1000 Flowers- Past and present

Happy New Year to all!!  May love and abundance fill all your lives for 2011 and beyond!

It is now officially the second day of 2011 here in France- and besides feeling full of optimism and energized to jump into some new projects, I am also reflecting a lot on how I arrived to where I am now.  This post will chronicle some of that journey.


On the first day of this year- we went up into the mountains behind Grasse to a little ski station called Gréolières Les Neiges, which is about one hour by car up into the Sub-Alps.  As we crested about 800m in elevation, the clouds dropped away, and we were bathed in bright winter sunshine.  At 1100m, the sides of the mountain were blanketed in wild lavender plants and plump little pine trees.

Upon arrival at the ski station, we found that many others had planned the same new year’s day outing, and the place was packed with people of all ages.¬† After all, the cost for a half day ticket is only 6 euro!

We had decided to have lunch in the lodge- and being that it was a bit too cold to sit outside at one of the long dining tables, we went inside, only to discover that it just as chilly. 
The proprietor was extremely gracious, in such a classic French way- pushing tables together for us (we were a group of 7) and lighting a roaring propane powered flame-throwing heater to warm us up.  (I suspect that it also fed us a touch of carbon monoxide!)


The lunch menu was small- but the risotto with prawns and shaved reggiano that I had, was absolutely delicious (and very well presented, given the setting).


Later, after a walk in the sunshine, looking up at the quite large runs over various parts of the slopes, plus some very brave sledding,  we returned to the waffle and crêpe stand at the lodge, and had our dessert.
My cr√™pe with ‘abricots et chantilly’ was divine!


On our way back down to Grasse, we stopped at the wild lavender zone to check for seeds.  Sure enough, the little scruffy flower tops still held some of the shiny black seeds, and even offered up the dry powdery aromatic perfume of the summer blooms.

One of my projects from this past year of 2010, was to grow lavender plants from the seed I had collected 2 years ago from the same spot.  I successfully raised about 65 plants- and by the time I left Canada 3 weeks ago, they were hearty little shrubs of about 5cm in height.


So now what’s next for 2011??

First off, I’ve begun the major project of building another website for a new branch of the entreprise.¬† This will be the site for all things natural that I create or that I find while traveling in France and beyond.

After all, I first began with naturals back in 1994 by launching a collection of 5 massage oils composed of essential oil blends and almond oil.  These were very simple and even the labels were hand-painted and then colour-copied!  This was followed in 1996 with a collection of pure essential oils and several skin care products, including a gel moisturizer and a scrub inspired by (and utilizing) the dried hibiscus flowers and copal resin that I found in Mexico.

It was also at this time, that I applied for and received a small business development grant from the government.

Three years later, in 1999, the Body Bar was born- a collection of cocoa butter massage bars that were ‘good enough to eat’.¬† These were quickly ‘discovered’ and were soon distributed across Canada and into the US.

Sometime during the huge success of the Body Bar, I came across an article in the New Yorker about the creation of an Herm√®s perfume, and the light went on for me.¬† I had no idea the career of ‘perfumer’ existed, and I was smitten with the possibilities.¬† I began to research like mad all that I could find about perfumes and the companies who created them.¬† Jo Malone and Lyn Harris of Miller Harris, among others were huge inspirations for me at the time.

Having already worked with the natural raw materials for almost a decade, this  was a medium that was very familiar.  Clinical aromatherapy had been the path I was exploring for years.  I had completed a year-long certification program through the Australasian College of Natural Sciences in Portland- but I was craving to be more artistic and even abstract.  The art of perfumery was the natural direction to take.

For four years, (while also manufacturing the Body Bar), I worked away in the little studio at the back of my garden, and created 4 natural perfumes.¬† These I marketed only to my community, Nelson, British Columbia, where I had lived since 1995.¬† These were exceptionally well received, but I was reluctant to launch them out into the world.¬† I felt there was still too much to learn and I didn’t want to make any mistakes.¬† I knew then that formal training was a necessity.

As it can sometimes do- life broadsided me when the sole distributor of the massage bars copied the product, thereby reducing my income to almost zero.¬† I was devastated.¬† This was a classic case of David vs Goliath and I really didn’t want to take on a huge fight like that. This was a very difficult and emotional time.¬† It was then that I made the dramatic decision to sell my house, (including the studio), to fund my dream and go to perfume school in France.

From this point on, the story can be picked up in detail at the beginning of this blog.  I came to Grasse in January of 2007 and have been here a good portion of the time ever since.  This blog has followed the journey.


In April of 2010,  I went to New York City to present my fist perfume, Reglisse Noire, to the Sniffapalooza group. This garnered some great reviews and enthusiastic support.  As well, at year end last week, the same group of supporters in New York awarded Reglisse with the award of being in the top 25 picks of the year in perfumery.

I am not trained in advanced business, but I am keen to learn and continue to explore my own vision as 1000 Flowers expands and grows.¬† I have been reading the book ‘Business as Unusual’, written by the founder of the Body Shop, the late Annita Roddick.¬† I’ve always found her hugely inspiring. ¬† I believe, and always have, that there are many different ways to find success- and forging new paths that are positive and inclusive, and that take into account the health of the planet- are particularly important.¬† Of course, one must play by certain general rules, and take counsel whenever possible, but one’s approach and attitude to life (and business) can be defined individually. Rebelliousness can be rewarding when expressed creatively.

During the last week of 2010, I had distribution inquires from several countries- including China- and so now…. I am seeking counsel and working hard to make good decisions that will¬† bring all this long journey to another level of fruition.¬† The fact that it happens to also be a new year, is perfect and couldn’t have come at a better time!¬† So onwards we go on this fragrant adventure called life… ¬†¬† xoxo

Living and creating perfume in Grasse

P1010051Hello again… I haven’t been a faithful blogger lately I must say! But truth be told, the last month has flown by and since I’ve been back in Grasse, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and planning and researching- waiting for things to crystallize so I can share with you specifics!
So here now is a little overview…

My home is a newly renovated apartment in a lovely dilapidated old building in the centre of the old city- three or four hundred years old, according to the Belgian who was doing some repairs here. I have sunshine pouring in the kitchen windows in the morning with a view that looks out toward the Gorge du Loup- and toward the Palais Provencal, formerly known as the Grande Hotel Grasse- ¬†a beautiful big white hotel where Queen Victoria stayed at times during the winter. I’m on the top floor and with my view out over the terra cotta tiled roof tops- there is a feeling of being perched up with the pigeons. On the opposite side of the apartment, facing west, ¬†is the¬†salon¬†sejours- a big bright room with two tall double windows that receive the afternoon sun- and this is my office and atelier. An old (decommissioned) fire-place accents the room (there is one in the kitchen as well) and the walls have several inset cabinets with yellow-glass paned doors to store all my perfumery related books and other small treasures that I squeezed in to my suitcases from Canada. This isbees and sunshine truthfully my favourite home of all the places I have ever lived. ¬†The weather of late has been gorgeous- full summer with blue skies and warm breezes. All the windows are open to the air and at times, ¬†a brisk crosswind from west to east¬†keeps the space fresh and perfect for creativity. I’ve got floor to ceiling white cotton curtains graced with little green embroidered bees to filter the hottest of the afternoon sun and to remind me of the importance of the bee in France ¬†(Napoleon appropriated the bee as one of his symbols although the bee was also one of the favourite symbols of the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt )- for flowers (and perfume), and for honey- my favourite thing…as well for what the bee traditionally represents- resurrection and immortality. The bee has¬†been¬†entering my realm a lot lately- it’s rather interesting. Perhaps it’s also because I know they are in trouble and that breaks my heart…

P1010041The three highlights since my arrival have been the annual International Aromatherapy Symposium, the Fete du Miel (my favourite!)  and the Expo Rose. At the Aromatherapy event, I spent many hours perusing the rooms that were filled with vendors of amazing essential oils and related products and I was able to establish connections with some very interesting producers of oils that are local as well as from Madagascar. These oils are very unique and of the most incredible quality I have ever seen. For example, wild lavender that is hand-harvested selectively and distilled at the altitude of 1600 metres! This is a product that I will be making available through my company, 1000 Flowers as well as a small collection of other oils that I have found  that are truly amazing. As much as I am dedicated and in love with the art of perfumery, I am also returning more and more to my roots of essential oil therapy. True, fresh and carefully extracted oils from small producers are just too effective and beautiful to ignore. And so many have presented themselves to me during my time in France that I am inspired to share with you.

The Fete du Miel I have written about before- it is a market consisting only of honey producers from the south region of France. ¬†There is every kind of honey you can imagine- lavender, orange flower, rosemary, spruce, mimosa, chestnut etc etc… and what I mean is that the bees have been placed to collect pollen from these flowers in particular to make their honey. ¬†Plus there was honey cake, honey candies, candles and so on. ¬†As well, there was fresh pollen and I came home with a tub of dark orange pollen granules from Cistus flowers- which of course, is the plant that Labdanum is extracted from. ¬†This pollen was fresh, soft and sweet; just having been collected that week by the amazing creatures that bees are. I ate it by the spoonful for several days after!

P1010087Expo Rose was the same idea- all the rose breeders of the region displaying their plants for 4 days. ¬†If ever there was a place to study all the different perfumes a rose can produce- this is it! ¬†Every colour, size, perfume- red, purple, yellow, white, orange, pink, striped… I went every day and smelled and shot photos and basically absorbed as much as I could! ¬†This was my third consecutive Rose Expo and hopefully not my last…. the novelty of events like this will never wear off- they are just too wonderful and it has been such a privilege to experience them.P1010015

Two days ago- I went to meet with a very renowned perfumer who lives nearby and had a chance to share with him the perfumes I am working on. ¬†It is so personal to do this- perfume creation is subjective, especially if one is doing it from an artistic place and with the purpose of creating something new- not a copy of something that exists already. ¬†So I may like it ¬†alot, but will another person? ¬†And what about a master perfumer? ¬†I felt very vulnerable as I waited for his response. ¬†But in general, it was good! ¬†One was ‘addictive’, (my Black Licorice that is my baby that I created while in perfumery school here in Grasse). ¬†Another was very well balanced and pleasing, (a floral) and third, needs some work to find the form within the structure. ¬†Too complicated and cloudy. ¬†The third one I agreed about fully- it is called Boy, and is a chypre type, very woody, vanillic… masculine although many women I know love and wear it. And it was very interesting to learn from this man, that vanilla can have a ‘suffocating’ effect on a formula. ¬†I have quite a lot of vanilla oleoresin in this perfume and it will be very interesting to see what happens if it is reduced. ¬†I also use a natural vanillin and tend to be a bit heavy on it, since I love it- but I didn’t realize that it could have the effect of reducing the volatility of the perfume. Jean Claude Ellena says that we should never chose certain raw materials just because we like them, but rather by whether they are appropriate for the desired final effect. We must be impartial to our personal preferences.

P1010003So there you go… other than all of the above, I have been doing market studies of the natural perfume world, preparing power point presentations and sitting at my balance weighing out trials for the other perfumes I am working on. ¬†There are a total of seven on the drawing board now.. with two being almost ready to introduce. ¬†If you are interested in samples…please let me know.

Ok, back to work…. xo

Fields of Lavender

purple¬†splendourpurple¬†splendourpurple¬†splendourclary sage blossomsFriday, the 29th of June, was our last day of school and we marked it by going on a much anticipated field trip to the Lavender growing region past Aix-en-Provence, up in the mountains behind a beautiful town called Mane. We left the school quite early in the morning and after driving for 2 hours on the A-8, ¬†we shifted direction and headed into the hills.¬† Our first stop was a small rather unassuming little farm that is actually a research centre specializing in lavender, clary sage and the various plants that make up the ‚ÄėHerbes de Provence‚Äô official formula.¬† Here about 100 varieties of lavender and lavandin (the natural hybrid of the high altitude true lavender and ‚Äėspike‚Äô lavender) respectively are propogated/bred, grown, distilled and studied.¬† We toured the fields and then the small lab, seeing counter-top stills in the process of extracting the essential oils from samples of thyme to be sure that the essential oil content was of sufficient proportion to qualify for commercial use.¬† Also we were shown the larger equipment used to extract the lavender oil and learned the interesting fact that on average, lavandin will yield 80-100kg of essential oil per hectare and true lavender, only about 30kg. ¬†Besides a variant in yield, the chemical makeup of the two oils is quite different also, with the toxic constituent camphor, being much higher in Lavandin. ¬†

(A side note- at school last week, our chemistry teacher brought in her distiller and from the 50g of fresh lavandin flowers I picked outside in the garden, we extracted 2ml of oil.  More than we expected, and substantially higher than if it had been the true Lavandula Angustofolia.)

 

monastery in ManeWith the summer sun creating a day that was intensely hot and bright as we all piled back in the cars and left the farm, enroute to Mane, http://www.provenceweb.fr/e/alaupro/mane/mane.htm ,where we were invited to lunch with the director of our school and the rest of an organization who’s main purpose is education and the promotion and marketing of the perfumery raw materials that are produced in the region. We arrived at the site, a beautiful and large old monastery, made of stone that provided a cool refuge from the summer sun, where we were treated to a buffet of whole grain salads, meats and other regional goodies. Fantastic.

 

Then, refueled, we headed out once more ascending gently in search of the fields of lavender.  I’ve seen many postcards since arriving in this part of the world showing the classic shots of Provencal lavender, but nothing could have prepared me for the absolute beauty of the first field we saw.  So much gorgeous purple!  The rich hue of the lavenders in such large swaths of colour surrounded by a landscape that is quite arid and rocky with rolling hills covered in knarled pines is spectacular and something to behold. 

 The honey bees were everywhere, their little back legs heavy with bright orange balls of pollen, (lavender honey is produced also) and the air was clear and clean, whipped by the wind that seems quite constant in the mountains here.  Seeing the lavender in its native realm like this completed my understanding of the oil in such a profound way.  It’s clear fresh aromatic astringent and oily sweetness, with that green vanilla powdery warmth has been formed where it grows; basking in the intensity of the Mediterranean sun under the bluest skies I have ever seen. The winds come from the highest Alps bringing such charged alive air and the soil is ancient! Full of just the right nutrients to give the plants what they need so they can explode into full round masses of purple.

clary sage blossomsclary sage blossomsclary sage blossomsclary sage blossomsclary sage blossomsAs if this wasn’t enough, we were to discover lush pink fields of clary sage, also in full sticky fragrant bloom.  I even saw one particularly colourful field of purple lavender interspersed with the pink exclamation pints of clary sage. Otherwise, there were blocks of purple with pink beside or behind and I must say, the countryside looked particularly feminine!

 

 

(NOTES:

Clary sage concrete contains a natural constituent called Sclareol that is used as a starting point for the creation of ambergris chemicals such as Ambroxan and other synthesized amber notes. 

  • -The concrete is also a great raw material in itself, for a dry musky ambergris note. ¬†Also as a fixative.
  • -Lavender absolute is a wonderful substance and can be combined in an accord with the essential oil to yield a more true to life scent of the flower itself.
  • ¬†Sclareol in clary, like coumarine in lavender, ¬†is contained in the concrete or absolute and not the essential oil as it is too large a molecule to be extracted by distillation.

the Symposium

I was out for a walk this afternoon and just happened to spot in a store window a poster for the most amazing event….the 9th annual International Symposium of Aromatherapy and Medicinal Plants being held from March 16-18th here in Grasse!!!!!¬† It will be held in the beautiful Palais de Congres.¬† Suffice to say that I will be in attendance!

Here is the link to the program so you can see some of the facinating subjects that will be covered.

http://www.ville-grasse.fr/aromatherapie/pdf/programme_2007.pdf 

What can I say?¬† Life is pretty amazing….