L’Occitane: at the institute of scents

Third part. First part, second part.

L’Occitane supports multiple local projects. Actually, I got the impression that for Provence L’Occitane is something like the AvtoVAZ car plant in my hometown – Togliatti. If you don’t work for it directly, then you for sure work for someone who works for it. There is a similar story behind the European University of Scents and Flavours (Universite Europeenne Senteurs & Savours) to which we were taken in order to learn about how essential oils were distilled in the past.

In my opinion, the place itself looks just wonderful.

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loccitane_uess7Don’t let the ancient look of the institute fool you – everything inside is modern:

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Lab. On the table you can see some new L’Occitane products: 100% pure shea butter – that I already managed to appreciate as a lip balm – and a lavender hand cream from the renewed line.

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Aroma gallery. Here you can lean forward to spray and smell the aroma of lavender and other plants.

The process of distillation of essential oils (it’s best to go to Wikipedia to read about it in detail) was demonstrated to us by this gentleman.

loccitane_dist6This is more or less how it was done a hundred or more years ago.

Flowers were put into a tank with hot water.

loccitane_dist5The round thing below – that’s the kind of tanks they used.

loccitane_dist7The steam gathers in the pipe through which it flows into a tank with cold water.loccitane_dist2

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Here it cools down, turns back into a liquid and flows into a sump – that’s the “samovar” next to the big tank.

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We left our flowers there for an hour and when we came back we could already smell the scent of the essential oil and could see first drops of it on the surface of water in the “samovar.” The liquid that pours through the little tap into the bucket is flower water – same one as used by, for instance, Melvita.

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This way, from a huge amount of plants (1 ton), they would obtain about a litre of essential oil – a fairly expensive process.

And this is what a moveable distillation machine looked like over a hundred years ago.

loccitane-uess4It looks almost the same as the distillation machine with which the story of L’Occitane began – the ancient machinery was bought by Olivier Baussan, then a young student, from his neighbour who decided to get rid of all the junk in his garage. As a result, Olivier made the first essential oil in his life and decided to make cosmetics. But this is what I will tell you about in another post.

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