My trip to the capital of perfume – small village of Grasse in the South of France – continues and this time I am learning about the raw materials used in the perfume-making.
There are three families of raw materials that traditional perfumeries use to create the perfumes, soaps and cosmetic products: materials of plant origin, materials of animal origin and synthetic materials.
Raw materials of plant origin
These are used in the composition of perfumes and come from all over the world. The plants are carefully selected for their quality and originality. Depending on the species, various parts of the plants are used: petals, flower or leaf buds, roots (for iris), leaves (for geranium and violet) or stems and stalks. Although cultivated internationally, some flowers are still picked in the fields around Grasse.
Rose, jasmine, tuberose, orange blossom, lavender, mimosa, Ylang-Ylang are just a few of the ones used here in the factory. What surprised me was that the famous lavender from the fields of Haute Provence are used mainly in the creation of masculine fragrances, not the feminine ones. I collect a few lavender stems nonetheless. Maybe that’s why I’m so into men’s perfume?
Raw materials of animal origin
The materials of animal origin are slightly less well known than those of plant origin and are now almost systematically replaced by synthetic products so that no species are threatened.
Ambergris, for example, is a substance secreted by the intestines of the sperm whale and is ejected naturally. This is obviously a very expensive and an extremely valuable ingredient in perfume making. The other material is the musk that comes in the form of strong-smelling granules contained in a pocket under the belly of deer in the mating season.
You probably wouldn’t even think about that when smelling your favourite Versace Woman or D&G Feminine perfumes, right? But don’t worry, today the majority of animals are protected, so it is not allowed to use raw materials of animal origin if the process of extraction is harmful for the animal. Instead, synthetic raw materials have been developed.
Synthetic raw materials
This is the basis of the contemporary perfume making. In the mid-19th century modern chemistry enabled the perfume industry to develop to fulfil the qualitative and quantitative expectations of the global market.
The first perfume to use these new synthetic products was the famous Chanel N°5 created in 1925 – one of its components is an aldehyde. The oldest bottle of this famous perfume is exhibited here in Grasse in the Museum of Perfume.
Synthetic raw materials obtained through petrochemistry have as high a quality of fragrance as those derived from natural raw materials. Although they are not always less expensive than natural raw materials, using synthetic raw materials is often more ecologically desirable and also ensures a more consistent product quality.
Tributes to different plants and scents are paid every year. This year, for example, Fragonard is celebrating the Iris. Symbolising nobility, the Iris is one of the oldest raw materials, and above all one of the most precious. Nicknamed the ‘blue gold of Florence’, Iris padilla grows in the sunny climes of Tuscany. The Iris takes its name from the Greek mythology, Iris being a metaphor for the rainbow, through which Zeus sent messages to mortals.
Which ones are your favourite scents?
Text: Irina Gorskaia
Images: Irina Gorskaia, Fragonard