The Scent of Chanel: May Rose – From Flower To Fragrance


The year was 1987 when Chanel officially launched their partnership with the largest flower producer in Grasse (the Mul family), giving the Parisian luxury brand full control over 5 precious ingredients, Geranium Rosat, Grasse Jasmine, Iris Pallida, May Rose and Tuberose, all of which are used extensively in their scents. Why? Not only is Chanel assured that the formulas (and olfactory qualities) of its iconic fragrances are maintained to absolute precision, working closely with the Mul family also ensures the processes are followed meticulously, with the journey starting from planting of the new flowering shrubs till the end when the precious absolutes are extracted for use by Chanel. One of which includes the May Rose, which undergoes five major steps from start to finish and is found in the iconic N°5 Parfum.


Each morning in May is a race against time to harvest the roses with their delicate petals (which is why it’s affectionately known as the May Rose), renowned for its sweet scent with just a hint of spice. For three short weeks, the harvesters fill their pouches with the fresh blooms, before they are transferred into bigger burlap bags that are taken into the extraction plant for processing. The flowers are then stacked into perforated trays and bathed in solvent, before being gently stirred in high temperatures to extract the essence into a ‘concrete’ form.


Essentially a fragrant wax (400 kg of rose petals are needed to produce 1kg of concrete), the end result is guarded like treasures in secret locations that Chanel and the Mul family will never reveal. Now, only upon the request of Chanel’s in-house perfumer Olivier Polge will the concrete be transformed into an absolute, a process that requires the concrete to be blended with alcohol, before it is chilled and filtered to separate the wax from liquid. The result? 600 g of precious rose absolute. In other words, during this process alone, 400 kg of rose petals will yield only 600 g of rose absolute.

What makes the flowers of the Mul family so special lies in their unparalleled quality (no chemical fertilisers are used to grow the flowers, for example), with both Chanel and the Mul family working hand in hand to produce only the most fragrant of blooms today and tomorrow. And that partnership ensures that only the best goes into Chanel fragrances, a time-honoured tradition befitting the legacy that Gabrielle Chanel left behind when she first created N°5 in 1921.


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