A day in Provence

Fougere Royale Essence

Fougere Royale Essence - Credit: Submitted

Escape to a beautiful corner of France - or maybe just the garden - with Suzie Abel, Jarrold’s beauty buyer

Picture the scene - it’s the Chelsea Flower Show and the sun is beaming down. You are sitting in the sunshine on the beautiful gold medal winning L’Occitane garden, an amazing, naturalistic representation of the Provencal countryside, sipping champagne with the designer James Basson. How perfect can life get?

In my role as beauty buyer, I am so lucky to have met some amazing people and been to some stunning destinations over the years, and recently I was very fortunate to be invited to visit Chelsea by the lovely team at L’Occitane and to enjoy a personal tour of their fourth show garden. It is the 40th anniversary of the company, which was founded by Olivier Baussan who, while wandering through his native Provence enjoying its natural beauty, was motivated to create his own perfume oils. He then found an old soap factory in 1976 and determined to revive the traditional art of Marseille soap making, and so L’Occitane en Provence was born. Since then, the range has increased to include many deliciously fragranced products for the face, body, hands and feet.

The charming designer James Basson is British-born, but has spent more than 16 years living and working in the south of France. He has a reputation for creating low maintenance, dry gardens that mix contemporary design with traditional skills. When designing this year’s Chelsea garden he drew inspiration from the local landscape to create a truly natural feel, unlike his 2015 garden for L’Occitane which really was a “garden”, and another gold medal winner. This year’s is incredibly realistic and the attention to detail is unbelievable. The stone walls and paths are rugged and worn and tiny little sedums are placed in the cracks, as if they have been there for years. James told me that his children had collected the shells of tiny white snails that climb up the tall grasses to catch the sun, and hundreds of dead leaves (yes, genuine leaves from the ground in Provence) to ensure absolute authenticity. We were immediately transported to rural southern France - it was hard to remember we were standing in SW3!

While we linger in this heavenly part of the world, another renowned parfumier was Jean-Francois Houbigant, who was born in Grasse in the 18th century. His perfumes were favoured by Napoleon and Josephine, and Oscar Wilde, but the House of Houbigant was probably most famous for the creation of Fougere Royale in 1882. It completely revolutionised the world of perfume, as it was the first fougere (or fern-like) scent - a completely new family – and still the most popular family in men’s fragrance today.

All good things come to an end and as I headed home on the train, I left Provence behind and returned to somewhere very different but equally beautiful – Norfolk.

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