A gentle breeze is caressing my face and my hair. It’s the last day of spring but the weather, with its enveloping warmth and dizzying intensity, is casting its summerish charm all around. Delicate jasmine petals are dancing gently under the sun, accompanied by flirtatious tuberoses, shy May roses (Rose de Mai), modest geraniums and exuberant irises. I have never been to Grasse (to my slight disappointment), but in that very moment, I feel as if I am standing in the middle of the flower fields in the South of France. The surrounding bucolic atmosphere requires a completely new attitude than the one commanded by busy Parisian streets: movements become lighter and easier, thoughts get lost in the idleness of the moment, all senses (especially sight and smell) become particularly attentive to the exquisiteness of these fragile nature creations cultivated for fragrance making. Finally, a little cozy house invites to discover how the essence of these flowers is captured in elegant bottles.
These bottles are marked with a Chanel sign.
By recreating an authentic 200 m2 garden (a tiny version of the real-life fields, measuring roughly 20 ha) in the middle of the Tuileries Chanel sought to bring a tiny piece of la magique grassoise to the French capital. The legendary brand shed light on the most mysterious and mesmerizing moment related to the birth of its perfumes: cultivation of their main components, five graceful flowers. Jasmine of Grasse, for example, is inseparable from the legendary No°5 smell; its softness and richness is immediately associated with sophistication and elegance. Since the arrival of the scent, which took place in 1921, the generous aroma of jasmine has been worn by different generations of women – as a result, the spellbinding jasmine has graced thousands of them with a sense of self-confidence and unexplainable magnetism.
My regard turns to Rose de Mai, which has appeared in several perfumes of Chanel; notably Coco Mademoiselle. The unrivaled subtleness of its scent suits well the complexities of a young and developing feminine character. The flower itself is incredibly fragile: its blooming period doesn’t last longer than three weeks. It may not be the most extravagant or vivid of the roses, but it has an incredible olfactory force. Rose de Mai is an embodiment of a modest beauty, which doesn’t need to be wrapped in the layers of additional refinement; this characterization gently references Chanel’s idea of a beautiful and natural woman. On the other side of the spectrum resides the pretentious tuberose. Its smell is powerful, intoxicating, impossible to erase from the memory. It lends to a Gabrielle Chanel fragrance the desired effect of force and allure.
Among its companions, the modest geranium stands out for the fact that its lightly sweet and lemony scent doesn’t emanate from its blooms; rather from the leaves, which are also special for their serrated shape. Geranium is incredibly versatile and often disguises itself in different forms. Sometimes it reminds of fresh green apples; sometimes it causes less traditional ginger or peppery mint associations. Irises are also present a singular case: Chanel describes it as a “mute flower”, because its scent hides approximately ten centimeters below the ground, in its rhizome.
The small garden is a perfect study in nature’s contrasts; in order to translate its beauty in other sensory forms, it is vital to know how to take care of seemingly unromantic terrestrial matters. Olivier Polge, the house perfumer of Chanel, is fascinated by the fact that a perfume, something ephemeral and impalpable, comes from a very concrete and terrestrial work, which is cultivating and gathering masses of flowers. Knowing how to do it well is itself a form of art and Chanel proves it well.
Photo copyright: Chanel