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Where Wild Flowers Grow: The Secrets of CHANEL N°5

Discover the skills and artistry that go into concocting the world’s most iconic perfume.

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“In one little bottle of N°5 Parfum, there are over one thousand flowers.”
—Olivier Polge, CHANEL head perfumer

Nestled among the hills overlooking the Côte d’Azur in southern France sits Grasse, a small town with a sweet fragrance emanating from the flower fields surrounding the quietly flowing Siagne river. The fragrant scents from the roses, jasmines, and irises that bloom there have earned Grasse the distinction of being the world’s capital of perfume.

It’s the place’s peculiar combination of sun and terroir that makes it a fertile ground for the delicate flowers used to concoct the legendary CHANEL fragrance N°5.

In 1987, under the impetus of then head perfumer Jacques Polge, CHANEL partnered with the Mul family, the largest flower field operator in the Grasse region. Aptly known as Le Petit Campadieu, or The Little Camp of God, the farm is run by Joseph Mul, a fifth-generation farmer who devotes his days to caring for over 20 hectares of flower fields.

The Mul family has tended the flowers of Grasse for five generations, using its savoir-faire to coax the delicate petals to release their unique fragrance.

In the 17th century, the Grasse region introduced the May rose, a new bloom cultivated by grafting the white rose with the French rose. It was a breed made especially for perfume, emanating a sweet aroma of honey blended with spices. Its distinct scent became the soul of the now iconic CHANEL N°5 fragrance—12 May roses are infused in every 30 ml bottle.

The delicate and arduous processes that go into harvesting these precious roses and extracting their scents are part of the region’s heritage. It’s a craft where thoroughness is key, but so is efficiency as time is always of the essence.

The harvest period of May roses is fleeting, limited to only three weeks in May. During this period, skilled farm workers carefully but hastily comb through the fields of Le Petit Campadieu to hand-pick the best blossoms in the morning before the fragrance fades and the petals wither under the blistering Provençal sun.


Top left: Gatherers race against the morning sun, collecting flowers in large burlap bags before they wilt in the heat. Each gatherer picks about 1,750 flowers in a single hour. Top right: The picked flowers are taken to the processing plant and loaded into large tiered extractors. Each extractor holds 250 kilograms of rose blooms. Bottom left: The blooms are dipped three times in a high temperature solvent, which absorbs their scent. Bottom right: A 30-millilitre bottle of N°5 Parfum contains the olfactory output of about a dozen full rose blooms.

The roses are then packed into large burlap bags and brought to the workshop in the centre of the field, where the extraction and distillation processes are carried out immediately to preserve the flowers’ most essential scent components.

Order the Magnifissance print edition to read the full story.

This story is from Magnifissance Issue 118

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