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 crêpe 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 Hermès 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

Smelling perfume in New York City….

So… it’s been a few days since my return from the beautiful city of New York and I’ve had a bit of time to digest the experience.  First, I must say, it was a fantastic trip.  The places I saw-  ranging from Times Square to Grand Central Station, from the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) to Ground Zero; to Bergdorf’s, Tiffany’s and of course, many gorgeous perfume boutiques- I was completely smitten.

Uptown is massive old gorgeous Art Deco buildings squeezed in between modern glass skyscrapers.  Downtown is old ochre coloured tenement buildings with fire escapes and red brick….it’s beautiful everywhere I saw.  And there is so much more to see!!  Next time! Many more museums of course, plus Harlem and Brooklyn and Chelsea and I want to rent a rowboat on the lake in Central Park (with someone romantic!) and paddle across to where the Locust trees hang over the water and exude their sweet perfume when they are in bloom.  (this was a recommendation from the lovely man from Jo Malone whom I spent a good hour chatting with in Bergdorf’s).

For the 5 nights in the city, I rented a little apartment in the Lower East Side of Manhattan through an online site that I highly recommend as an alternative to expensive hotels.  From the moment I arrived, I was taken by the feeling of the city- the warmth, the movement, the life that never seems to stop. And by the friendliness of every person I met.

On Saturday, my 3rd day in the city- we began the Sniffapalooza event with an early morning breakfast in Bergdorf’s in a little room just off the perfume department.  Everyone was in fine spirits as we sipped orange juice and coffee and listened to various presenters promote some of the newest luscious products that are carried in the store.  (Bergdorf Goodman, by the way is an old high-end department store/institution… you can read more of the history here.)

Following breakfast, we had several hours to explore the perfume department and sniff to our hearts content.  Lunch followed at another location with more speakers…. Chandler Burr from the NY Times being one.  He confused everyone by saying that we should stop using the term ‘notes’ to describe perfume (with the associated made up ingredients), and experience perfumes as their whole entity.  I rather get what he was trying to say, since he comes from the school of breaking down the mystery of perfume and looking at what’s really inside them (the actual chemical components), rather than making up ‘notes’ that are imaginary, primarily for marketing, and that may limit a person’s individual experience.  But for the crowd to whom he was speaking- the message was lost and he left everyone feeling like they’d been yelled at for doing something wrong, but not quite sure what it was.  One person later referred to him as ‘that guy who got up and yelled like an angry street person’.  Which I thought was quite funny.

Next was a beautiful store called Takashimaya, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to look at perfumes much since the store was so absolutely crowded with people.  I did have the pleasure however of meeting Yosh of Yosh perfumes and spent the whole time exploring her delicate creations that she packages beautifully. Afterward, we spent a long time in Henri Bendels (where I completely fell in love with a perfume from Etat Libre d’Orange (a risqué Parisien company), called Rossy de Palma.

Highlights of Day 2- Bond NY at #9 Bond Street- in Soho.  Gorgeous boutique- favourite fragrance so far (I still have a stack of samples to go through)- Little Italy- for the top notes- (although the drydown on my skin is lemon dishsoap) and not surprisingly- Eau de New York with it’s touch of salty metallic skin.

Next was Le Labo- a shop I have wanted to visit for years.  They are completely inspired by the traditional perfume industry of Grasse  (completely after my own heart of course!)- and I found their perfumes delicate, well-balanced and pleasing.  My favourite- Ambrette 9- a perfume for babies based on the natural musk seed ambrette. Although it seemed almost like a soft fluffy ylang ylang creation.  Not what I expected, but a perfect perfume to wear to bed.

Next on the list was Min New York, a beautifully designed perfume boutique all in dark wood and with an apothecary feel.  Here tucked against one of the shelves, I spotted Miller Harris.  Lyn Harris, the perfumer behind this brand is a huge inspiration of mine.  I began speaking with the man in charge of the display and quite quickly learned that he was Christophe, Lyn’s husband!  What an honour to meet him.  I also had a little chat with Christopher of CB I Hate Perfume, who is an artist who treats fragrance as an interpretive experience where anything is possible,  rather than as an accessory.  Some of his perfumes are not like any other- such as Under the Arbor, which smells exactly like damp vegetation and freshly dug soil in spring, or I Am a Dandelion– which he created for the love of his favorite flower.  And, yes, it smells exactly like the real thing, with some crushed dandelion leaves thrown in.

Of course, for me, the über highlight of the day- was the presentation at lunch.  I arrived late and a bit flustered after getting lost, and found the restaurant large and airy with open walls to a courtyard full of flowering cherry trees.  I was last on the list of presenters, and due to the lack of a microphone for our speeches (???!!!!), I was obliged to shorten my well-rehearsed speech dramatically and deliver just the important bits, at the top of my lungs.  And it was a success. I was reeling a little after from my blood pressure skyrocketing from stress and yelling to be heard- but everyone was coming up and congratulating me and saying how much they loved the perfume!  So after all that build up and hope that I was doing the right thing by leaping in and going to New York, I realized in that moment, that all was perfect.

The last stop was the best and my favourite- Aedes du Venustas.  A shop that I have dreamed about for years and years… since I first began to create perfumes 8 years ago.  It is a small shop, on a quiet tree-lined street in the Greenich Village area.  It has dark carpets, and huge crystal chandeliers and the most amazing collection of niche (true niche) brands I have seen.  Collections like Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Parfums de Rosine,  Nez a Nez,  Comme des Garcons, Parfums d’Empire, The Different Company,  The Beautiful Mind Series, etc etc.

I was kindly introduced to the man who created  the store 15 years ago- Karl, and of course, showed him Réglisse Noire… and he tried it then and there.  We had a great little chat and he too loved the perfume and thought it was a unique and original idea, fun and delicious.

After that?  I was completely exhausted.  Eventually we found our way to a little French restaurant in the area, and filled our bellies.  We then walked not too far to Magnolia’s- the cupcake bakery favoured by Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City.  Later I unfortunately left my little box of cakes in the grocery store on my way home… so I never got to try them.

And that was New York.