A fra­grant jour­ney to three in­tox­i­cat­ing lo­cales


For the world’s finest fra­grance houses and their mas­ter per­fumers—trav­el­ling abroad in search of the high­est-qual­ity ad­di­tives for our most beloved per­fumes—the planet is a play­ground of raw in­gre­di­ents. Three sea­soned noses take us on an ad­ven­ture to three re­source-rich re­gions, ex­plor­ing scents from flow­ers to fruits to woods. And with their lo­cal aro­mas waft­ing through the air, leg­endary his­to­ries, and dream­like land­scapes to match, they may just in­spire you to plan your next trip.


A heav­enly-scented hill-town in the re­gion of Provence, Grasse has been known as the world’s per­fume cap­i­tal for cen­turies. Its in­com­pa­ra­ble cli­mate and rich soil pro­vide the ideal con­di­tions for grow­ing an ar­ray of ex­quis­ite flow­ers, mak­ing the me­dieval town home to many elite fra­grance houses, in­clud­ing Chanel, Dior, and Guer­lain.

Nur­tured in fields, Rosa cen­tifo­lia—more com­monly known as May rose due to its five-week bloom­ing sea­son ev­ery May—is one of Grasse’s most sought-af­ter flow­ers, and its essence can be found at the heart of many fa­mous fra­grances, such as Chanel’s cov­eted star, No. 5.

The heady, soft-pink blooms are hand-picked from their stems with the ut­most care in the early morn­ing, be­fore sun­rise, af­ter the petals have fully blos­somed overnight. “You’ll see fam­i­lies com­ing and pick­ing all the flow­ers. One minute those gar­dens are full with pink roses, and the next, bam— they’re green. They go so fast!” ex­plains Guer­lain’s in-house per­fumer Thierry Wasser.

Provence’s plateaus of thick wild laven­der stretch­ing to­ward the hori­zon pro­vide fairy­tale scenery, and have a sto­ried per­fumed past. “[Laven­der] has been cul­ti­vated since as early as the 18th cen­tury. It car­ries a very fresh and clean smell, and was ac­tu­ally used in Ro­man baths be­fore the Mid­dles Ages,” re­veals Loc Dong, a go-to per­fumer for Paco Ra­banne. “See­ing a blue field of laven­der, and feel­ing over­whelmed by its aro­matic notes, is a mo­ment to re­mem­ber,” ex­presses Dong.

The post­card-per­fect plant is har­vested from late July un­til mid-Au­gust. “The fields be­come a beau­ti­ful blue, but you have to wait un­til [the laven­der] starts to dry and be­comes a lit­tle grey­ish to har­vest,” adds Wasser. “That’s when its oil con­tent is at the max­i­mum.”


Italy is renowned in per­fumery for the cit­rus trees that dot its sweep­ing coun­try­side and breath­tak­ing, turquoise-wa­tered coast­line. With its al­most lemon-like ap­pear­ance, the bit­ter or­ange—which pre­dom­i­nantly grows in South­ern Italy’s Cal­abria re­gion— pro­duces one of the most highly-prized cit­rus notes, berg­amot oil. “Berg­amot pro­vides a fresh, cit­rusy, flo­ral note with an aro­matic tea facet,” ex­plains per­fumer Julie Massé, a reg­u­lar Gior­gio Ar­mani fra­grance col­lab­o­ra­tor. Mainly used as a top note, the zesty oil comes from the peel of the or­ange fruit, and is “like a ray of Ital­ian sun­shine in a bot­tle,” ex­presses Massé.

“I find a lot of in­ter­est in pe­tit­grain oil, the essence extracted from the leaves of lemon trees,” says Dong. “It of­fers a green bit­ter note with a strong, lively top note, and a fruity, flo­ral candy un­der­tone.” Many of the lemon trees used for dis­till­ing pe­tit­grain grow in abun­dance along the se­duc­tively beau­ti­ful Amalfi Coast.

A range of raw in­gre­di­ents can come from the hum­ble or­ange tree, in­clud­ing the pop­u­lar neroli oil and or­ange blos­som ab­so­lute, both made from the tree’s al­lur­ing flow­ers. “Neroli gained its name from the fact that the princess of Nerola, Italy, Anne Marie Orsini, used to add the essence to her bath, and used it to per­fume her gloves,” re­veals Dong about the sweet, hon­eyed, and some­what metal­lic elixir with green and spicy facets. As for or­ange blos­som ab­so­lute, its scent is de­scribed as deeper, richer, and sul­trier. “The or­ange flower is an im­por­tant part of Ital­ian cul­ture,” says Dong. “It’s tra­di­tion­ally worn at wed­dings by the brides.”


To­day, a lot of the jas­mine avail­able com­mer­cially comes from France or Italy, but the small, tubu­lar, and in­tense blos­som is a very sym­bolic flower in In­dia. “It is of­ten used in re­li­gious cer­e­monies, and it is said that the love ar­rows of Kama, the god of love, are made from jas­mine,” re­veals Dong. “The har­vest­ing be­gins in June and ends in Oc­to­ber, and the flow­ers are picked one by one. It’s very del­i­cate work.” Night-bloom­ing, peren­nial tuberose, with its waxy-white petals, is an ex­cep­tional in­gre­di­ent in high-end per­fume mak­ing. “Women flower-cutters pick it just be­fore dawn when the flower is most fra­grant. Its smell is a fem­i­nine kalei­do­scopic de­light: flo­ral, op­u­lent, creamy, green, with hints of co­conut,” notes Dong. “It’s also used for cer­e­mo­nial neck­laces in In­dia, and in some south­ern parts of the coun­try, it’s even called ‘Su­gan­daraja’—the queen of flow­ers.”

Val­ued for hun­dreds of years, In­dian san­dal­wood from the south­ern re­gion is cul­ti­vated and used to build sa­cred tem­ples. In solid form, the fine-grained aro­matic wood is able to hold its fra­grance for decades, mak­ing it one of the most ex­pen­sive lum­bers on the mar­ket. When its oil is extracted for per­fumery (com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion of In­dian san­dal­wood es­sen­tial oil has since moved to Aus­tralia for sus­tain­abil­ity), “it of­fers creamy, ad­dic­tive, woody notes, and brings el­e­gant sig­na­tures to mas­cu­line and fem­i­nine fra­grances,” says Dong.

Post­card-per­fect laven­der fields and bloom­ing May rose from Provence.

Lemon trees from the breath­tak­ing small town of Li­mone sul Garda, Italy.

Left: A bustling flower mar­ket in In­dia. Right: Jas­mine gar­lands ready to be worn.

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