At the end of June 2023 we had the privilege of receiving a wonderful invitation from Lancôme to visit a magical place in Grasse, in the south of France, frequented until very recently only by experts and celebrity brand ambassadors such as Zendaya, Julia Roberts, Penelope Cruz, Isabella Rossellini, Amanda Seyfried and Rosalia, who was a brand ambassador in 2022 during her Motomami tour in the United States.
This place is called is Le Domaine de La Rose by Lancôme, a sanctuary where biodiversity is the key for nature to show itself in all its splendor. A beautiful Christmas postcard with a sketch of the place caught my attention upon receiving it and thus began the mission of preparing my visit.
This summer, my dream finally came true thanks to the Lancôme public relations team who coordinated a visit with an exclusive group of experts that generously shared their knowledge with People en Español.
With this series of videos, like the one above, you will learn many interesting and captivating facts about the process of harvesting roses and other emblematic flowers with which magical fragrances like La Vie est Belle are made, so that thousands of women around the planet can smile and brighten up their spirits.
Scent is an essential part of the history of Lancôme. In 1935, inspired by his own blooming rose garden, Armand Petitjean launched Lancôme as a fragrance house, and almost a century later it has grown into a leading luxury fragrance and beauty brand in the world.
During this visit full of color and aromas we learned that the natural methods of past centuries are used here to create a promising future. Everything is magical at Lancôme's Domaine de la Rose and you can feel it as soon as you set foot in the property where the sound of humming bees and dragonflies fills the air as does the aroma of herbs, lavender and other delicate flowers.
You can also see the magic as butterflies flutter among the fields over the famous centifolia roses, with pink petals that brighten the intense green foliage. Here and there, wild poppies also sprinkle the landscape with a touch of red while the wind gently blows and the sun shines bright on a lovely mid summer day.
Ancient oaks are the guardians of the estate where we also see fig and olive trees that stand proud, because under their shade the blue and noble irises grow to produce their exquisite and precious essence.
A unique maison
At the heart of the property stands a contemporary and eco-designed pink monolith. The Rose House which bears the color of its name, has a circular entrance inspired by the "Ô" of Lancôme.
Inspired by the local architectural style of French Provence and Lancôme's environmental commitments, architects Lucie Niney and Thibault Marca designed this very original structure. They used local, bio-sourced and handcrafted materials to reduce the environmental footprint in a number of innovative ways. For example, the large windows that frame the landscape like works of art are surrounded by walls made with lavender straw from the farm itself to insulate the outside heat and are under roofs built with rice straw from the Camargue area.
The rose tour
To start this unforgettable tour, we met outside the pink house with two experts: Antoine Leclef, a charming landscape engineer in charge of the maintenance of the Domaine de la Rose and the well-being of all the plants, and Corinne Marie Tossello, a passionate expert in perfumery from Grasse and our special guide for this visit.
During the tour we learned that the four acres are nourished by a pond that collects water from the neighboring river and a stream that rolls down the hill. Both are vital for the property to water the plants.
The first cultivated fields that we saw were those of the Centifolia rose harvested in May. Corinne explained that this rose was brought to Grasse in the 17th century for the development of the perfume industry. Prior to this, the area was known for its leather tanneries for the manufacture of gloves which were basically perfumed with local plants like Lentiscus and Myrtle. It was not until the 17th century that they imported the Centifolia rose, jasmine (jasminum grandiflorum) and tuberose (polianthes tuberose) the three emblematic plants of Grasse today.
Antoine proudly shared with us that biodiversity is what creates the harmony and botanical balance on the property. "We have flowers everywhere to maintain biodiversity, we also grow figs and conserve plants that were already in the domain such as the olive trees and the oaks," he said. "Here everything is maintained and watered by hand. In this farm we work with the same methods employed 200 years ago."
When talking about the roses, Leclef's face lights up. The rose family is the largest in the plant world as there are thousands of hybrids, but essentially there are two types of rose, one that blooms once a year and one that can bloom multiple times. The centifolia rose used in perfumery only does so once a year– that is why the arrival of the month of May when the rose is harvested is so symbolic and special.
The process has not only lots of magic but a special technique. "From the moment that the roses barely open and are harvested and taken to the distillery to extract the fragrance, no more than an hour can pass by. Not a minute more!" explains Antoine. Corinne also points out: "When you collect them you have to put them in a very special material so they can breathe. No plastic!"
The process is carried out mainly by women with their delicate hands so as not to damage the roses. "There's a very specific way to do it," says Corinne. "And if you do it correctly you hear a special sound: 'clack!'" she concludes.
"To achieve this, you must take the base of the rose with two fingers and then put your thumb in the center, to detach it in a simple movement," explains Leclef. "On a harvest morning you only hear the birds singing and the 'clack, clack' of the rose harvesting," recalls the expert under the blazing June sun.
Closer to the house is a special piece of land dedicated to the care and maintenance of historic and legendary rose varieties, as well as the iconic ones created specifically for Lancôme.
"This is the patrimonial field of roses. It is divided into three sections, the first relating to the historical roses of perfumery: rosa Centifolia, rosa Damascena and the grandmother of rosa Damascena, known as the rose of Ispahan. There are also other beauties like the Cuisse de Nymphe or the Tango rose," explains Antoine.
Among the exclusive Lancôme roses we found the one created especially for Armand Petitjean with vibrant fuchsia petals, but there is also a white jewel, the Perpetuelle rose with which Lancôme's Absolue skin care line of products are created.
There is also the Je t'aime rose and one of the oldest varieties in the world, the rosa Gallica. In other sections of the property the precious Iris or Orris is also cultivated, growing happily under the olive trees. From its bulbs, after a six years process, one of the most exclusive substances in terms of perfumery is obtained: orris butter.
Distillation and extraction methods
After visiting the fields we headed to the distillery located in the basement of another strategic building where Mathilde Venot, a dedicated Lancôme Fragrance expert, explained to us the different processes for extracting the substances with which the fragrances are made. "To create fragrances, the damask rose and the centifolia rose are the main ones used in perfumery," she commented while she taught us about the extraction methods: the essence and the absolute.
"When you have a rose, you can use two processes to extract its fragrance, one is distillation in a still with steam to obtain the essence, the other is extraction by using a solvent to obtain the absolute. In the case of the centifolia rose, its fragrance can only be obtained by extraction."
When you smell the centifolia rose you perceive aromas of honey, straw or hay, all very sweet and delicate. The aroma of damascus rose is like a striking and refined floral bouquet.
And so, we delighted ourselves with scents of various types of symbolic roses key in the beauty and in the perfumery divisions of the emblematic house of Lancôme. But we will pause here for today and keep other secrets that we will soon reveal in our next chapter dedicated exclusively to discovering the delicious composition of an already legendary fragrance for Lancôme like La Vie est Belle, that gathers world-class ambassadors such as Rosalía, Penelope Cruz, Isabella Rossellini, Zendaya, Amanda Seyfried and Julia Roberts.
Stay tuned for our next video from Le Domaine de la Rose by Lancôme from Grasse in France!