How time flies! In our last post, we spoke about the roses of May, one of the important ‘Fleurs d’Exception‘ that make Grasse famous. Now here we are already in September, the season of the Tuberose, and since last month until sometime in October, (depending on the weather), it is also the season of the Jasmine grandiflorum.
These are all highly fragrant flowers, and are used extensively in the fine fragrance industry. They are considered ‘noble’ raw materials.
These flowers, amongst others, are still produced in the Grasse region (the Pays de Grasse), and are often picked by teams of Gypsy (Gitane, Roma) women, who arrive early every morning at the farms to pick only the flowers that are newly opened. For the rose and jasmine, this means every single morning throughout the blooming period. I have picked with these women, and they joke that only they are willing to do this hard work. They laugh and tell me that the French are not willing to work so hard. The pickers are paid per kilo, and to give an example, it takes about 800kg of jasmine blossoms to make 1 kilo of absolute- each blossom delicately picked by hand in the early morning before the sun gets too high or too hot.
For the extraction, all is done by solvent (hexane) extraction, to produce a waxy concrete, followed by an alcohol wash, which is then vacuum distilled off, to yield the final purified absolute. In Bulgaria and Turkey, roses are also steam distilled to yield the precious essential oil, but Grasse is producing for the perfume industry, so absolutes are the most economical and complete extracts.
Next post I will talk about the art of grafting… something that is a big part of the rose and jasmine plants of Grasse.
In other news: as you know, I have been developing a new collection of fragrances for 1000 Flowers. Of course, being an independent artisan company, that means wearing the hat for all stages of creation and production. Even the graphic design is all my own work, since design is my secondary passion, behind perfume creation itself. So in the lab, in the middle of the old city of Grasse, all stages of the Blue Collection are being developed and refined.
We first spoke about this almost 10 months ago. At the time, I had become a client of the amazing Biolandes for some of our key natural raw materials for the collection, and had anticipated launching the collection in May. However, I made the mistake of trying to work with local printing companies for the labels, and, very long story short, lost the whole summer and several hundred euros in being run-around by one local company in particular. I have learned a very valuable lesson: in France, if you are a small company, working on a shoestring, you will not be taken seriously. Sadly, the concept of ‘starting small’ is not yet respected or understood here, as it is in Canada or the UK. In the end, I had to go to the UK for my labels, and these are expected to arrive next week.
The advantage to these delays, is that I have revisited the perfume formulae many times, and as the samples mature, I see what small changes can be made, and how to improve them. So I suppose, it’s for the best that the project has taken longer than anticipated to realize. Art can’t be rushed. :)
In conclusion, to be a good perfumer, as much as it is very romantic, is not at all an easy path. It is an exceptionally challenging career, and one that takes an amazing amount of work and sacrifice and perseverance, where one NEVER stops learning and improving. Sometimes I question having given up everything to be where I am now. But then I open my cupboard of pure materials, and bring out the precious naturals from the fridge, and dive back into a creation, and realize there is nothing else I would rather be doing…