Gordes, France. 35° C – sweltering. June, barely summer. Butterflies and bees busy with their day jobs and the smell of lavender that seemed to wrap you in a warm embrace as if to say … welcome! This is the famous Abbaye de Senanque. This is Provence!
The Abbey, located in the valley just north of Gordes, is a medieval monastery built between 1148-1178 in the Romanesque style set among the famous lavender fields of Provence. The aura is peaceful to point of lulling even the tourists into a quiet contemplation.
During the 13th and 14th century the Abbey owned four mills and large swathes of land as far as Arles and Marseilles. The Abbot Francois was known as the “father of the poor” having cared for those afflicted by the plague — no small gesture at the time! During the French Revolution it was sold to the state and in 1903 laws prohibiting the gathering of religious groups forced the monks to leave. Six Cistercian monks returned in 1988 to reestablish the monastic life guided by the medieval way of prayer, silence, study and work. Today, lavender and honey farming, donations, tourism and sales help sustain the monastery. To this day the Abbey offers residential retreats to anyone interested in a time of quiet mediation. Asking only a modest $30 a day one can stay for up to eight days.
Every budding perfumer should put in the time to research the plants of their raw materials, discover their ideal growing conditions, identify the various genus species and chemical composition so that when that wondrous moment arrives, when we remove the cap of our latest purchase and inhale deeply the history of, not only our personal experience but also that of the plant itself, these aspects come alive and combine with the scent to add depth, breadth and emotion which help to “fix” the notes more solidly in our minds by giving them context and weight.
Now when I think of composing a cologne based on lavender it will be with the goal of giving the wearer a brief respite, the one I longed for on that day, from such heat by seeming to shower them with a cool, clear, summer downpour.
In the end, in my very limited experience, we can sniff as many sample raw materials as we like, but nothing can ever take the place of being their, where the raw materials grow; the gift of tasting, feeling and smelling what has taken perhaps a season to mature and hundreds of kilos to distill into one 30ml bottle.