Pégomas, France: Perfume Country

We read, with great interest, the March 19, 2018, New Yorker article, profiling the enchanting centifolia roses used to create the iconic Chanel No. 5 perfume. Bev and I experienced a warm, nostalgic feeling, as we remembered our time in the tiny French town of Pégomas, where these flowers come from.

Located just a few miles north of the French Riviera at Mandelieu-la Napoule and a few miles south of the perfume town of Grasse, Pégomas is a small countryside with a mild climate and gorgeous scenery. Because of the vast mimosa forests that turn the countryside yellow in the early spring, the route along Pégomas is affectionately known as the “Route d’Or” (route of gold).

Being only 30 minutes from the luxurious, 5-star Hotel du Cap in Antibes, this was an easy excursion for Bev and me to make.

Rosa Centifolia (Rose des Peintres) flower closeup

Like Champagne is to bubbly and Burgundy is to wine, Pégomas is to Chanel. Joseph Mul and his family’s 50-acre farm have held an exclusive partnership with the company since 2016, but Chanel has been using jasmine flowers and roses from this region for their perfume since the beginning. The company was forced to switch locations due to farmers selling their land, but Chanel offered Mul as much as he wanted to farm for them.

When the 50-acre field blooms, it all has to be harvested in two weeks. Mul and his son-in-law supervise a team of 70 women (mostly Turkish) and four French videurs, who collect the flowers the women pick in burlap sacks. The flowers are then immediately transferred to an onsite factory, supervised by another Mul family member, and are transformed from petals into a highly concentrated oil for the perfume. In the end, every 30 ml bottle of Chanel No. 5 contains the scent of 1,000 jasmine flowers and 12 roses from Pégomas.

Unlike synthetic material, Olivier Polge chooses to maintain this “feet-in-the-mud” experience that his father, Jacques Polge, the original Chanel perfumer, preferred. While Chanel No. 5 is an exquisite scent, the view of the vast fields of flowers is a sight to behold in and of itself.