To be honest, I’m not sure how I got to France. Last year, I was sitting on my front porch reading a book that was set in Provence (can’t figure out what the book was) and suddenly, I was overcome with a very strong urge to go there. I had always wanted to get to this region (I assume everyone does) and had been talking about taking a perfume course in Grasse forever but now I was making concrete plans not just engaging in wishful thinking. I looked up course dates and locations and chose the Scents of Provence held in the heart of the lavender region during its peak. The 2018 course dates were posted on the website around January and I watched as it booked up until finally I couldn’t take it anymore and bravely/blindly put a deposit down. It was done. I was going to France.
I believe that when you are meant to do something, the Universe helps you get there. This trip was one of the more effortless things that I’ve had to plan in my life. It helped that my husband/partner is a travel booking enthusiast so he helped with transportation and accommodation. I ended up in an apartment in Forcalquier in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence with a terrace that offered a magnificent view of rolling hills and swallows playing in the wind. The entrance to the apartment had a statue fountain of Joan of Arc, which to me symbolizes strength and bravery, something I needed on this journey. The days leading to the trip were filled with anxiety about leaving my home, my two daughters (ages 7 and 10), my husband, my pets, my flowers, and my business. I was also not looking forward to the long haul flight and jet lag. It took me a couple days to get my ‘sea legs’ in Forcalquier. I felt vulnerable in a place I had never been to and being all by myself but was comforted by the patience and kindness that seemed to come naturally to the people in this charming village
Monday morning my perfume course started in the13th century Convent of Cordeliers. There were 10 students in total and we were from all over the world - Spain, Chile, Sweden, China, USA, Turkey, and Germany. We all shared one thing in common, an avid interest in perfume and using our nose. The first two days were spent smelling tester strips dipped in essential oils, absolutes, CO2s, and synthetics. We had to learn the language of perfume. What were we smelling? Was it floral, green, woody, sweet, fresh, ambery, spicy, balsamic? We trained our noses as best as we could but this is not something you learn in two days. It’s a lifelong study to be sure.
Wednesday we embarked on a field trip to...fields! True lavender (lavandula angustifolia at altitudes 600 m and up), clary sage, and immortelle are grown everywhere and the roadsides were dotted with bright yellow broom flowers. We stopped in at an organic farm where the rows of lavender were filled with companion plants, two of which I recognized - poppies and wheat. This farm distilled lavender, thyme, and immortelle in the summer and cold-pressed olive oil in the winter months. Rough life. The owner even remarked at how every day he wakes up to this beauty and it never gets old. I exited through the gift shop and filled my basket with their products. The lavender is extraordinary and will likely be going into a limited edition room spray this holiday season.
Thursday was spent smelling more single note ingredients as well as delving into professional perfumes and learning the classes they fell into - florals, orientals, chypres, fougères, and citruses.
Friday, we started blending our own perfumes. We began with a classic cologne created with mostly natural ingredients then moved on to blending a modern cologne using more synthetics. A traditional cologne is a light, citrus perfume that can have green and floral facets. We ended the course by designing our own perfume and allowing our instructor to adjust our recipe on paper but then we had the creative freedom to change it during the process of blending. Mine had too much galbanum at first, something I knew would happen. It completely takes over. It was adjusted with jasmine and osmanthus. My concept was to create a floral, woody scent with green facets. It actually turned out like a CK fragrance I wore in my 20s called Truth, which reminded me of fresh cut grass (thanks again, galbanum). Still, it is very fresh and floral and I do love it.
What now? I’m going to start creating perfumes! First day back to work, I ordered perfume alcohol and about 32 different absolute, essential oils, and CO2s (this on top of the essential oils and absolutes we already stock for our skin care). I also bought clear, round apothecary bottles with glass stoppers to create my own perfume organ. I am so inspired right now. My takeaway is a new-found passion, one that was always within me but I never permitted myself to express because I had not received what I felt was proper training. To be clear, I am not a trained nose from this one week course but I have enough knowledge built on previous knowledge to confidently work with naturals, something this industry is moving towards. My other takeaway is how ancient, sacred, and magical the art of perfumery is and I feel so privileged to be entering this world with love, reverence, and intuitive clarity.