Skills Related to Traditional Perfume Making From Region in France Inscribed By UNESCO

By Tiffany Meier

Good news for Chanel No. 5 lovers. UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage has just inscribed the traditional skills related to making perfume in Pays de Grasse, a special region in France, on its list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”

The list features elements of living heritage for which their viability is under threat. It mobilizes international cooperation and assistance to strengthen the spread of these cultural practices in agreement with the concerned communities.

The skills related to perfume in Pays de Grasse cover three different aspects: the cultivation of the perfume plants; the knowledge and processing of natural raw materials; and the art of perfume composition.

These include the cultivation and harvesting of the centifolia rose, also Provence or Cabbage rose or Rose de Mai, a key ingredient of Chanel No. 5.

“These flower fields are very important for us because they’re the same that provided the ingredients for (perfume Chanel) No. 5 when it was created,” Olivier Polge, Chanel’s Head Perfumer, told the Associated Press.

“No. 5 was made with the jasmine and rose that grow here and that possess a very special and distinct olfactory quality. This is why over the years we’ve made sure to keep this quality that contributed to No. 5’s hallmark,” Polge said.

The Rosa centifolia grows in Pays de Grasse near the French Riveria for only three to four weeks a year during the month of May.

With its delicate yet uniquely poignant scent, the rose is a key ingredient in the making of the iconic Chanel No. 5 perfume.

Created in 1921 by Chanel fragrance creator Ernest Beaux, No. 5 sparked a revolution in the world of perfumery with its unique blend featuring over 70 different ingredients, according to AP.

At the time, most perfumes had a single distinctive flowery scent, such as jasmine, lilac, or rose.

As the fragrance approaches its 100th birthday, the formula of its longevity is as mysterious as its composition.

While the exact formula is a secret, it is known that the centifolia rose and jasmine each play a role.

Certainly Marilyn Monroe’s famous endorsement played a role in making it a classic, but Polge says the perfume’s success is as much a product of where it grows.

“Sure, the secret lies in the formula but also in the quality of its raw ingredients,” Polge said.

The flower fields around Pas de Grasse are able to produce the unique fragrant essentials and raw materials due to the unique micro-climate and special features in the terrain.

Fabrice Bianchi, the Mul Family Estate farming director, explains the link between the land, climate, and local production.

“The distinctive feature of the Rosa centifolia grown here in our farm is the soil. There’s clearly a very important interaction between the soil, a sandy-silt soil, and a very special climate, very mild but that—depending on the winters—can be more marked,” Bianchi told AP.

“During the month of May, weather conditions are usually very similar every year. And all this provides a complexity that’s important to the flower’s olfactory bouquet and that highlights features impossible to find elsewhere,” Bianchi said.

Through the years, more and more flower farms began disappearing until the very existence of Chanel No. 5 came under threat.
As Chanel’s head fragrance creator, also known as the “nose,” Polge approached the Mul Family Estate in 1978.

Joseph Mul, owner of the Mul Family Estate and fifth generation flower farmer, recalls the meeting.

“We were the biggest producers and they said, ‘OK, we need (your products) in order to make No. 5 and keep its quality, so if you want we can sign an exclusivity contract,'” Mul told AP.

The business relationship continues to this day.