Be­witched

Meet the farmer, the per­fumer and the flower that se­duced them.

Fashion (Canada) - - People - By Noreen Flana­gan

I f you were to eaves­drop on my chat with Joseph Mul, you might think he’s de­scrib­ing a rather tem­per­a­men­tal woman who has stolen his heart. “She’s capri­cious,” he says, sim­ply. “She makes you wait. You think she’s go­ing to bloom and she doesn’t. She de­cides when that will hap­pen, but it’s worth the wait. The tuberose teaches you pa­tience.”

To­day this slen­der and el­e­gant flower— which is one of the sig­na­ture notes in Chanel’s Gabrielle fra­grance—is be­ing coy. It’s late Septem­ber in Grasse, and Mul—who part­nered with the brand in 1987 to sup­ply flow­ers for its fra­grances— had ex­pected his field to be full of blooms. In­stead, the planted rows are dot­ted with only the oc­ca­sional flow­er­ing stem. In the ad­ja­cent field, pick­ers are har­vest­ing the more re­li­able jas­mine blooms. This flower is also used in Gabrielle, and it has been one of the sig­na­ture notes in Chanel No. 5 since Ernest Beaux cre­ated that fra­grance in 1921 us­ing flow­ers from this re­gion in the south of France. While the other flow­ers Mul grows—roses, gera­ni­ums and irises—re­quire care­ful at­ten­tion, the tuberose is de­cid­edly the most high main­te­nance.

“She makes you wait. You think she’s go­ing to bloom and she doesn’t. She de­cides when that will hap­pen.”

In Novem­ber and De­cem­ber, the 250,000+ bulbs are re­moved and care­fully stored for win­ter and re­planted the fol­low­ing April. It can take years for them to flower and even more years be­fore they are used in fra­grances, ex­plains Olivier Polge, who was the first per­fumer at Chanel to use these flow­ers. In 2011, his fa­ther, Jac­ques—who had been Chanel’s top nose since 1978—had res­cued the bulbs when a nearby farmer was go­ing to re­tire. “I think we started with 30,000,” re­counts Polge, who be­came head per­fumer in 2015. “My fa­ther wasn’t able to use them in his work be­cause they weren’t ready.” Polge says that work­ing with the Grasse-grown tuberose was like a pain­ter be­ing given an­other hue in his pal­ette. Un­like tuberose from In­dia or Mex­ico, Polge says that their flower is “fresher and creamier with­out the waxy green notes.” He at­tributes that to the area’s soil and cli­mate as well as Chanel’s unique dis­til­la­tion tech­niques. While he as­sem­bles the raw ma­te­ri­als to cre­ate a scent, Polge says that the beauty of a fra­grance comes from the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the scent and the per­son who wears it: “Each woman has to make it un­for­get­table in her own way.”

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