Saturday, August 25, 2018

Travels In France, Part Three: Grasse, The Birthplace of Perfumery

I had a romantic view of my visit to Grasse. If Paris is the home to great perfumeries than Grasse is its heart. But various people gave discouraging views. "It's so industrial," said a friend who has a home not far away in the picture perfect town of Valbonne, which if these medieval villages went by hotel star rating systems would definitely be a five star. A hotelier who asked where we were going next wrinkled his nose and said, "You should have been ten years ago. Or twenty. Grasse has changed." Undeterred, myself and my patiently accommodating husband headed east toward Grasse. When we were about two kilometers from the city I bolted upright in my car seat, frantically rolling down the window, my nose quivering like my dog's when she smells a squirrel on her walk.

The air was full of scent of some unknown flower. We were driving into a cloud of scent. We were driving toward a SCENTED CITY! I was beside myself. In my imagination this was due to field after field of flowers, though unseen, out there somewhere. Later when I would find out that this is the scent the perfume factories emit when in production I was only slightly disappointed. It sure beats the smell of hops that used to emit from the Miller Brewery that I had the misfortune to live beside long ago in my very first apartment when I was twenty-one.

Our hotel  was a couple of kilometers outside the city and offered beautiful views of the surrounding countryside from the patio, and it was a great place to relax with a wine after a long day of touring.

Hotel La Bellaudiere, Grasse, France

The next morning we were almost the first ones in the parking garage at the Grasse tourist center, as no cars are allowed in the old part of the town and in fact would be unable to maneuver down the narrow lanes. As I set foot on the town square, which has small brass plaques with the Grasse emblem I felt a thrill. This was a big tick off my bucket list!

We found a coffee shop on the town square and as nothing was yet open we perused our options.

Most perfume shops don't open until eleven so the first stop would be the Musee International de la Parfumerie. I expected to spend a quick hour there, but it turned into an almost three hour visit. The exhibits were much more interesting than I had assumed, especially the first floor which highlights the early origins of perfumery, starting with the Greeks and the Egyptians.

Musee International de la Parfumerie de Grasse,

Museum exhibits traced the journey of perfumes from the earliest known origins to present day. Even my husband, who does not share my fascination with perfume, found much of interest. There was an exhibit on the origins of the perfume industry in Grasse and I learned that originally fragrance was used to scent the leather for gloves, as Grasse was the center for providing quality leather to the ancient glove making industry. It was in the twelfth century Grasse first became known for its tanneries but an unpleasant side effect was the strong and unpleasant stench which was a byproduct  associated with the tanning of leather. Grasse traded with its nearby neighbor, Italy, and over time the leather became popular to produce gloves. The wealthy and royal families who could afford fine gloves did not like the bad scent so eventually the practice of perfuming the leather came into being. The popularity of this practice was ensured when the family Galimard, Grasse tanners, presented Catherine de Medici in Italy with a pair of perfumed gloves. She came to France to marry Henry, Duke of Orleans, who would eventually become King of France, and her influence helped spread the popularity of scented gloves. Even Queen Elizabeth in England adopted wearing the gloves. Below is painting where she is clutching her gloves which were a prized possession.

Google image.

L'Artisan Parfumeur Bucoliques De Provence was introduced in 2016 as the first in a new series of perfumes highlighting various distinct regions of France, and fittingly Grasse, the spiritual home of French fragrance, was first. Bucoliques De Provence was not the lavender and citrus combine I had imagined it would be before trying. The perfume features lavender, iris, and leather and is meant to refer to the leather industry that preceded perfumery, and in fact brought the fragrance industry to Grasse. The lavender opens the perfume but it is not sharp antiseptic lavender but herbal and fresh; in fact it took me a moment to realize I was smelling lavender as it is so softened. It feels a bit earthy as the iris root begins to enter and I love the iris and lavender combination. The leather note comes in and changes the scent to a soft suede skin scent. Most L'Artisan scents are fairly muted on my skin and this one is no exception; however it is a soothing and beautiful scent. It reminds me a little of Penhaligon's Iris Prima with its iris and leather combo but the lavender gives Bucolique De Provence a pleasant depth. This would equally suit men or women. I like that L'Artisan did something a bit unexpected for a perfume with the name Provence in it, referencing leather rather than a sunny lavender field or fields of rose and jasmine. As the perfume develops the lavender fades on my skin and it becomes a floral, musky leather. If leather is an uncomfortable note for you this would be a good one to try; the leather note is light and well done. One other thing to note: in my travels when talking with other perfumers, L'Artisan is the one brand that got mentioned as a perfumer I should check out and that they appreciated. I found that interesting.

Walking the twisted cobbled streets of Grasse led to fragrant shops and quaint restaurants. I was surprised how few name brand perfumeries have a presence in Grasse, and the big name brands are completely absent. The majority of the shops were more tourist oriented with distilled lavender or homemade soaps. It does seem that there is the beginning of a movement in Grasse to bring back more niche perfumeries.

My next post will be about perfumes by Olivier Durbano, as I was lucky enough to meet and have an interview with him while in Grasse. However there was a perfume shop which I kept missing the opening times, and now that I'm back home I feel like an idiot for not making it happen. This was  Micallef Perfumes which has a storefront on the main square in Grasse.

M. Micallef  was launched in Grasse in 1996 by co-founders Martine Micallef and Geoffrey Nejman. From humble beginnings, the brand can now be found in over 900 location points. M. Micallef is known for having some beautiful and luxurious bottles, an offering which perhaps coincides with their entry into the Middle Eastern market. Despite their burgeoning popularity and points of sale, the brand has remained true to its beginnings in Grasse and its door is just off the main square. They have numerous offerings but as roses is a flower crop for which Grass is renowned and I happen to quite like one of the brand's rose perfumes, I chose it to review.

The Roses of Heliogabalus, painted by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema in 1888.

This is a painting I saw in the International Perfume Museum de Grasse. I assume I must have seen a replica as Wikipedia says it is owned by a Spanish billionaire. It is reported that artist Alma-Tadema had rose petals sent each week from the south of France for the four months he spent painting this commissioned work. The painting illustrates a (probably fictional) incident in the life of Roman emperor Elagabalus, when he supposedly released a torrent of petals from a false ceiling onto his dinner guests, smothering some who were unable to crawl from beneath the mass of flower petals. It seems unlikely but it's a good story.

I post this picture because this is how M. Micallef Rose Extreme strikes me on first spray. It as if diving head first into a cart of rose petals and being overcome by the opulence of the smell. The rose is accompanied by osmanthus which here smells like a honeyed apricot and is a beautiful partner to the note of peach. These notes, along with what smells like a luscious and high quality rose oil make this a juicy, almost boozy, fragrant treat. It reminds me a little of the rose ice cream I had a couple of times in Provence. The ice cream was yummy and so is this fragrance.

Fragonard Parfumeur has a huge presence in France and particularly in Grasse. They have a simpler and smaller museum related to perfume and one can also tour the factory to see how perfume is produced.

Photo of Fragonard Parumerie in Grasse,

For the most part Fragonard seems to make lighter perfumes, often featuring a single note, that are fresh and easy to wear. The bottles often have appealing and vivid artwork and in their shop they had many cute gift bags that would appeal to the casual tourist who doesn't have a huge interest in perfume but wants a perfumed gift. Every year Fragonard features a note and for 2018 that note is Verveine.

Just down the street from the Fragonard shop is the Musee Fragonard, featuring artwork by Jean-Honore Fragonard, 1732-1806. Jean-Honore's father was a glove maker but he was sent to an art academy when his talent became apparent at a young age. Fragonard would go on to paint in the Rococo style, featuring scenes of fabulously dressed subjects partaking in various manner of flirtation. The French revolution put an end to the popularity of this style of frivolity and it would only be many years after his death that his paintings were once again appreciated. Below is a portrait that hangs in the museum.

Jeune fille deliverant un oiseuau du sa cage, Jean-Honore Fragonard, 1770-1772

If you are visiting Grasse you can also tour museums at Molinard and Gallimard, but unfortunately my time in Grasse ran out before I was able to visit.

I couldn't end a post about Grasse without mentioning a perfume I have worn for years, DSH Perfumes Parfum de Grasse; in fact, it was one of my earliest acquisitions from the talented Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's line. Dawn is an American perfumer, not French, but like many before her she was inspired when she visited the city which is the birthplace of perfumes. Dawn says that her visit to the south of France also happened to be on her honeymoon!

"We visited Grasse in May, during the rose festival, and were lucky enough to get a behind-the-scenes tour of Grasse, which included a trip to the fields of roses and jasmine grown exclusively for Chanel," said Dawn. "The orange blossom trees were in bloom, as were the mimosa and cassia trees. It was the most magical day and that is what I wished to portray in Parfum De Grasse."

Dawn says on her website that Parfums de Grasse is, "A Hymn. A homage to the City of Perfumes." I love when Dawn does vintage and this perfume definitely has that vintage feel of fine French perfume. The opening it a dazzling shaft of light presented in the form of bergamot that smells as if it has been distilled into a rich golden chardonnay wine. The very French note of mimosa flower is in the opening as well, along with neroli. I find the mimosa faint, just adding a honeyed sweetness. Floral notes of carnation, rose, iris, and jasmine slowly creep in, but it is the rose and carnation which will have the biggest presence, at least to my nose. The structure is enveloped in a French beeswax which smells so true to life, with that musky sweetness and honeyed effect. Base notes of Brazilian vetiver, sandalwood, and oakmoss round off the classic feel of this fragrance. The notes in Parfum de Grasse give a nod to typical French-style notes: rose, jasmine, and mimosa. The bergamot opening and the oakmoss finish give the perfume a chypre structure, minus the labdanum. This is a perfume I put on to feel polished to perfection and a little dressy. It's more subtle on me than the notes might sound, but deeply beautiful. This perfume is 98 percent botanical.

A final thought, how cool is this? Walking down a lane towards the Fragonard museum this perfumed mist was dispersing a veil of scent from above.

Please read more about perfumed travels in France at Part One or Part Two.

All perfumes my own. All photos my own unless otherwise labeled.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Travels In France, Part Two: Provence

The hillside town of Gordes. 

As a person who appreciates perfume you may have had the desire to travel to Paris, the home of so many famous perfume houses. On my trip to France we eventually ended up in Paris; I'll get to that in later posts, but today I want to talk about the delights of travel in Provence and how (minus the airfare) affordable it can be. Many of us that are fascinated by scent have cross interests such as the appreciation of food or wine, art, literature, or love of plants and nature. Maybe all of these are not your interests but I think that in general people who can appreciate the nuances of a fine perfume can also recognize the subtle differences between a glass of red wine or the beauty of a garden estate. Like painters, once you tune into the minutia of everyday life you can find beauty everywhere in the smallest details of life. In today's world full of discord it is important to feed your soul, and for me that means reminders of the good things that humankind is capable of, be that listening to a stringed quartet perform in an ancient church or enjoying a beautiful painting or even people-watching from a sidewalk cafe.

My husband and I started our travels in the Vaucluse and the Alpes De Haute Provence areas, and later explored some of the hill towns near Grasse. We booked lodging through a combination of AirBnB,, and Most of our rooms, while not luxurious, offered beautiful views and were less expensive than a stay at a U.S.-based chain hotel, which as we all know have a charm factor of zero. This was our view in Fontaine-De-Vaucluse, a small town straddling a crystal clear spring-fed river and in close proximity to the nearby lavender fields.

Good morning! The view from our small restaurant/B&B in Fontaine -De-Vaucluse. 

A riverside restaurant in Fontaine De Vaucluse

The Provencal town of Lourmarin. Photo

The towns in Provence have markets on varying days, so in theory one can find an available market somewhere not too distant if spending at least a couple of days in the area. Here are some of the sights from a Sunday market we visited in beautiful L'Isle-Sur-La-Sorgue.

Quaint hidden squares exist in many cities but I think the most beautiful were in Aix-en-Provence.

You can't help but stumble across a winery every few miles. There is Chateauneuf-de-Pape and Gigondas for reds, estates with whites and rose wines scattered throughout the south of Provence, the Bandol wine region near Cassis; the choices are endless. 

Photo by Jean-Louis-Zimmermann, flickr

We adopted the French manner of lunching while in Provence. Late lazy lunches in outdoor cafes in small hill top towns. The food was delectable and fresh and the sensible half carafes of house wine were cold, refreshing, and cheap as chips. We decided France keeps all their best wine for themselves, and why not? We almost always ordered house wines and they were always wonderful.

Salad Nicoise and Salad with Camerbert.

Platter Provencal with local delicacies.

If you are a history buff there are Roman ruins rivaling those found in Italy. If you love art you can see the areas that inspired famous painters such as Vincent Van Gogh or Cezanne and view some of their works in the small museums in the area. 

So what perfumes are reminiscent of the Provencal region? I've talked about lavender which is the most obvious. But there are other scents that remind me of my travels and here are just a small number of those.

Most of our accommodation were rooms above restaurants or rooms in small hotels but I wanted to stay in a chateau-type accommodation for the experience, however I didn't want to pay the steep prices most of these gorgeous-looking places would require. I found Chateau Valmousse not too far off the route we would be traveling and it was much more affordable, maybe because of its location which was a bit removed from the main tourist towns. It was quiet...I think we may have been the only guests....but lovely, and I enjoyed the tall windows opening up to views of the stately grounds and absorbing the rarefied air and experience of how a few lucky people lived two or three hundred years ago.

Chateau de Valmousse, near Aix en Provence.

A perfume that immediately came to mind to encapsulate in smell this experience is Vie de Chateau Nicolai Parfumeur. My bottle is the older version and today the Intense version is the only one available but I think they are much the same. The perfume opens with a honeyed green scent with bright notes of bergamot and grapefruit mixing with herbal notes of thyme and tarragon to add a piquant spark. It begins to morph from green grass to hay fields with mild touches of tobacco as notes of hay, vetiver, fern, tobacco, and musk make their appearance. The base notes of  oakmoss and patchouli ground the perfume, giving the scent a certain stateliness. It is classified as a Woody scent but to me it has aspects of the fougere and chypre types as well. Vie de Chateua does make me envision oak paneled walls in a library, shelves lined with books reaching three times my height; shutters lining long windows that open to bucolic views of a long tree lined driveway and expansive green grounds; a grand staircase rising gracefully to the private upper quarters; and surrounding fields echoing the gentle country life found in times past. This perfume is coming to the front of my cupboard as autumn approaches!

Vincent Van Gogh painting Noon:Rest After Work

This painting by Vincent Van Gogh, which I would later see in Musee d'Orsay in Paris, exemplifies the era and place brought to life in the perfumes mentioned above and below. Van Gogh lived and eventually died in the Provence area and to say it was a huge influence on his paintings is an understatement.

Chanel No 19 was named after Coco Chanel's birthday which was August 19, so happy birthday today, Coco! It was introduced in 1970 when she was 87 years old, a year before her death. Although the notes in this perfume are very different from the Nicolai Parfumeur Vie de Chateau, they are both reminiscent of French country life dotted with patchwork fields yellow with hay and green with grass. Chanel No 19 opens green, very green. It is the galbanum, which I love, bring it on! But it's also fuzzy with shady moss yet at the same time bright with shafts of light. This is the magic of chypre-like perfumes, and although Chanel No 19 is not strictly a chypre--it has no labdanum--it is imbued with the back-in-time-glamour that this category of scent provides. It envokes a feeling of walking through the trees, and you get the leaves and the damp mossy forest floor. But then a shaft of light shears through the branches and you see a spider web glistening with dew-like diamonds and illuminated foliage. The smell of hay is in the distance. All of this is cloaked in that air of sophistication that the early Chanel perfumes always provide. Of course the iris orris root is a major player in this perfume. My bottle of Chanel No 19 gets buried in the back of the perfume cupboard and I always forget how much I love it until I pull it out and spray. Years ago I decided to purchase the EDT, not the EDP, after trying both. The reason why escapes me but I think I found the EDT greener and brighter. I love this perfume especially for wear in autumn and winter.

Photo from

Caudalie is a French brand that has built their natural skin care products around the anti-oxidant power of grapes. Caudalie Fleur de Vigne  was introduced in 2002 as "a stroll through the vines" and the website says the flower blooms 110 days before the grape harvest and lasts just a few days. The scent is light and fleeting, just like the life cycle of the flower. It has a long list of notes but I'm not going to bother with them because none stand out when you smell the scent. The overall feel I get is fresh, clean water. There is a slight green feel to the scent, and although citrus notes are listed I do not smell them. Fleur de Vigne mimics the smell of grapes, which is admittedly very faint and takes a bit of imagination, and it is a wonderful water scent with none of that chemical ozonic smell that often typifies aquatic scents. It ends on a fresh musk note. This is good for men or women and the only complaints seem to be longevity. I would say this is a nice scent for people who don't want to smell like "perfume", who work in an office environment and want something pleasing but inoffensive, or someone who likes to give their olafactory senses a break but can't totally forgo scent.

Roger & Gallet is a brand that I remember from my youth and it used to be easier to find back then in the US. Judging by comments that appear from time to time on fragrance chat sites I am not alone in my longing for their carnation soap, round and wrapped in pleated paper, which used to be readily available. It disappeared during the era when carnation fell out of favor as being too old fashioned. Roger & Gallet  was founded in 1862 but its origins stretch all the way back to 1806 which is when Jean Marie Farina introduced a cologne, the formula coming from his great grand uncle who produced it in the 1700s. It is still sold today and known as Extra Vieille. Napolean was a fan and it is said that Josephine commissioned a slender vial of the cologne that he could slip into his boot and carry with him on battle campaigns.

I had wondered why Roger & Gallet seemed to disappear from US store shelves a decade ago and it turns out that is when it was bought by L'Oreal. One would think this would have given the brand a push, and I do believe that the line was modernized and revamped for European markets. Here in the US its presence mainly consisted of the resell of old bottles on discount websites or Amazon vendors. I found the ad below with its nymph-like Marie Antoinette characters fun to watch, and perhaps its a hopeful sign that L'Oreal is finally ready to invest some interest in this company

I had heard about Fleur De Figuier from online discussions in the fragrance community so I made a point of looking for it in a Paris pharmacy. The fragrance was created in 2013 and I was surprised to learn the perfumer was Francis Kurkdijian. They have a new concentration (or at least new to me) called Fragrant Wellbeing Water. It's the perfect name because the initial spray is very fragrant but it is still sheer and airy, and it truly does bring a smile of "wellbeing" to my face. I may regret not buying the edp version of this which was introduced in 2015, but this one just smelled so good on the warm summer day. It is very figgy, with fig nectar, fig leaf, and fig. There is a sweetness to this scent but it is a natural fruit sweetness and therefore earthy and warm. This scent is yummy but not overpowering. Roger & Gallet fragrances are not spendy and are readily available throughout Europe, can be found in Asia, and are mostly available on Amazon in the US. Please let me know if you have another US-based source.

In addition I also purchased Feuille De Figuier, introduced in 2018, which is more about the fig leaf and thus loses the sweetness of the fig itself. Here the fig is green and dry, not yet ripe and dripping with sap,  It is meant to evoke "a stroll through a sun soaked garden under the shadow of fig trees". The perfumer is Mathilde Bijaoui, a name I thought sounded familiar, and I realized she is responsible for the 2018-spring limited edition Jo Malone line English Fields featuring grain notes. This was the first of the limited editions I fell for in some time and I wrote about it here. This scent is quieter than the Fleur version and reminds me of a walk through an especially fragrant woods with dry leaves underfoot and the occasional shaft of sunlight disturbing the quiet reverie. Notes are bergamot, mandarin, galbanum, neroli, fig leaf, benjoin, and cedarwood. It becomes very subtle fairly quickly but for the cost, go ahead and respray.

I keep mentioning cost, but one thing that really struck me while I was in France was how many brands of fragrance were available in the pharmacies featuring lighter versions, either EDT or EDC. They were uniformly beautiful fragrances for a very pleasing cost. Here is a photo from one such store. I did try a couple of sprays of the brand below but it seemed that every day in France I had about ten sprays up and down my arms so I wasn't able to get a clear enough impression to write a review. I do remember that I really liked the ones from this line that I tried.

The last note I'm going to mention is Verveine, or verbena as it is known in English. The sharp citrus smell would make one believe that perfumes with this note must have bergamot, neroli, lemon, or some such note. However verveine is a herbaceous woody flowering plant. My first introduction to this note years ago was through the L'Occitane line and I still have a little bottle of  L'Occitane Verbena which I spray on hot days when I need a pick-me-up. It is akin to a cold cloth pressed on the forehead to revive on a warm summer day. I went into a couple of L'Occitane shops in our travels and it seems that they offered a larger inventory in Europe than they do in the US. Is it my imagination or did L'Occitane used to offer a larger selection of perfumes in the US?

Fragonard shops are ubiquitous in France, or at least in Provence. Every town of any size seemed to have one. I prefer their simpler perfumes that concentrate on a single note rather than their more complex scents. They have made an art of attractive packaging combined with affordable pricing. Every year Fragonard picks a signature scent and this year it happens to be verveine. I smelled the new scent, Fragonard Verveine, and it has the familiar citrus-like opening found in all verbena-based scents. If you like lemony freshness you will probably enjoy this scent.

If you like the idea of verbena scents but want something with a bit more sophistication, try Le Jardin Retrouve's Verveine d'Ete, which combines the bracing fresh opening of verveine with herbal notes of basil and eucalyptus and deeper notes of oakmoss and vetiver. I reviewed the entire Le Jardin Retrouve line here.

I hope you've enjoyed this trip through Provence. If you would like to read more go to Part One.

All photos my own unless otherwise indicated, except Fragonard photo from their website. All perfumes my own.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Travels In France, Part One: Everything Is Lavender

Looking down on lavender field from town of Sault, France

When I envisioned visiting Provence during lavender season I pictured myself walking down military straight rows of blueish purple stalks, breathing in air so calming as to induce a state of somnambulance. The effect would be so strong I would struggle to resist dropping into the crunchy stalks, curling my body into the fragrant clumps and drifting off to sleep like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, overcome in the field of poppies  I would bury my face in large bundles of lavender to inhale the deep calming scent. There would be patchwork quilt fields of lavender and green, spreading as far as the eye could see.

We traveled in the first two weeks of July, picked as a time to avoid some of the larger tourist crowds but still be able to see the lavender blooming. The sight was as beautiful as I had imagined but what did surprise me as I stood beside a sea of lavender was the smell. I had expected to be enveloped in scent as if I was in a huge, outdoor spa, but the reality was that the scent was subtle. It wasn't until I actually plucked a bud from the top of a lavender spike that I got my wish. As I crushed the tiny fragrant balls that make up the gorgeous blue stalks these few tiny buds created a trail of strong scent as if I had uncorked some genie bottle and released a magical elixir. I suspect that later in the growing season, late July and early August when the lavender is almost ready to harvest, the scent may have been stronger. Nevertheless, it was one of the most beautiful places I've ever experienced and it was worth the trade off to have the view relatively to ourselves.

Fulfilling my wish to be knee-deep in lavender.

The first lavender field I spotted was off the side of the A6, as my husband and I neared the end of our long drive from Charles De Gaulle Airport to our first stop in Orange. It was only one small patch but engendered an ecstatic reaction from me. We were approaching the heart of lavender country and after a couple of days viewing historical Roman ruins around Orange, we drove east toward the Luberon. This area of Southern France is sprinkled with ancient hilltop villages, each more charming than the next, and the drive is often punctuated with an unexpected lavender field as you round a bend. One village that seems to be the epicenter of all this lavender activity is Sault.

This is the part of France we located ourselves in to view lavender. Sault is in the middle of the map.

We were staying in a charming medieval town called Vaison-la-Romaine and we traveled south to Mt. Ventoux, a high peak with fantastic 360 degree views. On a clear day you can supposedly see the Swiss Alps in one direction and the Mediterranean Sea in the other. It is on every serious bicyclists bucket list, and we passed many with bulging quads struggling up the mountain, then later flying down the other side. This route's inclusion in the Tour-de-France has granted it some renown. After viewing as much as we could see on a cloudy day, we made our way south to the little town of Sault.

A lavender shop in Sault.

Sault sits atop a ridge and the cooler climate is ideal for growing lavender. The town consists of two long streets, anchored by a restaurant offering a scenic view of the lavender fields below. Every other shop is selling lavender or confectioneries. Lavender oils, lavender soaps, lavender sachets, lavender honey and bundles of fresh lavender adorn the shelves of local shops.

Just a kilometer outside the town is one of the area's most charming and rustic lavender distilleries, Aroma Plantes Distillerie. These distilleries, some small family-owned affairs and others larger and more commercial, are scattered throughout the lavender producing region. I am not going to give a long explanation of the distillation process, but steam distillation is preferred for producing high quality lavender oil. Later we visited another distillery, Les Agnels, near the town of Buoux. Here is a distillation vat, waiting to be loaded with the lavender.

Here is a drawing of the steam distillation process. The fine oil eventually comes out the top and the water and oil collected from below is used in hydrosols.

There are different grades of lavender. The highest quality is lavandula angustifolia, commonly referred to as English lavender. This produces aromatherapy grade oils which have many therapeutic uses, and these plants produce less oil than some other grades of lavender, thus it is more expensive. Its habitat is higher, cooler climates and it is different from other lavenders and that it contains no camphor, thus having a particularly sweet smell.

Lavender gifts for sale in a Sault shop.

Spike lavender (lavandula latifolia) is mainly grown in France and Spain for essential oil uses. It is grown at lower altitudes and produces much more oil at distillation. It contains the highest percentage of camphor and thus can smell slightly medicinal or antiseptic.

Lavandin is a hybrid produced by combing the two lavender varieties above. It is highly scented but produces a greater amount of oil, thus it is widely cultivated by lavender growers. It is commonly used to scent soaps, cleaning products, face products, and perfumery. It also contains camphor.

Lavender's use dates back 2000 years. It was used by the Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks. They valued it for medicinal purposes, as well as using it to scent the body and to scent bathing water. During the Renaissance it gained popularity as an antidote to battle the plague. Lavender has some insect repellent properties, and the fleas on rats are what caused the infestation. English royalty advanced the popularity of lavender during the Victorian era. Queen Victoria had lavender scattered around the castle floors so that the scent was released as it was stepped on. This is where the association of lavender with cleanliness and purity began.

I wore several different lavender perfumes when I was in Provence. I appreciate the addition of lavender to more complex perfumes to amp up the deepness and richness, but here I am going to concentrate on perfumes that are mainly all about the lavender note, if not quite soliflores.

Taken in a shop in Aix-en-Provence.

I'll start with some lavender perfumes that emphasize the herbal aspects of the plant. I think naturals are often better at catching these nuances so most of these are natural perfumes.

Phoenix Botanicals Lavender Noir starts with a blast of pure lavender but quickly morphs into a smokey lavender tinged perfume. It feels rustic, like a trip to the country. Picture yourself in an old stone cabin surrounded by forest. It's cold and you need to get the fire glowing. You throw a bundle of dried lavender into the fire and for a few moments the lavender mingles with the  smoke creating a fragrant aroma.

Later the smoke dissipates and there is a smattering of gentle wildflowers, but lavender still takes the lead, as she can't help being a bit of a diva. The lavender is rich and feels complex. This perfume imparts a feeling of calm and serenity in me.

On the Phoenix Botanical website it's stated that the perfume is inspired "by harvesting the flowers, burning freshly dried lavender spikes for incense, and late summer naps on the forest floor." Notes include bergamot, lavender, wildflower petals, tonka, smoke, mushrooms, and oakmoss.

Irina Adams describes herself as artist, herbalist, forager, and natural perfumer and she is the creative behind Phoenix Botanicals, which she founded in 2007. Everything in the shop is made by hand and is 100% natural and organically sourced. Irina espouses the beauty and healing property of plants.

Ajne deLavande is another natural perfume from a perfumery based in Carmel, California. Ajne deLanande at first spray is the most delicious herbal lavender. It's like falling headfirst into a row of ready-to-harvest lavender. It is deep and luxuriant and has a little of that r e l a x a t i o n quotient that lavender is known for. If this were a color it would be the deepest of blues.

The perfume presentation is in ornate bottles which makes these perfumes feel like a real treasure in your hands.  The perfumer's inspiration was actually the lavender fields of Provence.This perfume has herbal characteristics but this is softened by the use of sweeter notes. Vanilla, almond tree, and powdery notes are used to make the lavender not too strident or overbearing. The lavender oils come from France, Bulgaria, and Carmel and like many of these perfumes, you can smell the high quality of the lavender oils used in the composition.

Roxana Illuminated Perfumes Vera was for many years my holy grail lavender scent. I still have a little perfume left in the tin of solid perfume I bought probably eight years ago. I remember I had a small vial of the liquid version of Vera which was a gorgeous elixir but it was ultimately the solid version which I purchased, after sampling both. Even after all this time this is potent and application of this solid perfume brings about an almost instant "ahhhh" of relaxation and engenders a sense of quietness in me. This is the most herbal of all the lavenders I have listed here, and the white sage mixes beautifully with the lavender. I can only imagine what a new fresh Vera would smell like.

Since I last dove into Roxana's world she's made some major changes. She's moved from her magical  abode near Ojai in California, where she grew herbs and tended bees whose honey she harvested to make her potions, to a new inspiring location near Santa Fe, New Mexico. She and her artist husband Greg Spalenka are wonderfully creative, and to me Roxana has always seemed like some sort of delicate woodland sprite, spinning beauty from whatever she touches. Her packaging is the most exquisite I've ever received and a bee is her symbol which she uses as a wax sealed decorative touch on her packages and samples. I am sure these new surroundings will inspire creative ventures and I can't wait to see what develops. Meanwhile, hopefully, Vera hasn't changed at all, because frankly, it is perfect.

Botany's Daughter by Gather Perfume is sold on the Etsy site which is full of handcrafted and homemade goods. This lavender perfume has a different slant than the one's above with it's addition of linden for a honeyed note. The addition of cardomom and nutmeg, just a touch, add a dry spice note and bergamot gives a slight citrus effect. The perfumer says this smells like a Provencal countryside. For those who find lavender too sharp or pungent, you will find that this lavender has been softened without adding any sweet notes. It is very wearable and pretty.

A lavender field near Sault, France.

Rania J Lavande 44 is seemingly a lavender in the classic fougere tradition, but this is Rania J, after all and she brings an Eastern influence to a very traditional Western scent family. Lavande 44 opens with notes of petitgrain, bergamot, and lavender. As she has with her other perfumes I've tried, Cuir Andalou reviewed here and Jasmine Kama reviewed here, this Eastern influence from Rania's early years spent in the Middle East and Africa adds an unexplored facet. As Lavande 44 develops on my skin it becomes more hypnotic which is probably the labdanum, because in my opinion a little labdanum makes everything better. There is also just a whisper of oud, not always apparent, so if like me this is a note that doesn't always work for you, don't be put off. It is a delicate touch and only pops up from time to time. If you would like a similar lavender perfume, minus the Eastern twist, Histoires de Parfum Casanova reviewed here is worthy of attention.

Moving away from herbal lavenders, let's talk about MEM by Bogue Profumo. The first time I sampled this perfume I hated it. The second time I loved it. Look up the reviews; Kafkaesque blog discusses it in far more detail than I have time for here, but the reviews are all over the place. Looking at the list of notes: petitgrain, mandarin, grapefruit, four different lavenders, ylang ylang, lily of the valley, champaca, jasmine, rose, geranium, peppermint, laurel, vanilla, benzoin, rosewood, sandalwood, cedarwood, ambergris, labdanum, musk, amber, and most importantly catoreum and civet; one might ask, is this even a lavender perfume? It is certainly not a soliflore...obviously...but for me the lavender is the defining note throughout. There is a moment at the beginning when the civet and castoreum, supposedly base notes yet here they are in the first five minutes, take me on a wild ride that I'm not sure I'll safely survive. These notes, along with the champaca, jasmine, rosewood, benzoin, and others bring to mind my beloved perfumes that make me think of my years in India. They are always over the top, they push boundaries, and they border on being feral. Yet they somehow capture the exuberance, color, and vividness of life in this amazing country. I have never seen lavender used in an "Indian perfume", and let me make clear that this was not the perfumer's vision, it's just how it strikes me. It's as if the Indian subcontinent is in its DNA. After the animal notes die down I begin to smell the many other notes, sort of like a talent show with multiple acts, but throughout it is the lavender that sings to me. In no circumstances should you blind buy this perfume! It has a big personality.

Vero Profumo Kiki Eau de Parfum is another lavender perfume with an odd twist. It was introduced in 2010 as an offshoot from the Kiki Parfum Extrait from 2007. This perfume was created as an homage to Man Ray's muse and model, Kiki de Montparnasse and in the eau de parfum, a surprising blast of passion fruit is a surreal and unexpected addition to lavender, which is considered a traditional scent by most, and stodgy by some. The passion fruit is juicy and very identifiable and for a moment overtakes what can be the strong scent of lavender. The addition of caramel and musk turn this into a slightly sweet but not overly gourmand as the fragrance takes shape and blooms. The passion fruit note lasts about as long as if you cut into the fruit and ate it, not long, but it adds an interesting aura while it lasts. I haven't tried the parfum extrait, which has fruit notes, but not passion fruit. Those who find straight up lavender a bit boring may prefer this but I'm a bit of a purist and while nice, it's not my preferred lavender scent.

Google image.

Serge Lutens Gris Clair is perhaps a lavender that even non-lavender lovers could appreciate. It's name translates to light grey, and subtlety is its fingerprint. It starts out with the chill of fragrant greenish lavender. There is a tiny bit of incense, but for me this smells more like smoke from a very distant campfire. Eventually notes of iris and tonka bean come into play, and the tonka bean really sweetens and tames the lavender. Though slightly sweet it in no way approaches gourmand. The scent matches its namesake; light grey rather than vibrant purple. Everything about it is buffed and softened so as not to call attention to the scent, but rather to drape the body in a soft cashmere wrap of scent.

Serge Lutens Encens et Lavande was introduced in 1996, a full ten years before Gris Clair and has always been a Paris exclusive. It's composition is simple; lavender and incense. The lavender is life like and honeyed. The incense speaks of cold stones in majestic buildings and curls of light incense rising to vaulted heights. The two notes seemed used in equal parts so that neither dominates and each subdues the other. It is not complex but I prefer it's simplicity above the slightly sweeter Gris Clair. The perfume reminds me of this photo I took of Abbey de Senaque near the beautiful hilltop town of Gault. The Abbey which was originally founded in 1148 is one of the most visited and photographed sites in the lavender region and there were a couple of tour buses when we were there, everyone vying for that perfect lavender photo opp. The purple lavender and the cool stones of the Abbey perfectly illustrate Encens et Lavande.

Penhaligon's Lavandula starts with that medicinal  lavender smell which I actually find quite bracing and refreshing. Green basil and black pepper accent the herbal aspects of the lavender. This perfume doesn't go for the rich depth of the scent, but centers around the more sharp aromatic aspects. Penhaligon's claims to use lavender from the Lavandula area of France which is 1000 feet elevation and the lavender is supposed to be highly fragrant due to the cooler climate. I sometimes get a slight soapiness from this but it doesn't detract from the aroma of the lavender.

I could go on and on, there are so many lavender perfumes, but to me these lavenders are a good representation of what I saw and smelled in Provence. What are your favorite lavender-centric perfumes?

For Part Two go here. Click on these for Part Three, Part FourPart FivePart SixPart Seven Part Eight

All photos my own unless noted. All perfumes my own.