Masks blossom among roses at French perfume capital

A worker picks "Centifolia" roses for perfumery Christian Dior, at Domaine de Manon in Grasse.

A worker picks "Centifolia" roses for perfumery Christian Dior, at Domaine de Manon in Grasse.

AFP/Valery Hache

GRASSE - May roses are blooming in Grasse, the birthplace of French perfumes, but out in the fields, some of those who pick them face a problem this year.

"Working with a mask and not smelling," the flowers, "is pretty frustrating," horticulturist Carole Biancalana acknowledges.

Owner of the Domaine de Manon which works with the Dior fashion house, she nonetheless told her seasonal workers they must wear a mask owing to the risk of catching the coronavirus.

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After two months of confinement marked by resounding silence broken only by buzzing bees, the gathering of rose petals began over a week ago and continues depending on the weather, under extra sanitary precautions.

"Normally, everyone grabs a smock, we help each other out and go down the rows facing each other, we chat and it's nice," Biancalana says.

This year, each worker has a separate row, starting at 9 am and stopping before 1 pm when the sun gets too hot.

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The rose's temperature and chemistry are paramount criteria in the gathering process.

"We are 'timed'. The rose has odour molecules that work at certain hours," explains Vincent Rossi.

Biancalana adds that they must also demonstrate "rapidity, dexterity and delicacy: you must pluck without breaking buds that will flower in the coming days." 

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Working by hand, "the goal is to not touch the heart of the rose. You take it just below the peduncle, and hop, break its neck," Vincent explains.

Each worker has a personalised burlap bag to contain the risk of contamination, and only one person drives to a collection site where the pink petals tumble into extraction vats.

In 2018, Grasse was included on a Unesco heritage list owing to its decades of know-how in the perfume sector.