Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Things You See At A Perfume Factory - A Visit To Robertet In Grasse


The photo above shows one of the sights that greeted me and Madame Persolaise when we visited Robertet's Grasse factory in February*. A heap of mimosa, filling the air with its unmistakable, buttery-powdery scent. As my jaw dropped with astonishment, Francis Thibaudeau (General Manager of the Fragrance Division) chuckled. "You should have come here this morning," he said. "The flowers were piled all the way up to the No Smoking sign."

When we got back home, I told myself that I had to write about our unforgettable tour without any delay whatsoever. But then life happened, one thing led to another, and those mimosa blossoms got pushed further and further down my To Do list. Now, almost six months later, I find my thoughts wandering back to Grasse. I'm not sure what's brought on this retrospective mood - maybe it's the fact that, as I type these words, the weather in Britain is finally beginning to take its cue from the Côte D'Azur! - but whatever the reason, this evening, I shall not sign out of Blogger until my little travelogue is complete. So here goes...



This is Enemy No 1. Or if it isn't No 1, it must at least be in the Top 10 Of Evil. Most of you will, I'm sure, have worked out that it's oak moss, exposed to the elements in all its metallic, woody, toxic glory. Thibaudeau certainly had a great deal to say about IFRA and anti-allergen legislation. Indeed, he stated he is closely involved with attempts to overthrow the proposed amendments to the EU's cosmetics laws. We'll soon find out if his efforts were successful.


Bags and bags of cardamom. I was fond of this stuff already, but even I wasn't prepared for the intense spice kick which overwhelmed me as soon as I stuck my nose into one of those plastic sacks. Tea. Woodiness. A touch of sweet citrus. Olfactory bliss.


What struck me as we wandered around the large complex was the somewhat archaic nature of all the equipment. Granted, in one section, there were a few modern-looking 'test toilets' (used for evaluating cleaning products, air fresheners etc) but by and large, each room contained the sorts of vats, test tubes and pipes that wouldn't have looked out of place in an alchemist's lab circa 1350. The picture above shows the containers in which the mimosa were steamed (flowers, leaves, twigs and all); give or take a few details, that's basically how the plant's essence has been extracted for centuries.


More chemistry set geekery. This is the extraction and distillation of black pepper oil. The thick, green liquid is the oil itself (pungent doesn't event begin to describe it); the flask in the foreground catches any oil which might have been 'missed' in the first round of distillation.


Prepare to salivate: those sacks contain iris pallida, which had only just arrived the day before. I guess this proves that some people do still use the real McCoy.


And here's the mother load: two stacks of iris butter. Thibaudeau jovially informed us that each little tower (about a foot in height) is worth about as much as a top of the range Mercedes, "with all of the optional extras." Just think: someone, somewhere could be spraying a tiny amount of that stuff onto their skin right now.

As we were walking out, I saw a large factice of Michel Almairac's Gucci Pour Homme, surely one of the most breathtaking creations to have emerged from Robertet. And as I stopped to stare at it for a moment, a little circle was completed in my mind: from earth, to plant, to barrel, to steam, to flask, to pipette, to road, to bottle, to box, to shop, to body, to endless, precious memories. It's magic, really.

Persolaise

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* A brief footnote for those of who may not be aware of the firm's significance. Robertet is widely considered to be one of the most important manufacturers of perfumery raw materials in the world. Their natural ingredients are held in particularly high esteem. They also accept commisions for fine fragrances. Much of their work has graced the shelves of mainstream shops and niche boutiques across the globe.

14 comments:

  1. You must have been in scent heaven by the mimosa!
    Thanks for the lovely tour.

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    1. Ann, yes, the smell was so overpowering, that after a while, you actually stopped noticing it, as though the olfactory system couldn't take it any more and just decided to give up.

      I think the most gorgeous thing I sniffed was an incredible Rose De Mai oil. Quite stunning.

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  2. Brilliant post - absolutely fascinating!

    Jo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jo, thanks very much. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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  3. Amazing adventure. Thanks for sharing. Grasse this time of year must be magical.

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    Replies
    1. I think I'd find that part of the world pretty magical even if the skies were grey and it was raining cats and dogs, but yes, it was quite beautiful in February :-)

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  4. Absolutely incredible. I hope to go on such an adventure one day. Thank you for sharing.

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    Replies
    1. David, it was very special indeed :-)

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  5. Fascinating article. I wish I could have accompanied you both on your trip to the factory. The iris butter looks awesome in the towers. I suppose they smelled very nice.

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    Replies
    1. Cleopatra's Boudoir, absolutely everything there was amazing to smell! :-)

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  6. Enjoyable tour, thank you for sharing that. I'm just wondering that iris butter considered as final product or will undergo further processes ?!

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    Replies
    1. Anon, thanks for your comment. As far as I'm aware, the butter is the final product, ready to be added to a scent concentrate.

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