Did you know that the signature jasmine fragrance of Chanel No. 5 comes only from the jasmine fields of Grasse, France? Well, here is a little behind that fact and comes from an article I read by Toni Mason.
Grasse lies some 20kms from the Côte d’Azur and is a half-hour drive west of Nice. Jasmine is not native to the region and its cultivation grew out of the leather trade of Grasse in the 17th century. The tanners began perfuming their leather to disguise its smell, and used the enfleurage method to extract the scent – flowers were placed in fat which absorbed the scent and this fat was then rubbed into the leather. By the 18th century perfume became the industry focus of Grasse and fields of roses, jasmine, orange blossom, violet and lavender were under cultivation. Interestingly, the valley in which Grasse lies is regarded as something of a floral terroir, producing flowers of high quality due to the good soil, the balmy micro-climate and the gentle sea breezes.
Over time the flower fields were sold off as flower production become too costly and perfume houses started to source their ingredients from such places as Algeria, Egypt and India. The one notable exception was the house of Chanel. In 1987 an exclusive partnership was entered into with the Mul family of Grasse who have been the sole supplier of jasmine to Chanel for Chanel No.5 since 1921. They produce the jasmine on just 3 hectares of land. The crop is regarded as so valuable that the property is ringed by high stone walls and protected at night by metal gates and patrol dogs. The critical issue for Chanel is that once a fragrance is created it doesn’t change, so it was vital to secure the ongoing production of the famous jasmine. The jasmine of Grasse – jasminum grandiflorum – only goes into this fragrance, while the jasmine used in other expressions of No.5 is sourced from India and rose from Bulgaria.
The jasmine is harvested from August to October, handpicked from dawn and mainly by women, who are considered to be more precise and less likely to damage the plants that continue to flower throughout the harvest. The daily harvest is between 100kg and 200kg. The flowers are processed immediately to capture the quality required – 350kg of flowers are needed to finally make 550gms of concentrated extract. One 30ml bottle of No.5 contains 1000 jasmine flowers and 12 may roses!!
The property is not open to visitors, but the Musée International de la Parfumerie in Grasse shows the history of perfume from ancient Egypt to the present and itself has 2 hectares of fragrant gardens – jasmine, May roses, orange blossom and much more which can you can wander through and enjoy. The curator of the museum. Monsieur Polge believes that elusiveness and mystery are essential elements of perfume. After all, didn’t Marilyn Monroe say that she wore nothing to bed but Chanel No. 5….
I adore Chanel No.5 …. and yes, I do wear it to bed!!