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Thursday August 22, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Friday August 23, 2013 MYT 12:17:50 PM
by michelle tam
Perfumer of Provence: L’Occitane’s in-house nose Karine Dubreuil crafted the La Collection de Grasse collection.
A French skincare brand pays tribute to the perfume capital of the world.
ONCE upon a time in Grasse, France, a lonesome, dreamy girl spent her summers picking jasmine flowers, feasting upon fragrant berries, and gathering bitter oranges to make bigarade jam.
Those golden seasons which a young Karine Dubreuil spent in her grandmothers’ luxuriant gardens would later spark a childhood fascination with scent that would blossom into a lifelong love.
For L’Occitane’s new in-house perfumer, it was an olfactive education like no other: Dubreuil’s maternal French grandmother had a garden wild with roses and carpets of violets and daffodils, while her paternal Italian grandmother grew exotic blooms and berries of every variety.
“I spent hours losing myself in those gardens: it was good for the heart and imagination,” shared Dubreuil at the launch of the La Collection de Grasse in Hong Kong.
Centuries ago, the glove-makers of Grasse used flowers to perfume their leather wares before realising the blooms could be used as scents.
“Grasse has a beautiful climate with special soil. It makes the flower give the best of itself,” explained Dubreuil, who expressed a special fondness for the chypre and oriental families.
Grasse perfumers were traditionally menfolk, with fathers passing on trade secrets to their sons. The more adventurous travelled to distant lands to unearth new materials like spices and fragrant woods, and modern perfumery was born when their discoveries enriched the palette of perfumers back home.
Today, more women are learning the craft. Dubreuil honed her skills at the prestigious Roure school of perfumery after being exposed to the art in her childhood, and remains the only perfumer in her family.
One of only about 150 luxury perfumers in the world, Dubreuil’s natural way of crafting perfumes translates into her signature of clear fragrances with a pure message.
“As I was born in Grasse, nature is a part of my life and my way of composing,” said the nose who had created perfumes for L’Occitane even before this close collaboration.
Before bringing 25 years’ worth of experience to her partnership with the Provencal company, she had worked with renowned brands such as Gucci and Lanvin in Paris.
With L’Occitane, Dubreuil experienced love at first sight because all her olfactive memories and heritage are from nature and Provence.
“When the founder, Olivier Baussan, asked me to collaborate with the brand, I couldn’t refuse the opportunity from such a visionary,” shared Dubreuil, who’s in her 40s.
To her, creation is a kind of vision, whereby a perfumer draws from her own personal treasury of colours, images, and memories.
“As creators, we have our own impressions and convictions. You’re not a creator if nobody hears you or smells what you do. L’Occitane found it very interesting to hear a creator’s point of view,” said the passionate composer.
As both music and perfumery are based on notes, the opera-singing Dubreuil often compares the two arts.
“When you sing, it’s important to have the right sound and not just make noise. It’s the same in perfumery: it’s very important to have the right message,” she said.
La Collection de Grasse
To Dubreuil, compositions inspired by nature and centred on ingredients that meet and respond to each other are the future of fragrance.
“Women are looking for that. They are tired of the modern perfume market’s abstract nature, whereby you don’t know what you’re smelling and everything looks like the other,” she said.
In contrast, La Collection de Grasse is more “direct and obvious” in its niche celebration of the finest natural ingredients, which Dubreuil likened to an Impressionist painting.
“When you look at a Monet, it has a very simple, touching message that’s so easy to understand. But there’s so much work behind it, hours of painting. Here, it’s the same,” she said of the collection, which took a year to develop.
Designed to please “the maximum of women”, it offers scents from four big olfactive families to ensure everyone finds a fragrance they love.
The elegant Ampersand, which features prominently on the packaging, symbolises both the winding journey of raw materials from near and far, and the union of two ingredients in a single scent.
In the floral Jasmin & Bergamote, jasmine absolutes from Grasse and Egypt are refreshed with the soft citrus of bergamot essential oil from Italy for a light, graceful dance between freshness and sensuality.
In Grasse, jasmine is known as la fleur (the flower) for its rare and fragile quality, and commands premium prices of around ‚40,000/kg (RM172,729). The Egyptian variety is heavier with a hint of caramel.
“I used just a touch (of the latter), because I wanted the fresh, delicate smell of live jasmine in the morning, like a flower in the wind,” said Dubreuil, adding that she is partial to floral notes.
The fresh perfume can be worn at any time as it develops over a long-lasting background.
Magnolia & Mûre is the chypre family of the collection, using magnolia essential oil from the Far East and blackberry infusion from the south of France.
“The magnolia comes from a beautiful flowering tree, so we constructed this fragrance around wood. It’s a meeting between the flower of magnolia and the wood of patchouli. I also wanted it to be very happy, so I added blackberry for a sweet touch,” she said.
Though blackberry is not a traditional extract in a perfumer’s palette, they discovered that macerating the fruits in a hydroalcoholic solution for several weeks brings out its powerful fruity notes.
“The woman wearing this is a strong personality who is very sexy and feminine. She’s mysterious, tricky – you don’t see it all. Its fruity aspect is nice for the day, and its enduring quality reveals itself over time, making it perfect for the evening,” quipped Dubreuil.
The unisex Vert & Bigarade is a lively encounter of the aromatic vert, a green tea extract from Japan, and the citrus freshness of bigarade, a bitter orange essential oil from Tunisia. Even sports lovers and children can spritz on the easy-to-wear fragrance.
In Provence, the bigarade is a much-loved tree as every part can be used in perfume: bitter orange essential oil is distilled from the fruit, petitgrain is obtained from the leaves and branches for cologne, and orange flower essence emerges when the bloom is treated.
The oriental Vanille & Narcisse is an unusual pairing of sensual black vanilla from Madagascar and the delicate narcisse, a small white flower found at the top of Grasse.
“We found their link via the spicy notes to create something very sensual, floral and opulent,” she said.
In perfumery, some ingredients go together well while certain components are stronger than those they are paired with.
Vanilla took up lot of room in the formula of this contrasted perfume, so Dubreuil had to balance it with the fragile narcisse to keep the floral’s rightful place and prevent the former from “eating it up like cotton”.
“This long-lasting scent is for the evening and ‘special opportunities’. But you can wear it whenever you want: I know that in Asia, you are crazy about vanilla!” said Dubreuil who is touted as “Asia’s perfumer” for her expertise in writing perfumes for the region.
A timeless story
When asked to describe perfume trends across the world, she replied it was impossible to create a global fragrance due to varying tastes, but described a kinship with Asia’s “refined culture, smells and way of being”.
“You like delicate flowers. Maybe that’s why I’m called Asia’s perfumer, as we love natural smells. Arabian countries love strong, woody roses and jasmines. Europeans like almost everything, while Americans like clean scents,” she shared.
The fragrances are housed in clear bottles crafted by a renowned glass-maker, and follow the classic make of traditional bottles used in perfumery labs.
Nature lovers will rejoice as the eco-friendly bottles are also recyclable!
For La Collection de Grasse, the ingredients from the south of France were a natural selection, and chosen according to their importance in the landscape of scent.
“Like the jasmine ... it was impossible not to choose it. When I began perfumery, we had the hyacinth absolute and I wanted to work with it, but perfumery doesn’t have it anymore,” said Dubreuil of their choices.
Happily, the story of Grasse is a timeless tale that L’Occitane has only begun to tell, as new creations are already being developed with Dubreuil at the helm.
Until then, the perfumer hopes to catch a whiff of her scent stories wherever she goes.
“When a woman on the street wears what you have written, it is a great answer to your work,” she said.
“But the best moment is when someone smells your creation and you see a light in their eyes. Then, you know that you have touched their heart.”
> Store perfumes in your fridge, as essential oils get damaged by heat and light.
> Don’t spray and rub fragrance on your wrists, as it breaks the scent’s molecules.
> Spray a cloud of scent around you, as perfume lingers longer on your hair and clothes.
> You can combine perfumes to create your own special fragrance.
> Trust your own nose, smell and discover new scents to find your perfect match.
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Lifestyle, La Collection de Grasse, L'Occitane, Karine Dubreuil
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