Beauty Talk: Carole Biancalana Of Domaine De Manon, Parfums Christian Dior's Exclusive Flower Producer
Most city-dwellers would have dreamt once upon a time to escape the urban grind for a life on the far, but not many of us can say we have taken the leap to pursue the simple life, except for one—Carole Biancalana.
The fourth-generation heir to Domaine de Manon, a flower farm in Grasse, France, life is literally a bed of roses (with jasmine and tuberose too) for Carole, who left her banking job in 1999 to return to her family’s flower fields.
Under her charge, Domaine de Manon has been a flower producer for Parfums Christian Dior since a decade ago.
“It was a meeting of passion,” she says, about her exclusive partnership with the perfume house.
It all started when she first encountered with French perfumer and Christian Dior's nose, François Demachy at the World Perfumery Congress in 2006.
“He has very strong knowledge about natural raw materials and he wanted to find exceptional producers,” she describes the perfumer, who was also born in Grasse.
“I’m so lucky to work with him because he is a very humble person. It’s easy to communicate and share our projects, and he takes care of us like a father.”
Curious about life on a flower farm—much less one that provides the key ingredients to Dior’s celebrated perfumes? We chat with Carole, who was in town for the launch of Dior's Les Parfums pop-up at Changi Airport, about the legacy of Grasse’s fragrance flowers.
Tell us about a typical day for you on the farm.
Carole Biancalana (CB) We get up very early, at around five or six o’clock in the morning. Depending on the season, we harvest the flowers when the fragrances are most intense. For jasmine flowers, it has to be very early in the morning. Roses are best harvested at eight or nine o’clock, while tuberoses are harvested at night.
After the harvest, we have to send the flowers to the factory immediately to undergo the extraction.
The rest of the day is spent maintaining the flower farm by pruning, wrapping, and spraying essential oils to organically deter plant diseases and pests.
Is there a specific method in the cultivation and harvesting of the flowers to ensure optimal quality?
CB There are many important things to note. For one, we have to choose the best time to make the harvest. Sometimes, we get up at six o’clock and the rosebuds are completely closed, so we have to wait for them to open little by little until they are fully bloomed. We have to finish the harvest before twelve noon because the sunshine can cause flowers to lose their fragrance.
To avoid maceration, we use bags in natural linen and organic cotton, and organic wicker baskets to contain our harvests. Finally, the flowers have to be delivered to the factory—about ten minutes away by car—immediately to prevent oxidation.
You left a job in banking to work on the farm. Was taking over Domaine de Manon always on the agenda?
CB As a matter of fact, I wanted to live my own life when I was younger. Of course, I was born in Domaine de Manon, but like other young people, I wanted to carve out my own career, so I left the farm to study and work in the bank.
When you are in the bank however, it’s difficult to breathe—you are disconnected from nature, the seasons, the fragrances and you are always in a box. I love flowers so I wanted to go back to living amongst nature, and my grandparents and parents were very happy and proud of me for that decision.
Was it difficult adapting to farm life after years in the city?
CB I don’t find it hard. It was my choice and I made my passion my work. Of course, at first it was difficult to learn everything about flowers, from grafting to adapting our work to the changing climate, but, it’s more natural.
I think that to grow, you have to find and reconnect with your roots, because everything goes by too quickly in the world.
As the fourth generation of a family business, do you feel pressured to pass on the legacy?
CB Firstly, I’m very, very proud of my family. When I’m in the field, I always think about my parents, my grandparents, my great grandmother. I know this tree was grafted by my grandfather, these flowers are planted by my grandmother, and it’s important to continue this legacy.
Of course, I would be happy if my daughter Manon decides to take over, but I don’t want to put pressure on her. My parents didn’t put pressure on me and I came back by choice, so it’s important to me that it is the same for my daughter. No pressure—only by choice, and by passion.
What makes the May roses and jasmines from Grasse such exceptional fragrance flowers?
CB Like how wine from different regions have particular facets to their smell and taste, factors like soil, altitude, and climate can affect the fragrance of flowers. In Grasse, we are in the corridor between the mountains and the sea, and these geographical factors are what makes the May rose, jasmine, and other exceptional flowers from Grasse so definitively different.
In fact, when we get up early to harvest the roses, they can smell like honey on one day, and pepper on the other based on the humidity and weather.
At the end of the harvesting season, the concentrate extracted from the daily harvests are mixed together and distilled to get one absolute with many facets, and it is very representative of the season.
J’adore L’Or, created with Jasmine and May Rose Absolutes from the Domaine de Manon (Image: Dior)
Miss Dior Blooming Bouquet, a tribute to Christian Dior's passion for flowers (Image: Dior)
Tell us more about your petition to have perfume-making in Grasse listed in Unesco.
CB We started ten years ago to get Grasse's perfume-making techniques listed in Unesco's List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The recognition was for three aspects: cultivating fragrance flowers, transforming the natural raw materials, and perfume creation. I represented the cultivation of plants and I had to meet with a minister and many ambassadors from Unesco to explain how our techniques are different from other countries. It was a lot of work, but we won the recognition in November last year.
Your favourite Dior fragrance?
CB I love many fragrances from Dior. The first one is J’adore L’Or because it’s made from my roses and jasmines, and for summer, I love Miss Dior Blooming Bouquet because it feels like I'm surrounded by rose petals.
Experience the beauty of Grasse for yourself at the Dior Les Parfums pop-up at Shilla Duty Free, Changi Airport Terminal 1 until July 28. The space has been transformed with roses from Grasse, and you can even try the organic tea and rose jam from Domaine de Manon with purchase.