The end of May marks the orange blossom harvest in Vallauris and for a few weeks, the air from the beaches of Golfe-Juan to the hills above Cannes is perfumed with the sweet, intoxicating scent of the soft white flowers.
Orange blossoms were once the economic engine of Vallauris, providing numerous perfumeries with Néroli, the essential oil produced from the flowers. One litre of Néroli oil requires a good 1,000 kilos of hand-picked orange blossoms, which was no problem in the 1920s when the area harvested 80 tonnes of flowers per year - today they produce five.
In 1956, there was a devastating deep freeze that decimated the orange groves and the perfume industry sought their Néroli in Tunisia. It was only Chanel who remained, adamant about sourcing quality ingredients from the same place they always have. It has been nearly 100 years since their famed Perfume No.5 was created and at the time, there were around 300 Néroli producers in Vallauris, only a tenth of which remain.
Chanel plans to change that. This past June, the fashion house announced that by 2020, they will supply 600 orange trees across a network of orange groves in Vallauris and Golfe-Juan. Working with Maison Mul in Pégomas, they will supply Citrus Aurantium L., a historical variety native to the two towns and particularly fragrant.
Maison Mul is a 5th generation family business and has been supplying Chanel with Iris, jasmine tuberose and Néroli since 1987. They work with Cooperative Nérolium, an organisation of orange blossom growers founded in 1904. Both Chanel and Maison Mul are committed to reviving this special crop and the addition of 600 trees should bring production levels up to 50 tonnes of harvest. Under the deal, Chanel is guaranteed the harvest, which will go into their perfumes, including their latest creation, "Paris-Riviera".
The addition of several hundred orange blossom trees will be a boon not only to the economy, but also the heritage of Vallauris, re-granting it the prestige of years gone by.
- Nicole Ruskell