French perfumers' secret ingredient

Mimosa flowers turn the hills around France's perfume capital a golden yellow for a couple of fleeting weeks each year

2 April 2014

THE HILLS around France’s perfume capital, Grasse, are a riot of yellow in Spring, thanks to the region’s blooming mimosa trees.

But there’s more to the sunny plant than being a springtime feast for the eyes. Mimosa also happens to be one of the most prized ingredients in the perfume industry.

"Mimosa is still a perfumer's mainstay," says Sebastien Plan of Robertet, a major international supplier of the raw ingredients that go into perfumes.

"Mimosa has a fresh, floral, slightly powdery, almost honeyed aspect, which blends with the green scent of the stems," he said.

The flowers, once harvested, have to be processed as quickly as possible before they fade. From around 40 tonnes of flowers, Mr Robertet produces some 400 kilos (880 pounds) of a rock-like substance called ‘concrete’.

This is in turn purified into about 100 kilos of ‘absolute’.

Grasse, situated on the French Riviera, has long been France's perfume capital.

Fields of Provence roses and jasmine sprung up around the area in the 17th century after local tanners started scenting their leather products - especially gloves -- with fragrant floral oils.

Those same oils are still in use to this day, in some luxury perfumes.

While Galimard's perfumer Caroline de Boutiny admits its mimosa scent is more popular with older customers than with the young, she added the scent can “lend weight to a composition with its honeyed and powdered notes.”

The mimosa tree originally arrived in France from Australia in the mid-19th century as a decorative plant for gardens,

Visitors to Grasse can see a luxurious forest of it on the Tanneron hills, to the west of the town.

"Mimosa is like velvet," says Gilbert Vial, an 85-year-old "mimosist" who has never left the town of Tanneron.

Unfortunately, all is not rosy for the flower.

Globalisation of production has affected French growers, who now face competition from cheaper producers in far-flung countries while the declining use of the flowers in the fragrance industry is making its mark.

Vial's 60-year-old son is the last in line to harvest the steep slopes of the family's six hectares (15 acres). "Before the frost of 1956, 30 families grew mimosa in Tanneron,” he said.

“Today there are just three or four of us.”

© AFP/Connexion

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