“I am standing in a field in the South of France, in the rising heat of a morning baked by sun. On the lightest breeze, there is an intoxicating drift of jasmine in the air. It is a pinch-me moment. I am experiencing the CHANEL jasmine harvest, watching while exotically scented blooms are plucked from rows of plants in the middle of a field given over to growing ingredients for CHANEL’s legendary perfumes, including, of course, CHANEL N°5.
Timing, I learn, is everything. Blooming overnight – the flowers open after dark, when the sun sets and the temperature drops – a constellation of teensy star-shaped flowers dots the dark-green bushes with a fresh crop. By lunchtime, the harvest’s over, till the next day, and the flowers are en route to becoming pure jasmine absolute – one of the perfume world’s priciest ingredients.
This isn’t my first wow-I-love-my-job CHANEL moment, though. One May, a couple of years previously, I’d travelled to the same ‘flower farm’ to watch the May harvest of Rosa centifolia. Equally precious, that other fragrance pillar of No5, picked by the same team. How incredible to be able to bury my nose in a vat of roses, breathing the damp, humid, tea rose scent of a flower that, when bottled, would later adorn the neck of a woman somewhere. How extraordinary to be able to watch the process, as these ingredients were transformed into precious jasmine and rose absolute, later to be decanted into those famous faceted crystal bottles. The stoppers, secured by baudruchage – the technique using fine, black thread that is still hand-tied – seals each precious bottle of parfum.
It’s a cliché, but N°5 is a scent that’s meant so much to me my whole life. CHANEL N°5 parfum isn’t ‘my’ CHANEL N°5, though – I am devoted, instead, to the CHANEL No5 L’Eau. This crystalline creation by in-house perfumer, Olivier Polge, was, serendipitously, launched the summer I had a ‘big birthday’ celebration. I wore it all weekend, and with every airy spritz I am reminded of the sun-drenched joy of time with friends (coincidentally, appropriately) in France.
Of course, it isn’t easy to visit France at the moment. And an invitation to the CHANEL rose and jasmine fields isn’t something that money can buy. But via the Factory 5 Collection, and the events I’m hosting at Selfridges, I hope to share the story of this amazing fragrance from field to flacon. Together, we can close our eyes, breathe in the scent of No5 and travel (in our minds) to the fragrant corner of Provence where it all begins. Such is perfume’s astonishing power.”