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Neiman Marcus Hit With “No-Scent” Lawsuit

February 6, 1992

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A crusader for a fragrance-free environment is suing the fashionable Neiman Marcus department store chain for lost wages and medical costs she blames on exposure to aromatic ads in a store catalog.

Julia Kendall, a clothing designer, argued in Marin County Small Claims Court Tuesday that the Dallas-based chain violates postal regulations by mailing catalogs stuffed with scented advertising.

Before testifying, she removed an industrial respirator she wears outside her home. She is seeking $4,000.

Legally disabled by her chemical sensitivity, Kendall said exposure causes her to suffer swollen eyelids, burning eyes, swollen tongue and throat, headaches and disorientation.

Municipal Court Commissioner Harvey Goldfine took the matter under submission. Neiman Marcus officials refused to comment.

U.S. Postal Service regulations say fragrance strips can be mailed only if they ″cannot be activated except by opening a glued flap or binder or by removing an overlying ply of paper.″

State law also prohibits scented mailings unless they block out ″inadvertent inhalation.″

Immunologist Dr. Alan Levin, Kendall’s doctor, said extreme chemical sensitivity is not unusual, with a range of symptoms from sneezing to seizures.

Kendall said she wants the post office to refuse large mailings of magazines that have scented material. ″They should be outlawed. They are really neurotoxic,″ she said.

Kendall, 56, said her sensitivity began in January 1990, when she was doused by a helicopter spraying malathion to eradicate medflies.

After linking her health problems to fragrances, Kendall canceled several magazine subscriptions. Some magazines, such as Town and Country, were able to send her fragrance-free copies.

″I had to cut all fragrances out of my life,″ she said. ″If I’m exposed to even a whiff of fragrance, I have terrible migraines.″

And although Neiman Marcus agreed to stop sending her scented material, they continued to send scented catalogs for about 18 months, Kendall said.

Kendall’s fiance threw the catalog away without bringing it into the house. But the scent clung to the other pieces of mail, and Kendall said she had a violent reaction.

″I immediately started choking, my throat started closing. ... I didn’t know there had been a catalog with the mail,″ she said.