Mimosa, French perfume-makers' secret ingredient

Mimosa, French perfume-makers' secret ingredient

GRASSE, France - Like miniature pompoms bursting with colour and fragrance, mimosa flowers turn the hills around France's perfume capital, Grasse, a golden yellow for a couple of fleeting weeks each year.

Though they fade fast - and must be processed as soon as they are harvested - a second life awaits these harbingers of spring as a prized ingredient in some of the world's most coveted scents.

"Mimosa is still a perfumer's mainstay," says Sebastien Plan of Robertet, a major international supplier of the raw ingredients that go into perfumes.

Mimosa's heady fragrance, which enjoyed a heyday from the 1950s through the '70s, is used in tiny amounts today. Modern perfumes tend to be "subtler, with a good, clean and smooth" effect, says Robertet.

Yet it can still "become a perfume's secret ingredient," he says.

"Mimosa has a fresh, floral, slightly powdery, almost honeyed aspect, which blends with the green scent of the stems," he adds, admitting a preference for the stronger wild variety.

From a harvest of around 40 tonnes of flowers, Robertet produces some 400 kilos (880 pounds) of a rock-like substance called "concrete" - which is in turn purified into about 100 kilos of "absolute".

Jean-Pierre Roux, the boss of the Grasse perfumery Galimard, pays tribute to this "symbol of the Grasse terroir" by distilling the flowers into a refreshing cologne, popular with visitors who come to see the mimosas in bloom.

Grasse, situated on the French Riviera, has long been France's perfume capital. Fields of Provence roses and jasmine sprung up around the area in the 17th century when local tanners started scenting their leather products - especially gloves - with fragrant floral oils, which are still used today to make luxury perfumes such as Chanel No. 5.

Galimard's perfumer Caroline de Boutiny admits that its mimosa scent is more popular with older customers than with the young.

The strong mimosa absolute is little used in modern fragrances, but it can "lend weight to a composition with its honeyed and powdered notes", she said.

Luxury perfume brands Kenzo and Guerlain use it for this quality in their toilet waters, de Boutiny said.

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