History of Grasse Newsletter: Part 2
"After passing Frejus and St. Raphael, the train passed through a veritable garden, a paradise of roses, and groves of oranges and lemons covered with fruits and flowers at the same time. That delightful coast from Marseilles to Genoa is a kingdom of perfumes in a home of flowers.
June is the time to see it in all its beauty, when in every narrow valley and on every slope, the most exquisite flowers are growing luxuriantly. And the roses! fields, hedges, groves of roses. They climb up the walls, blossom on the roofs, hang from the trees, peep out from among the bushes; they are white, red, yellow, large and small, single, with a simple self-colored dress, or full and heavy in brilliant toilettes.
Their breath makes the air heavy and relaxing, and the still more penetrating odor of the orange blossoms sweetens the atmosphere till it might almost be called the refinement of odor." Guy de Maupassant, Short Stories
With the dawn of the nineteenth century, the aromatic landscape of Grasse began to change rapidly. Much of Europe was beginning to feel the effects of a whole change in which work was done. Prior to the the nineteenth century much of day-to-day life was governed by the various guilds and their craftsman but with the advent of new technologies that could do certain types of work more efficiently on a larger scale the guild system begin to loose its power and be replaced by an economic modality centered around factories and mass production technologies which in historical terms came to be known as the Industrial Revolution.
In Grasse and the surrounding environments new technologies began to emerge for the processing of aromatic raw materials like solvent extraction for producting concretes and absolutes, enfluerage for producing pomades and hot maceration for producing fragrant extracts. Equipment was rapildy designed and developed that could handle large amounts of aromatic materials as well so that Grasse could meet the growing demands for fine essences both in Europe and overseas markets.
The hot maceration technique(enfleurage a chaud) had its roots in ancient history as the Eyptians and other early civilizations discovered that by emmersing aromatic materials in hot fat, the odiferous qualities of the plants could be extracted. The French extractors took the ancient techniques discovered hundreds if not thousands of years before and refined it for large scale production of pommades.
Their method was to heat about 100 lbs of purified fat of animal or vegetable origin (called corps) to 176 degrees farenheit into which was poured 44 lbs of fresh flowers. The charge would be allowed to sit in the hot macerated oil for about 1/2 hour and then the entire batch was allowed to cool for another hour. The mass would then be reheated and the spent flowers strained out through metal sieves and filter bags. As the flowers retained some of the waxes they would be treated with scalding water while in the sieves which would liquify the fat. The water being lighter than the fat would easily separate from the fat. A further step for removing the aromatic fat was accomplished by putting the flowers between filter cloth and placed in a hydraulic press and submitted to strong pressure. Scalding water was thrown on to the bags during the process so that all remaining fat adhereing to the flowers was separated out. This process was repeated 5 to 6 times with new flowers being added to the fat that gradually became impregnated with the odor of the flowers. Orange blossoms, rose de mai, violets , cassie and several other flowers were treated in this way.
After the pommade from hot maceration was created, it would be emmersed in alcohol in large closed -copper vessels(Battuese) which were heavily tinned inside. These were equipped with a strong stirring paddel around a vertical shaft. Several of these copper vessels were arranged in sequence and stirrers of each battery were driven by a powerful motor. This work was usually conducted in the winter months in cool cellars to prevent excessive evaporation of the alcohol. The pommades in the batteuses were stirred for several days allowing maximum interplay between the dissolved pommade and the alcohol. At the end of the stirring process the aromatic solution(pommade plus alcohol was put in refridgerated unit (5 degrees fahrenheit) at which point most of the waxes of the pommade precipitated out. This produced what was called an alcoholic "extrait" and in many cases this was the form in which the essence was used because it very closely represented the odor of the flower. Also the preservative nature of alcohol kept the essence from going rancide. The quantity of alcohol used was calculated to produce 1 kilo of extrait for every kilo of pommade, Further processing was sometimes done to produce the absolute from maceration and since there are some waxes in the pommade that were alcohol soluble and did not precipitate out in chilling the solution, the fatty note they possessed remerged in the absolute producing the off note which sometimes went rancid as mentioned before.
This method was employed extensively during the era before highly purified volative solvents came into existence. It was a time consuming, labor intensive, and cumbersome technique but served a good purpose until better methods could be found.
A yet more refined process was employed for extraction of flowers like jasmin and tuberose which continue to give off their aroma for many hours after being picked. This technique was practiced alongside that of hot maceration and even today is practiced on a very moderate scale.
Processing the jasmine flowers was the most delicate problem of the aromatic raw materials industry. "Enfleurage"(cold saturation) the standard treatment, gave a better output in terms of quality and quantity. In fact, the fragile nature of the jasmine excluded the use of traditional processes such as maceration or distillation. It was the process which most faithfully restored the scent of the flowers.
"Enfleurage works in a manner closest, relatively speaking, to the olfactroy tract itself of the mucus membranes of our noses, where the surfaces absorb the sweet-smelling fragrances given off by the flowers one is smelling for a very short period of tiem. Our olfactory tract does not suddenly make contact with all the main aromas of the flowers by braking open fragrant cells, and the fat used in the saturation process also works like the mucous membranes by taking in their sweet smelling fragrances, almost without being in contact with the flowers, up to the point where these fragrances are no longer given off." Parfums de France
An essentially female workforce carried out this cold saturation work. They began by preparing the fat, a mixuture of beef tallow and lard, washed, poured off on to canvas and cast in moulds. It was heated in a steam still until completely melted, and diluted with benzoin and alum. The fat was poured into copper kettles, and stirred until in thickened and was set aside until the time when it was used in wooden containers covered thereafter with tinfoil. This work kept the perfumery busy for a large part of the month of May, at orange blossom time. "Cold saturation on lard hardened by beef tallow was carried out in a large, noisy, framinmg room. No machinery. Nothing but manual work on tooling wooden and glass frames."
Then came the framing, with frames made up of plates of glass of 50 to 60 cm on each side mounted on a wooden frame. Towards the end of June, the fat or pommade was spread on each side of the pane of glass then streaked with a wooden comb to harden before the first consignments. "A woman would smear the white fat over the glass with a steel spatchula. With a five-pronged box-wood fork, she would cross-comb it it give it a greater area of contact with flowers. The woman workers used to draw these lines with their nails. The wooden tool copied their former movements with fingers parted, movements claimed for a long time to be irreplacable." The first flowers would arrive at the factory around the end of July, where they were immediately sifted. All the leaves, all loose or damaged petals, crushed, old and damp flowers had to be removed to avoid fermentation. The flowers were then taken to enfleurage(saturation) workshop where they were arranged on frames, 50 to 100 grams to each frame. As soon as they were stacked they were hermetically sealed on top of each other. Thus the perfume exhaled on the part of the flower not in contact with the fat was absorbed by the fat of the frame above. Piles of 30 to 40 frames werw made in this way. One hundred frames constituted a workship were approximately 10 women worked. After 24-48 hours, shedding began by tapping the frame against the table several times so that most of the flowers fell down. The others were removed by hand with finger tips. Everyday in order to renew the area of contact with fat, it was streaked with a wooden large fork before further shedding started. This operation was repeated until fat was saturated. "Perfection in speed at which they worked was not demanded of them., but they were asked to finish the quantity of flowers brought in from the gardens within the day." The fat was then removed from the frame with wooden spatula. They would then wash the pommade which had been thinned with alcohol. In a mixer fitted with an agitator, the fat was added, diluted by its own weight in alcohol., and it was all mixed together for 24 hours consecutively. After decanting, the excess alcohol was collected and cooled in an ice box to solidify theresidual fatts. The alcohols used for was then filtered and set aside. The perfumed alcohol, was kept. This was callled the absolute frame or pommade. The enfleurage (cold saturation) technique involved a large number of frames(80,000 at Chiris, 70,000 at Roure) and the use of a large workforce. One worker tell how in 1930 up to 200 seasonal female workers were taken on to do this work.
As the technologies for processing raw aromatic materials on a large scale developed the need for growing the different flowers locally increased dramatically. The environment of Grasse was already known to be superb for growing many delicate flowers and as the demand for essences of rose, jasmine, cassie, violet, orange blossom, tuberose etc continued to grow, more and more land was devoted to their cultivation. In 1860 the Siagne Canal was constructed which brought an abundance of water to the entire area surrounding Grasse and from this point onward thousands of acres of land were turned into a veritable floral paradise that supplied the extracting units and distilleries with an abundance of fresh aromatic blossoms. (The story of the individual plants and the people that tended them will be told in a future article.)
Aside from the cultivation of the above mentioned flowers, the surrounding countryside of Provence provided an abundance of wild growing herbs like rosemary, thyme, and lavender. These wild growing plants were distilled on location in small copper stills that were operated by local communities. Hundreds if not thousands of these small distillation units sprung into existence as the demand for natural aromatic essences increased.
As the artistic and technological know-how developed for distilling and extracting large amounts of fresh flowers for the growing global market, Grasse also became a center for extracting and distilling many other materials that could be exported from other countries from which could be obtained precious woods, spices, dried herbs and resins. Thus in place a vast palette of fine aromatic materials could be created in the famous perfume houses of Grasse whose power, prestige and mystic continued to grow from the 19th into the 20th century. Many of these perfume houses established themselves in monasteries and convents around Grasse that had been abandoned during the French Revolution.
Already the city of Grasse had an excellent reputation for creative perfumery which began in the days when the powerful Guild of Glovers operated and now with the new technologies, vast areas of land devoted to flower cultivation, improved means of bringing aromatic raw materials from other parts of the world to Grasse, etc. the "Golden Era of Perfumery" was initiated in this medieval town. Creative expertise, technological innovation, an abundance of aromatic materials from the immediate environment, a expanding world market, and investment capability all converged at this time to create this incredible aromatic explosion that profoundly effected the way in which future generations would come to view the role of fragrance in the lives of people from all economic backgrounds, cultures, races, and societies.
Following is a brief history of some of the famous perfume houses that helped introduce people from around the world to the intriguing world of scent that in our modern times is functioning in such diverse spheres of natural cosmetics, natural perfumery, incense creation etc. A world that was once almost exclusively the realm of the rich and wealthy has found a home amidst many common folks who are able to use the treasures or the botanical world for many unique and special aromatic creations.
Famous Perfume Houses of Grasse
In many cases the famous Perfume Houses of Grasse also opened up perfume shops in Paris where the refined scents of their highly regarded perfumers could be accessible to the wealthy citizens of the city.
It was Jean-Francois Houbigant who created the oldest of all the great French perfume houses. He opened his first shop at 19 Faubourg Saint-Honore, Paris, in 1775. Named 'The Flower Basket', the shop originally sold wig powder, perfume, fans, pomade and gloves. Houbigant soon built up an important list of influential customers. Madame Dubarry, mistress to French King Louis XV, and Marie Antoinette, spouse of Louis XVI, were among his clientele. It is said that at the outbreak of the French Revolution, in 1789, Queen Marie Antoinette first hurried to Houbigant to have her perfume bottles refilled before fleeing. In 1807, Houbigant was appointed personal perfumer to Napoleon and created a special perfume for Empress Josephine, which had strong notes of musk and civet. Queen Victoria, Napoleon III and the Tsar of Russia all made Houbigant their royal perfumer. In 1812, Houbigant creates 'Quelques Fleurs', the first true multifloral scent ever made and which has been so popular that it is still on sale today.
The Guerlain Dynasty
Since the House of Guerlain was founded in 1828 by Pierre-Francois Guerlain, the company has produced over 300 perfumes. Guerlain, who created fragrances for half of the royal houses of Europe, composed 'Eau de Cologne Imperiale' for Empress Eugenie of France, spouse of Napoleon III, in 1853. The perfume, which is still part of Guerlain's current range is a combination of orange, lemon, bergamot, lavender and rosemary. Other illustrious customers included Princess Metternich, the Prince of Wales and Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria for whom Guerlain created their own perfumes.
The house’s greatest triumphs include Shalimar (1925), a mythical amber scent that remains a bestseller to this day; L’Heure Bleue (1914), a melody of flowers, wood and amber; and Samsara (1889), a hymn in praise of sandalwood and jasmine. True Guerlain fans say that there is always a little something special that makes their perfumes irresistible. This signature accord, known as the Guerlinade, blends notes of balms and vanilla with floral scents like iris and jasmine. It can be found in the house’s latest perfume, L’Instant. Reinvented with a crystalline, sensual modernity that allows it to ‘go forth to meet the future… without forgetting its roots.’ L’Instant pour Homme, a new creation for men, was made in the same spirit: a luminous woody scent with a surprising blend of hot and cold energy. Its success complements those of the elegant Vetiver (1959) and the sensual Habit Rouge (1965). http://www.guerlain.com
Founded in 1849 and since 4 generations a family business, Molinard is also one of the major French perfume houses. Situated in Grasse in Southern France, the perfume capital of the world, Molinard had prestigious clients such as Queen Victoria in the past. Molinard's most famous perfume was 'Habanita'. Created in 1921, it was originally introduced to perfume cigarettes, which the garconnes, the emancipated young women of the time, smoked. Just a drop of fragrance on a burning cigarette was sufficient to give the smoke a wonderful scent. The actual Habanita perfume was launched in 1924 in a crystal flacon designed by René Lalique. The bottle design is famous as it features a relief decoration of water nymphs. Of its other perfumes the best known is 'Molinard de Molinard'.
In 2005, Molinard launched the 1849 collection, re-issues of seven of their classics: Habanita, Gardenia, Verveine de Molinard (1948), Iles d' Or (1929), Un Air de Molinard, M de Molinard, and Nirmala (1955). http://www.molinard.com
The Roure Company was established in 1820 in Grasse, France. Roure developed and produced aromatic plants, providing its clients with essential oils, such as jasmine and rose, to create their own fragrances. A century later, Roure secured the services of talented perfumers and began creating its own compositions. In 1935, Roure introduced “Shocking”, one of the first French designer fragrances, launching the synergy between the fashion and fragrance industries.
Jean de GALIMARD, Lord of SERANON, related to the Count of Thorenc and great friend of GOETHE, lived in GRASSE where in 1747 he created the PARFUMERIE GALIMARD.
Founder of the corporation of " Glovemakers and Perfumers ", he supplied the court of Louis " the well-beloved ", King of France, with olive oil, pomades, and perfumes of which he invented the first formulas.
V. Mane Fils was founded in 1871 when Victor Mane started producing fragrant materials from regional flowers and plants. Victor Mane's sons Eugène and Gabriel took over the business and developed it internationally between 1916 and 1958. In 1959, Maurice Mane took over from his father Eugène and diversified into the growing flavorings market for the food industry. In 1995, Maurice Mane retired to become Chairman of the Monitoring Committee and his son Jean took over as President of the company.
Essence of Grasse
An agreeable summer retreat may be found on the other side of the Var, at, or near the town of Grasse, which is pleasantly situated on the ascent of a hill in Provence, about seven English miles from Nice. This place is famous for its pomatum, gloves, wash-balls, perfumes, and toilette-boxes, lined with bergamot. I am told it affords good lodging, and is well supplied with provisions.
Tobias Smollett, Travels through France and Italy
French perfumery, like the German, had its origin in Italy, when Catherine de' Medici came to Paris as [Pg 108]the bride of Henri II. She brought with her, among other artists, her perfumer, Sieur Toubarelli, who established himself in the flowery land of Grasse. Here for four hundred years the industry has remained rooted and the family formulas have been handed down from generation to generation. In the city of Grasse there were at the outbreak of the war fifty establishments making perfumes. The French perfumer does not confine himself to a single sense. He appeals as well to sight and sound and association. He adds to the attractiveness of his creation by a quaintly shaped bottle, an artistic box and an enticing name such as "Dans les Nues," "Le Coeur de Jeannette," "Nuit de Chine," "Un Air Embaumé," "Le Vertige," "Bon Vieux Temps," "L'Heure Bleue," "Nuit d'Amour," "Quelques Fleurs," "Djer-Kiss."
Edwin E. Slosson, Creative Chemistry
Chance, or rather choice in life has brought me back in recent times to the places where almost all the perfumes of Europe are born or made...
The farmer's work is governed by a kindly of uniquely floral timetable, where two adorable queens rule in May and July, the Rose and the Jasmine. Around the year's two sovereigns, one the color of the dawn, the other clothed in white stars, countless, swift violets, tumultuous daffodils, simple narcissi pass from January to December, and eyes are filled with wonder at the enormous mimosas...
Maurice Maeterlinck, Intelligence of the Flowers
Oh fields! Oh fields of Grasse, oh fertile hills,
Oh cultivated crags, oh silvery sources.
Oh myrtles, oh jasmines, oh forests of orange flowers..
Abbe Cognet: A. Godeau, Bishop of Grasse and Vence
In creating this perfume I have drawn upon the great classic essences that were produced in Grasse from aromatic plants that grew to perfection in around the ancient town. Vast acreage's were devoted to their cultivation during the golden era of Grasse's perfume past, particularly in the years from 1860-1930 when various forces came into place which caused the growing of such precious fragrant botanicals to decline.
Each of these essences has its own fine history which may be explored in future newsletters. For now one can enjoy the Essence of Grasse in this sweet perfume bouquet.
1/8 ounce Violet Leaf Absolute
1/4 ounce Orange Blossom Absolute
1/2ounce Jasmin grandiflorum Absolute
1/4 ounce Rose de Mai Absolute
1/4 ounce Cassie Absolute
1/2 ounce Patchouli "Heart Note"
1/8 ounce Tuberose Absolute
1/16th ounce Ambrette Absolute
1/8 ounce Tonka Bean Absolute