Grasse!

I have arrived safe and sound back to the beautiful home of my heart- Grasse, France.  I got in last night, after a very long journey from Canada.  I caught the bus from the Nice airport- and after wrestling my two large and one small loaded down suitcases (more raw materials and books/papers than clothes) down into the old city,  I was met by my friend Julie who had my keys.  She than kindly helped carry everything up to the 5th floor where I live.

I was nervous all week- not sure how it would feel to be back in Grasse this time.  I have been in Canada for the last 11 months, and it is always a huge shift to jump between cultures and worlds- and I often feel so slightly schizophrenic in which place I belong to.  The longer I spend in one place the bigger leap it is to return to the other.  (I still think there should be some sort of psychotherapy for this sort of dilemma).

However, as soon as the bus entered the outskirts of Grasse, I felt a surge of excitement.  And certainly, as soon as I unlocked the door and stepped into my apartment, I breathed the huge sigh of relief that one does after being away from home for a long time.

Now today, after a heavy sleep (thanks Jordanna! melatonin really works!)- I am unpacking and settling back into this lovely space.  It is cold (these old buildings are not made for cold weather, and last night it was -1 C), but it is bright and familiar, and I am excited to get to work creating the perfume that has been percolating in my mind for the last 6 months.

View from my desk...

R√©glisse Noire and the Art of Packaging

This blog began in January of 2007 with my journey to Grasse, France to study perfumery.   Since then, following my studies and internships there,  I have been focusing all my attention on the subsequent portion of the dream- to create beautiful perfumes, and to realize a successful career at the same time.  No small feat!!

I returned to Canada 7 months ago, and have been working day-in and day-out on all the details of launching the first fragrance.  To say the least, this has involved an enormous amount of work.  More facets than one can even imagine!! (although, such a wonderful challenge!)

Since being back,¬† I have also been taking classes in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to learn graphic design so that I can fully express all visual aspects (that accompany imagining of the perfume formula itself) of this creative process.¬† To be honest- more and more, this project feels like an artist’s installation.¬† Such a multi-faceted creation that involves digging deeper into my creative depths than I ever have in my life.

So, subsequently introducing the new outer packaging (as developed in Canada) for Reglisse Noire- the perfume that was born in France¬† ….

Cedar box

The box is solid British Columbia cedar (from off-cuts, leftover from home building), stained pure white with titanium dioxide powder and water, and sealed with a cigar-box style label to guarantee the purity and hand-made nature of each batch of perfume.

My goal has been to create an outer packaging that is an item of beauty to be kept…. thereby having a super light footstep on the Earth.¬† (‘recyclable’, in my humble opinion, just doesn’t cut it anymore…)¬† Refills will be available soon.¬† The lockable vintage-style atomizer is removable, unlike most perfume bottles.¬† Standard perfume bottles, even from luxury and niche brands, have what is called a ‘crimped’ spray top.¬† These are permanently attached, therefore making the bottle, once empty, impossible to recycle or to reuse.¬† For years I have struggled to find a solution to this problem… and finally, the technology has been developed- an atomizer that threads on, that also has a locking mechanism.. so it can be sealed for transport and to prevent evaporation of the precious juice inside.

Réglisse-50ml bottle

So there.¬† Years of work at the drawing board… with the goal of bringing into the world a product that represents beauty and that has a light environmental impact….

If you’d like to order this perfume- please go to the 1000 Flowers website…. http://www.1000flowers.ca

As well, your feed-back is greatly appreciated… I like to think of this as a work in progress….. Merci!

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‚Ķ. Chandler Burr from the NY Times being one.¬† He confused everyone by saying that we should stop using the term ‚Äėnotes‚Äô 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‚Äôs really inside them (the actual chemical components), rather than making up ‚Äėnotes‚Äô that are imaginary, primarily for marketing, and that may limit a person‚Äôs individual experience.¬† But for the crowd to whom he was speaking- the message was lost and he left everyone feeling like they‚Äôd been yelled at for doing something wrong, but not quite sure what it was.¬† One person later referred to him as ‚Äėthat guy who got up and yelled like an angry street person‚Äô.¬† 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 DandelionРwhich 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 √ľber 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.

Musee International de la Parfumerie (MIP)

Saturday the 18thof October arrived with an overcast sky but a heady buzz in the air.¬† This was the day for the much anticipated re-opening of the newly renovated and expanded International Perfumery Museum in the old centre of Grasse. Members of the museum society had received invitations for an 11 o’clock viewing with the museum opening to the public in the afternoon at 4.

Armed with my invite card and together with my friend and fellow graduate from GIP, we headed up to the entry gate on the Blvd du Jeu de Ballon.¬† As we rounded the corner we were quite astounded to see the whole street filled with a massive crowd, all holding invites and all looking a bit confused.¬† We asked a few people and determined that this was indeed the line up for entry.¬† There were 2 lines actually, or should I say two¬†large throngs of people with a dividing rope in between- one for VIP, we were told¬†(people who work in the local perfume houses, I think, since¬†I saw some Robertet staff in that line)¬†and one for the regulars like us.¬†(which included, for example,¬†students from the¬†Mane in-house perfumery school) ¬†As we stood expectantly in the mass of people, I had a look around and saw that everyone was dressed up for the occasion and that the language being spoken was primarily French. All of this was quite interesting and exciting for the first half and hour, but by the time an hour plus had passed, and we had just¬†snailpaced it in off the street to the inner courtyard, my stomach was beginning to make some ‘it’s after 12:00- time to stop everything and eat’ sounds.¬† (I’m sure I wasn’t alone in this since all of France¬†goes for lunch at exactly noon)¬† Soon after however, the¬†crowds began to condense to¬†teenage-rock-concert¬†levels of pushing and shoving madness and we were finally propelled through the doors into the museum itself.¬† Whew! What chaos!¬†

The museum itself is inside a grand old¬†Provencal¬†bastide combined with modern additions that has, in its day, housed aristocracy, namely the daughter of Louis the XV¬†(pre Revolution of course); so it is a great mix of new and old.¬†¬† The tour begins with¬†the ancient perfumery relics- Egyptian glass, pottery etc¬†within the glass displays in the rooms of the old house.¬† All the ceilings are very high, with¬†ornate and exquisite moulding, gold guilded mirrors¬†and a marble fireplace in each room.¬† One can imagine life here back in the day with the big old windows thrown open to orange¬†trees and¬†the Mediterranean sunshine. After this section, one descends¬†the grand old staircase of the house and enters a newer, more modern area that showcases raw material production.¬†¬† This part of the¬†Museum is massive with open air interior staircases that can challenge those with vertigo, enormous copper alembics for distillation, a great collection of enfleurage trays and related equipment, plus endless perfume flacons lining the walls…one could take days to examine every display and listen to the various little films and little¬†interpretive stations¬†installed with head phones and a monitor.¬† However, on the first day, there was no sound for the little films and in the booths with head phones, the button for Italian or English, did not work; only the French.¬† …in true French style.¬† Or perhaps I should say Grassois style.¬† One gets used to this and simply roll ones eyes affectionately and say “what do you expect- it’s Grasse!’.¬†

Anyway, we had just finished walking through the rooftop greenhouse showcasing various fragrant plants such as tuberose and jasmine (where I had the honour of meeting Michael Edwards), when we came to a little terrace that looks out to the sea and went out to see the view. It was then that we realized that all the inauguration officials, including the Minister of Culture and mayor of Grasse, were giving their speeches in a square¬†on the¬†far side of¬†the Museum gardens.¬† After a few moments of debating¬†if we should jump ship and go listen, we decided that it wasn’t worth risking our life in an another line up and so sacrificed that part of the ceremonies. We found out later that there were actually 4 levels of hierarchy to the groups to¬†take¬†the tour.¬† The Very Very Important People who had attended a cocktail party and viewing of the museum the night before, on Friday.¬†( This group included perfumers and their families and perhaps the heads of the perfume houses.)¬† Group two was the Very Important People who were¬†allowed in just before us on Saturday morning composed of employees of the perfume houses (not including perfumers, apparently).¬† Group three-¬†the Important People, or those who were members of the Museum.¬† Finally,¬†group four- the general public.¬† Perhaps this was the only way the organizing officials could manage the crowds. However, it would have been¬†nice to allow everyone to hear the speeches.¬† Personally, I¬†had been¬†super excited about being in Grasse for such a momentous occasion thinking that I would have a chance to meet and chat,¬† one last time, ¬†with all the perfumers who I knew would be taking part in the festivities.¬† However, everyone was far too segregated for that possibility. The speeches must have been planned for only the top two groups.

That all said, the Museum is heaven for anyone who is fascinated by perfume, its history and its production.  There is a also a lovely giftshop with a great collection of books on the subject. Admission is free until the end of December. 

¬†I can’t wait to go back and take more time to absorb all the amazing history that is within its walls!

I will have a few more photos to follow, since many are on a memory card that is still in Grasse.

un petit coucou (a little hello)

Hello everyone,

It is April already and here on the Cote d’Azur spring is fully in bloom.¬† Once again the purple wisteria is covering wrought iron gates and climbing the stone walls. Even the oaks that cover the hills behind Mane and Fils are finally popping their tiny green leaves.¬† The birds have been celebrating for weeks now and all the love doves are busy making babies.¬† The¬†rosemary is covered in little mauve blossoms and the papery pale first¬†roses are out and even the early jasmine is covered with clusters of purple buds. Spring here is glorious: or perhaps it’s just me.¬† It’s my favourite time of year, perhaps since it is the time of year I was born.¬† Yesterday was my birthday and we celebrated in a little local bar with a potluck (of various cakes mostly) plus cans of whipped cream¬†and a case of Spanish strawberries that I bought in Aix-en-Provence last weekend.¬† (What a fabulous city that is!¬† The market is spectacular and the two crops of interest were Spanish strawberries and French asparagus-absolute mountains of both-plus all the normal Provencal and Corsican sausages, cheeses, breads, olives wines etc- heaven!)

I am still interning at Mane and learning tons about how the industry works from the inside.¬† Absolutely facinating!¬† I will write all about it at a later date, but suffice to say that this is truly the behind-the-scenes world of perfumery that I am experiencing. It’s where it all begins; where everything is conceived and created. I just found out that there is a perfumer there who specializes in natural perfumes (surprise surprise) and so my goal this week is to get an interview with him.¬† The green/natural/bio revolution is true and it is necessary for everyone in the mainstream business to sit up and take notice.¬† Mane has an internal perfume school where they train perfumers for placement in their affiliates and I have decided to apply.¬† My interview is on Friday….

Next week I will have a computer again and will therefore be able to write from home again; then I can get you all caught up.

Sending all of you sunshine and visions of flowers from Grasse!