Tuberoses in Grasse

At this moment I am sitting in a room filled with the most intoxicating buttery sweetness of fresh tuberoses.   I found them today in the annual Bio (organic) Fair that takes place every September in Grasse.

As of 2 days ago, after handing over my apartment to a sublet, I am staying with a good friend for my last few days before I take my flight to Canada where I will spend a few monthes working on my projects and continuing to lay the groundwork for a permanent life in Grasse.  Attempting to achieve what I am, to create a successful niche perfume collection, with me as a foreigner based in Grasse, has proved to be a major project, and one that has required a great deal of soul searching, patience and persistence.

I have spent now a full 2 years living in the old city of Grasse since I first arrived for perfumery school and everyday, still, when I go out, I am amazed all over again by this place- from the beauty and character, to the dilapidation and stench.  The sunshine, the olives trees, the jasmine, the language, the culture of perfume that permeates every facet of life in this cradle of modern perfumery.  It’s endlessly fascinating to me, and has absolutely captured my heart.

There’s no going back now…

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

the Jasmine

jasmine harvestingHello!  Bonjour!  How time is flying by!  School continues, and we had another field trip recently. We returned to the farm in Pegamo and saw the fields of jasmine that are right beside the fields of Roses that we toured in May.  These crops are also produced exclusively for Chanel.  The jasmine of Grasse is incredible!  It is so heady and sweet and dripping with honey notes, for me, although others describe it as being very animalic.  Either way, it is recognized as being very special and unique. The bushes are much smaller than the roses and the plump little white flowers that are open are picked throughout the day, and layered in quite small baskets with pieces of damp fabric to keep them fresh and free from bruising.  They are much more delicate than the roses and even the slightest damage changes the final product.  As it is, once picked, the flowers are dying and it is because of this that the chemical indole develops and appears as a constituent in the extract.  This is the faecal/animalic note that is so pronounced and valued in jasmine absolute.

  Once enough flowers have been collected, the blossoms are loaded into the same extractors that saw the roses, in five layers of 40kg each.  Hexane is again the solvent of choice and the yield from 200kg of flowers is approximately 1kg of concrete and from that 500grams of precious absolute. 

 On our way back to school we stopped at a fantastic boulangerie and adjoining produce store, and with fresh figs (I’ve tried to eat them until I’m sick of them…unsuccessfully- yum!)  and beautiful bread, made our way back to school to work on our formulae. It was interesting to note that we were ALL quite energized and a bit ecstatic for the rest of the afternoon.  Laughing and dropping things and generally acting like we’d drunk too much coffee.  Perhaps it’s true that jasmine is an energizing plant! 

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 ‘Herbes de Provence’ official formula.  Here about 100 varieties of lavender and lavandin (the natural hybrid of the high altitude true lavender and ‘spike’ 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.

au Printemps

au les montagnesThe last few days have felt like Summer here in the south of France. Today was upwards of 25 degrees C and this evening is lovely and balmy.  Finally the palm trees that dot the region actually seem appropriate!  It has been so cold until recently- still winter really; just like other parts of the Northern Hemisphere.  Now the leaves are budding out on all the huge old, until now, stark trees and the other day, when I was up in the mountains for a picnic, I saw that the lilacs are opening and the wild thyme that covers the rocky hillsides is beginning to bloom.  The wisteria I referred to previously is just peaking in its ravenous sprawling purple splendour and the early blooming fragile pink roses that are scattered along hedges and wrought iron gates are just dropping their petals.yum!

However, for me, none of these are as magnificent as the heady fragrance of the lemon and orange trees that are now in full bloom.   On Sunday, I went to la Fete du Chocolat in a suburb of Cannes, and despite the distraction of the various chocolate vendors, I was drawn like a honeybee to the intoxicating heavy honeyed sweetness of an overgrown deserted garden that contained three large orange trees in full bloom.  Rebecca had to drag me away, as I would have happily spent the afternoon there becoming more and more drunk on their perfume!  This was truly my idea of heaven.

I sit here now with the windows wide and the orange blossomssounds of the narrow streets below interspersed with a new bird song.  Until now, the only birds I could see and hear were the pigeons, but suddenly, on Saturday afternoon, a new sound pierced the air with rather alarming shrillness.  The first time I heard it, I ran to the window thinking a baby pigeon had fallen from its nest and was calling in distress.  But no, this was only the beginning of a consistent presence of these small birds who flit between the buildings and shreik their incessant little songs all day long.  Perhaps some sort of lark?  Je ne sais pas, but I suppose they are another indication of thp1010132.jpge definite change of season. 

I have wireless internet now- finally!  My friend Rebecca came over this afternoon and unravelled for me the configuration so I could connect.  Sometimes even a French/English dictionary is not nearly enough! Now my reports will return to some level of regularity.