Chanel: Sun in each vial

Author: Olga Mayr

Olga Mayr Bonnet - Chanel

chanel perfume

I love Chanel! But why? It sounds too cliché … of course the world is full of expensive, popular, interesting and beautiful brands. But reality is bit more complicated! Chanel is not only about exquisite clothes and beautiful handbags, but also skill, professionalism and perfection in the creation of perfume

Chanel is not only a fashion house rich in history and prestige, but also a brand renowned for a adopting a special approach to its loyal customers. Not simply invitations to fashion shows or elegant dinner parties, but also the staging of visits to amazing places associated with Chanel’s historical origins.

So, surprise!

In a white envelope decorated with that symbol, the fashion house most loved by women, lay an invitation. To a field. ‘What?’ you may ask – ‘a field?!’. Most fields are not magical – this invitation was to the fields of Grasse, where under the caress of warm Mediterranean sun grows the precious Jasmine. It is specifically cultivated for production of the magical Chanel N5 fragrance, created by Mademoiselle Chanel herself. The day of our invitation, a plane with a small group of women, dressed in Karl Lagerfeld suits, dresses and trousers, landed in Nice. After a delicious lunch at restaurant La Petite Maison de Nicole (lapetitemaison-, an establishment loved by the powers that be and secret favorite of Nicolas Sarkozy, our excursion to Grasse awaited. But first ladies need to find a place to place to stay for a night, which is not so simple, if you are Chanel guest! A driver escorted our group to hotel Château St. Martin (www.chateau-st-martin. com) complete with an entourage of numerous suitcases, bags and handbags, all of course bearing the coveted Chanel emblem. In luxurious rooms overlooking the green hills of Vence, was a surprise for each visitor – elegant parcels containing Chanel perfume, branded chocolate and a delicate bouquet composed from the flowers of Provence!
After a relaxing massage in our cozy spa – also courtesy of the house of Chanel – we enjoyed a delightful dinner at the famous restaurant Colombe d’Or (la-colombe-dor. com). A landmark restaurant, guests need to book only when the season is high and a month in advance and – but the place is worth it! How many restaurants in the world have hosted such a collection of famous artists? Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Miro, Leger, Braque, Calder, César? It was here Simone Signoret met Yves Montand. Lino Ventura and other legendary artists of the era loved to dine here. Jacques Prévert was also a friend of the owner and frequent guest at the restaurant. The food was simple, typically Provencal, and each dish a creation of the generous, warm sun. Ah, Provence… and the wine? My God, it’s a well-known French wine! But I will not shy away from the main event. It was time to go back to the hotel. Tomorrow morning, our journey to the field. Tired but happy, I fell asleep on white linen sheets in a room scented with the fragrance of lavender. Breakfast on the terrace – fresh croissants, jams, perfectly flavoured coffee in simple but elegant cups. Clean air, clear views, and gentle rays of sunlight piercing the azure blue sky. It seems as though angels have spread their wings over me! I want to recount every detail of the trip, but it is time to go – secrets of Provence flowers are awaiting.

So! Welcome to Grasse!

It should be noted that Mademoiselle Chanel insisted that only Jasmine cultivated in the fields of Grasse should be used for her legendary perfumes because of its unique qualities. As we toured the southern Bastides we met a tall handsome man. Fabrice Bianchi of the famous Mul family, who own the very fields where flowers are grown for use in Chanel perfume. Of Joseph Myulya the head of the family, it is said that his heart beats in unison with the soul of the flowers. Looking just once at the spring sky, he knew if there would be a generous harvest of Flora. “My flowers – these are my children, and I have to grow them” he once said. Perfectionism was Joseph’s philospohy, and his excellence did not go unnoticed as Robert Henri, chief perfumer of the Chanel from 1955 to 1977, who chose the Mul family to be producers of Jasmine that would be used in Chanel’s perfumes. This type of Jasmine has been recognized exactly like Coco wanted it to be – noble and elegant. Chemical fertilizers were never used in the Mul family fields, and Joseph insisted the fields be given a few seasons of “rest” in order to preserve the quality of the soil and protect it from depletion – only then could the quality of the flowers be exceptional.

Chanel: Mul family delivers 100% of jasmine to parfume production

Chanel: Chanel: Mul family delivers 100% of jasmine to parfume production

Welcome to Grasse


The Grandiflorum type of Jasmine is engrafted in the fields of Pegomas village to the usual jasmine. This flower is unique. It resists the cold and is distinct from Egyptian, Moroccan or Indian Jasmine – the quality of flower is simply not the same! The entire collection process is carried out by hand. The fragile and delicate flower cannot tolerate rough any mechanical intervention. The Jasmine bud must be picked delicately before sunrise, as the flower blossoms at night. Fifty workers collect the jasmine for a hundred days each year. The moment 100 kg of jasmine is picked, a race agaist time begins – the fragile petals must be delivered as fast as possible to the production plant before they degrade. There they will be converted into a honey and wax substance that perfumers call ‘concrete’. Concrete – a term in the art of perfumery – refers to the semi-solid and solid that perfumers obtain after the solvent extraction (such as benzene) of aromatic substances from plant materials. Master perfumer at the house of Chanel, Jaque Polge, had long known the Mul family to be excellent and consummate professionals. Carefully monitoring every stage from collection to extraction, the family’s ethos of perfectionism guaranteed exceptional and, most importantly, consistent quality!
Finally, the delicate petals are transferred on a conveyor belt to the upper floor of the plant, where they are poured into a huge vat, and through a variety of mechanical and chemical processes (I will not bore the reader with technical terms!) ‘absolute’ oils are obtained from the concret petals. These aromatic essential oils are highly concentrated, possessing a strong, intense and persistent smell. Of course we would not learn the complete formula of this famous fragrance, which Marilyn Monroe like to fell asleep with! The formula is carefully guarded by Chanel perfumers! There are only a few details of which I can tell.

Pickers in the fields of jasmine

Pickers in the fields of jasmine

Chanel: sweet-scented basket of jasmine

Chanel: sweet-scented basket of jasmine

All jasmine used to make Chanel N 5 comes from the Mul family fields

All jasmine used to make Chanel N 5 comes from the Mul family fields

The Aldehyde Shade

The aldehyde shade – has an unusual, original color, a light floral scent with the addition of a rancid fat. By itself, this fragrance is not very attractive, but when used in perfume compositions it can create an amazing tone and give unusual color and character. Chanel N 5 – is a fragrance that belongs to the group of floral aldehyde. It was developed by perfumer Ernest Beaux, and released by Chanel in 1921. The top notes of this fragrance are aldehydes, neroli, ylangylang, bergamot and lemon. At the heart – iris, our famous Grasse jasmine, lily of the valley and Grasse rose. The base – notes of amber, sandalwood, patchouli, musk, civet, vanilla, oakmoss and vetiver.

One 30 ml bottle of N5 extract — 1000 flowers of jasmine and only 12 roses, all from Grasse.

The day was like the end… Filled with impressions, happy and inspired, we drank wine on the terrace by the Bastides, where hospitable hosts prepared a table for us with dinner. Despite the abundance of delicious food on the table, my appetite was light. I felt overwhelmed with a sense of the timeless beauty of life, and the sense I had experienced something special after learning some of the amazing secrets of perfumery. Now, each time I see a fragrant cloud from the crystal bottle, I remember these two wonderful days. I know that every drop of Chanel N5 is not just the fruit of much labour by great people, experts, and non-professionals but it is also one hundred days of gentle Provence sun – the life of a flowering jasmine!

A Few Figures

1 kg of rose — 350 flowers

1 kg of jasmine — 8000 flowers

1 kg of rose concrète produces 600 g absolute.
1 kg of jasmine concrète produces 550 g absolute

1 worker collects 5 kg of roses per hour

1 worker collects 350g of jasmine per hour

400 kg of rose blossoms to produce 1 kg of concrète and 350 kg of jasmine flowers for 1 kg concrète

This bottle is made of 1000 jasmine flowers

Chanel: petals’ counting and quality control at every stage

Chanel: учeт и контроль лепестков на каждом этапе
Энри Робер, главный парфюмер дома Сhanel с 1955 по 1977 год,

I express my infinite gratitude to the Mul family, Grasse, madam Caty Lellouche (director of Chanel Montaigne), Madame Veronique Pérez (Chanel), Coralie Polack — photos Veronique, Slawka (Chanel boutique Montaigne), and all my friends and lovers of Chanel!


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Roger Dubuis
Roger Dubuis
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