling into the ‘Absinthe Fine' sub-category, and is produced in one distillery (not assembled by contract distillers elsewhere). Our starting point is actual herbs from different sources which are macerated and distilled in a copper still. We do not use - and have never used – bought-in commercial essences. Like many traditional absinthes it is then coloured to meet customer expectations, and to provide a stable, consistent colour suitable for presentation in a clear bottle.

The colouring question is interesting. In the nineteenth century some absinthes had no added coloring, and some did. If tradition is the issue, then both styles have a valid claim to make. However, we feel that tradition is really just part of the issue: a more significant issue for us is meeting the expectations of today's consumers.

We believe that most of today's consumers expect their drinks to look good and to look the same - bottle after bottle after bottle. And in the drinks market, consumers - at least in Europe, and increasingly elsewhere - are looking at absinthe in bars and on supermarket shelves alongside brands like Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, Grey Goose, Glenfiddich, Remy Martin, etc. In this context, we want La Fée Absinthe to be highly visible while still having a strong product link to the roots of absinthe. So we do choose to add some coloring to ensure high visual appeal and high consistency, bottle after bottle after bottle. It's not the only way, but we don't criticise people who choose to do it differently, e.g. with brown or green glass.

However, as I’ve said above, product, packaging, pricing and distribution are all inter-related for us; the more cost-efficient we can be, the keener the price we can offer our customers (internet and “normal”); the keener our price, the more we can “popularize” absinthe through a wider variety of distribution channels.

As regards price, and within this market, there will be some demand for "top shelf" absinthes, priced at the same level as Dom Perignon, Johnnie Walker Blue Label, XO Cognac, etc. For rich Americans who mainly buy over the internet, this pricing level may be affordable; in general it limits the potential number of consumers who can enjoy absinthe. Was absinthe pricing “traditionally” so high? It is interesting to note on the Oxygénée site that in the pre-ban days, "At an expensive and fashionable cabaret like the Moulin Rouge, a glass of Pernod Fils cost between 50 and 65 centimes (still, relatively speaking, cheap: about half the price of a whisky, and little more than draught beer)."

While we cannot make La Fée at this price, we believe that the long-term absinthe market will only be significant again if prices (and hence costs) are kept at a reasonable level; we see VSOP Cognac or a good Single Malt as the benchmark price for a volume market, while ultra premium absinthes will compete within the smaller market occupied by XO Cognac or malts that are 18 years old or more.

At prices around the level of VSOP Cognac or a good Single Malt, we have been able to take La Fée Absinthe to distribution channels never previously accessible to absinthe. These include liquor stores and supermarkets throughout Britain and Italy, a growing number of airports around Europe, and, most recently, on board all Virgin Atlantic flights. This year we have added Canada, the Caribbean, several European markets and Hong Kong to our established markets in UK, Italy and Australia. We believe that having the right product at the right price allows us to introduce absinthe to many more people than the fortunate members of this forum who are in a definite minority in being able to pay $120 or more for one bottle of absinthe (including shipping).

I mentioned our new (re-launched) emporium, www.eAbsinthe.com , where we would love to sell as many of the world’s great absinthes (and absinths) as we are allowed to, and at the best prices possible. This new site, on which we sell over 50 brands, is already allowing us to monitor trends in the market and better understand what absinthe buyers want. In just a few weeks, we are able to observe from re-purchasing habits that many consumers switch price segments (some up, some down), and many also switch from French/Swiss to Czech styles (and some vice versa). So in the more mass market world we are aiming at, people like to experiment and to find their own drinks. Vive la différence!

Coming onto Czech absinth and more specifically to Hills, you asked:-

1. Is there some hidden evidence you are aware of that proves the existence of a widespread Czech absinth tradition before the introduction of Hill's in the 1990's? Or did Mr Hill just spin a yarn that has since become folklore?
2. Is there even the tiniest shred of evidence that the Bohemian fire ritual existed before the 1990's? Or did Mr Hill, on realising that his absinthe didn't louche, and on observing the success of drinks like flaming sambuca, simply make the whole thing up?

We will address the first question in a separate note, in which George Rowley will give his unique first-hand account of his three years living in Prague, and his meetings with the Hill family.

As far as the second question is concerned and to clarify this point for once and for all, we have no evidence that the Bohemian fire ritual existed before the 1990’s. George Rowley lived in Prague in the early 1990’s and did not observe this then; it was only in 1998 that he and his partners observed the burning ritual in a bar in Prague for the first time and adopted it as the perfect way to launch Hill’s in the UK later that year (and NOT in the early 1990’s as you write). For us, the seven years since 1998 seemed to warrant the use of the term “traditionally” in the website statement “Traditionally, the drink is prepared by burning a small amount of absinth soaked sugar on a spoon,” but we have now removed this word.

La Fée Bohemian is NOT the new name for Hill’s, and the distilling of the two is at two completely separate distilleries with completely separate management. I am sure that few members of the forum know our Bohemian brand, so would just suggest they shouldn’t knock it until they try it! They may be surprised by a fine Bohemian absinth that we think is a significant improvement on Hill’s.

One final thought at this stage on the Absinthe v. Absinth issue. Married to a Scottish lady, I am often reminded that while the Scots had the whisky market to themselves for more than 200 years, the upstart Americans had the nerve to come up with a product that is very different from real Scotch whisky, to add an “e” to it, and then to do crazy things like adding Coke to it! What heresy! And now Jack Daniel’s is set to become the world’s largest selling whisk(e)y. I’m not criticizing JD here, but I am pointing out that categories evolve, new drinks come and some of them go. Some people love Scotches (I love 18 year old Macallan), some people love Jack Daniel’s. Some of the criticism I read of absinth makes me wonder what people said about American whiskies when they started to spread around the world!


……………………………


We hope that the above clarifies three of the four points raised. We also hope that our wholehearted commitment to the development of absinthe as a global drinks category, albeit in a different way to Ted and colleagues, is understood, even if some have a different view.

We will, over the next few weeks, add the following:-

1) The background to our launch of Hill's, responding in more detail to your issues.
2) The development of La Fée Parisian.
3) The development of La Fée Bohemian.
4) Where we see these markets going in future.

George Rowley, my MD, has a lot of background that I think you and the forum will find of interest. And as the guy who did more than anyone to bring absinthe back to Europe and then to the world, his account should be very valuable reading, even if some people might have done it differently.

À suivre …
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le Gimp
post Nov 28 2005, 02:50 PM
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Well, that was a nice post and quite informative.

Thank you.
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Donnie Darko
post Nov 28 2005, 02:52 PM
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Thanks for your very honest and specific responses. It helped clear up several things I was confused about in terms of La Fee. Before your response, no one seemed to know whether or not La Fee was an assemblage of oils or distilled, (Betina Wittels lied in the past and insisted it was an oil mix), so thanks for clearing that up. The only question I still have (which wasn't asked before), is whether La Fee is sweetened after distillation. The product always had a candy like taste to it that, in my experience, doesn't come naturally from merely distilling plants in alcohol.

Your intentions with La Fee, in terms of a business plan, are pretty even handed. You're not making a top shelf absinthe, but you're not just throwing some oil mix crap onto shelves and misrepresenting it, either.

While you have succeeded in making an absinthe with mass appeal that is of above average quality, would La Fee be interested in manufacturing a top-shelf type absinthe that would appeal to the crowd here?

This post has been edited by Donnie Darko: Nov 28 2005, 02:58 PM
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Fredie
post Nov 28 2005, 03:21 PM
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Interesting..... But I take exception to the JD McAllen comparison.....
I could do the same thing with beer.....
Comparing Heinken with American Budweiser.....
the only thing is Bud is absolute crap with a great marketing strategy......
Do I blame the morons drinking bud?
Hell no, they're too dumb to know better.....
I blame Anheiser - Busch for making and promoting crap and calling it the King of Beers.

But so help me Alan......

If I see a bunch of rednecks at a NASCAR race in Alabama in the stands all louchin' up their Absinth's
I'm gonna hold you personally responsible! abs-cheers.gif

This post has been edited by Fredie: Nov 28 2005, 05:06 PM


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"...like Flaubert or the flowers of Baudelaire. Much maligned yet so refined, come dance with me sweet La Fee Verte. She’s my weakness – My rhapsody in green. A Pandora’s box of secrets, hold me please.... my sweet Opaline."
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celticgent
post Nov 28 2005, 04:26 PM
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fredie,

i think i am stupider after reading your post.


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Icarus
post Nov 28 2005, 05:09 PM
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QUOTE
It helped clear up several things I was confused about

Donnie, I'm shocked. I thought that you of all people wouldn't be so easily obfuscated.

QUOTE
... Before your response, no one seemed to know whether or not La Fee was an assemblage of oils or distilled,

No one still knows. His response is perfectly descriptive without giving any information.
QUOTE
Our starting point is actual herbs from different sources which are macerated and distilled in a copper still
- You mean macerated and distilled in alcohol like a real traditional absinthe, or macerated and distilled like an herbal essence/oil which is then added to an alcohol base. If it is an actual alcoholic distillation are you distilling the herbs individually or together?

Notice how his coloring description never actually mentions food coloring or natural herbs. Just marketing, appearance, and durability to sunlight... ahem, we can infer what we wish.
...and this...
QUOTE
In the nineteenth century some absinthes had no added coloring, and some did.
19th century "traditional" verte absinthe was colored with dried herbs. 19th century blanch was not colored at all. Your product is green. Therefore if it's not colored with dried herbs it doesn't fit into the category of a "traditionally colored" verte. The lack of coloration has nothing to do with your argument, and niether does this statement -
QUOTE
If tradition is the issue, then both styles have a valid claim to make.
What does this "valid claim" between old school verte and blanche absinthes have to do with your product, your answers, or ANY of our questions. Cute.

QUOTE
However, we feel that tradition is really just part of the issue: a more significant issue for us is meeting the expectations of today's consumers.
Ha, nice shift.


If I were to read between the lines I get " We are out to make money. We care about profitability". Not that there's anything inherently wrong with making money.

Lots of words, very few clearly stated answers.
Looks like we got a real politician in here.


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Absinthe is the new Jager.
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Fredie
post Nov 28 2005, 05:17 PM
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It depends on what your definition of "macerated" is.... abs-cheers.gif


--------------------
"...like Flaubert or the flowers of Baudelaire. Much maligned yet so refined, come dance with me sweet La Fee Verte. She’s my weakness – My rhapsody in green. A Pandora’s box of secrets, hold me please.... my sweet Opaline."
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hartsmar
post Nov 28 2005, 05:36 PM
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Regarding coloring I can add this:

If it is somehow naturally colored, it has to be very little of that and a ton of artificial coloring. I have a bottle of La Fée (now known as the Parisian) purchased in London at Selfridges & Co. in June of 2003. There is still about 1/5 or so left of it. After spending more than 2.5 years in a cabinet with glass doors, very much exposed to sun and artifical light, there has been no change in color.


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