How did L’Occitane revive fragrances from forgotten flowers?

How did L'Occitane revive fragrances from forgotten flowers?

For its Forgotten Flowers line of cosmetics and perfumes, unveiled in fall 2023, L’Occitane en Provence has engaged in a long-term collaboration with the Institut de Chimie de Nice, the Villa Saint-Hilaire and the International Perfume Museum, in Grasse, France.

It is not uncommon for innovation to find its roots in the past! Regarding the Forgotten Flowers collection by L’Occitane en Provence, the whole adventure began with a dive into the archives – notably those of the Villa Saint-Hilaire and the International Perfume Museum, in Grasse, the cradle of French perfumery – to find the flowers formerly used in old perfume recipes. This titanic work led to the creation of a database gathering more than 800 perfume plants, some of which had been completely forgotten. From these 800 plants, three were selected to form the new collection: melilot [1], woodland hawthorn (known as noble épine, in French) [2], and common tansy (known as barbotine, in French) [3].

A database of 800 perfume plants

It all started in 2015, when the brand committed to supporting a thesis on “Forgotten perfume plants” by researcher Anne-Sophie Bouville.

The project was to liberate knowledge about these flowers, forgotten in perfumery, but sometimes known in other fields. There was also a philanthropic dimension of opening up and sharing knowledge with the general public,” said Anne-Sophie Bouville, PhD student at the Institut de Chimie de Nice (Université Côte d’Azur, CNRS), then Active Fragrance Project Manager, L’Occitane.

Indeed, certain plants, such as rose, jasmine and iris, have been used in perfumery since Antiquity and throughout the ages. Others were used at certain periods and are no longer used today. Sometimes, this disinterest is easily explained by substitution by a synthetic ingredient or by regulatory constraints. But in other cases, the reason may remain unknown.

To identify these forgotten perfume plants and develop innovative cosmetic raw materials, several hundred books were studied, some dating back to antiquity, and numerous experts (anthropologists, archaeologists, botanists, historians, linguists, perfumers, theologians, etc.) were interviewed. Information was gathered on the identity, history, symbolism, uses, smell, medicinal properties and hypotheses on why plants were forgotten.

Beyond their properties and olfactory potential, the eight hundred perfume plants and more that form a unique database were subjected to strict specifications and studied in the light of L’Occitane’s industrial and agricultural criteria to assess their interest in perfumery and cosmetics.

Three olfactory universes steeped in history

This impressive research work resulted in a patent and three scientific publications, and in the launch in fall 2023 of a collection of cosmetic perfumes packed with purpose and steeped in history.

It’s very rare in research to see the concrete outcome of one’s work. The strength of this collaboration between the world of research and L’Occitane is that it makes academic knowledge tangible and comprehensible to the general public,” highlighted Xavier Fernandez, University Professor in Chemistry and Vice-President Innovation, the Université Côte d’Azur in Nice, France.

For the creation of these unique perfumes, L’Occitane worked with renowned perfumers who were asked to highlight the history and personality of each of the three selected flowers.

For the Melilot line, Julie Massé and Véronique Nyberg, perfumers at Mane, turned away from the absolute of the flower to prefer the infusion technique. The use of this flower, neglected by modern perfumery in favour of coumarin, a more accessible synthetic molecule, was “really fascinating”, according to Julie Massé.

For Noble Épine, the choice of fresh flower absolute appeared as the most logical and Shyamala Maisondieu, Givaudan perfumer, translated it in a tender and delicate fragrance.

Finally, for Barbotine, the essential oil of the plant was transformed into perfume by Fabrice Pellegrin and Ilias Ermenidis, from Firmenich. The perfume’s olfactory notes present a floral sophistication alongside revealing a fresh aromatic scent.

Bringing forgotten flowers back to the heart of olfactory creation was a unique adventure, a challenge,” concluded Fabrice Pellegrin.


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