A glorious field of lavender in Provence. Photo credit: wayfaring.info
By Editor-at-Large Dorene Kaplan
Abundant with rosemary, thyme, basil, olives, oleander and lavender, Provence has long been France’s breadbasket as well as fragrant flower garden. But in the last thirty-five years, this idealized area of southeastern France has left an edible mark on global beauty.
L’Occitane, for one, is a company synonymous with beauty from Provence. With boutiques located in more than 85 countries, its skin care, body, bath and fragrance collections are still developed and produced in the small Provence town of Manosque.
And it’s been that way since 1976, when L’Occitane founder, Olivier Baussan, a native of Haute-Provence, became inspired by ancient traditions and bought an antique steam distiller to make rosemary oil at the tender age of 23. The Mediterranean life style and traditional techniques led to the creation of an international phenomenon. “It’s [Provence’s] bounty, beauty and fragrances inspired me to create L’Occitane,” stated Mr. Baussan.
Renowned for its lavender and shea butter face and body care, L’Occitane offers hundreds of products. Some ingredients like immortelle, the legendary free-radical and wrinkle-fighting flower immortalized in Greek legends, and shea butter, the miraculous emollient and protectant, are sourced from places like Corsica and Africa, but always with the Provence spirit. L’Occitane retains a commitment to the Provence region, while at the same time developing a sustainability program in Africa and a multi-project charitable foundation.
L’Occitane’s Sweet Cherry Temptation gift set. Photo Credit: L’Occitane
Recent launches include Immortelle Divine Cream ($95.00), described as the “ultimate complete anti-aging cream,” and for the holidays, there are new Shea Vanilla, Sweet Cherry, Delicious Almond and Candied Rose bath, body and candle launches.
It was more than the cuisine and flora of Provence that impressed Mathew Tilker, president of Mistral, who founded his French soap, body product and fragrance company in the early 90s following the study of alternative cancer therapies in Europe. The company takes its name from the powerful Mistral wind that rejuvenates the soil every year contributing to the lush planting conditions of the region.
“To live in Provence has always meant to be close to a rich array of flowers, fruits and vegetables that have fostered the rise of the fragrance industry in Grasse and a world renowned cuisine devoted to pure, simple foods,” explained Mr. Tilker.
Matthew’s enchantment with the region dates to a stay in Provence, when he met a 70-year old master soap maker, who crafted soaps in a family factory using a 300-year-old triple-milling process. Completely enthralled with the artistry, Mathew began importing soaps from Provence—which he sold initially in his mother’s San Diego home during the 1994 holiday season. Within a few months he opened the first Mistral boutique in his California home town of Solana Beach, and then a second shop in Los Angeles in 2001.
Mistral’s new Garden Mint French Shea Butter Soap. Photo Credit: Mistral
Today, Mistral offers 30 different fragranced soaps and a full range of scented-personal care products. Typical Provence scents include lavender, fleurs de miel, green fig, orange blossom and wild blackberry. New launches include Garden Mint French Shea Butter Soap ($8.00) and an updated men’s soap collection ($10.50 each), which is crafted with a blend of organic grapeleaf extract and antioxidant-rich grapeseed oil. Sold across the country as well as in Canada and internationally, Mistral also can be purchased at www.mistralcoap.com.
In addition to actual products, Provence has yielded exceptional talent within the beauty universe, like celebrity hair stylist Frédéric Fekkai and makeup artist Laura Mercier.
Hailing from Aix-en-Provence, Frédéric took a detour on his path to becoming a sculptor by way of New York City and soon became a hair stylist for stars like Jessica Lange, Sigourney Weaver and Renée Zellweger as well as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. His product line, now owned by Procter & Gamble, still reflects his Provence roots.
For example, the Fekkai Advanced Brilliant Glossing range—shampoo, conditioner, glossing cream and shine mist ($20.00 to $23.00)—is formulated with olive oil, a traditional Mediterranean hair enhancer.
Fekkai Apple Cider Clarifying Shampoo. Photo Credit: fekkai.com
Likewise, the brand’s Apple Cider Clarifying Shampoo ($23.00) rids hair of impurities with a traditional treatment from the South of France.
Like Fekkai, Laura Mercier switched to beauty from a career path in the arts, in her case painting. Raised in Provence, Laura became an established Parisian makeup artist before moving to New York in 1985 for the launch of American Elle. Success in the editorial, commercial and entertainment worlds—most famously as makeup artist for Madonna—preceded the establishment of her eponymous cosmetics brand in 1996.
Laura’s Provence heritage is apparent in her Eau de Toilette collection, which includes Almond Coconut, Crème Brulée, Marrons Glaces, Tarte au Citron and Vanille Gourmande ($50.00 each).
And finally, Compagnie de Provence presents a unique contemporary interpretation of the region. Using traditional and natural ingredients, its bath, body and fragrance products are packaged in contemporary shapes such as cubes and laboratory-like bottles, which are detailed with graphics inspired by the 20th century industrial esthetic. Provence history is revealed through the use of traditional ingredients including olive oil, lavender and shea butter, plus a certified organic line. Prices range from $6.50 for a soap to $49.00 for a body balm.
So, as the holidays near and the seasonal winds blow (imagine it’s the Mistral) take a quick trip to the south of France with luxurious soaps, lotions and fragrances that will transport you to fields of lavender, linden trees and sun flowers.