Jade Sprowson travels to Italy to immerse herself into the olfactory journey behind some of Dior’s signature fragrances…
Bergamot. If you asked me a couple of months ago what a bergamot looked like I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. I knew it was a fruit, but to be quite frank, when I typed it into Google image search and hit ‘enter’ I half expected a little white flower to appear on my screen. The reality is that a bergamot is a rather bulbous yellow fruit, somewhere between a grapefruit and a lemon.
Fast forward two months, and I now know that this humble fruit is one of the key ingredients for many of the perfumes, oils, and aftershaves that sit on our dressing tables. I’ve come to the hills of a small Italian town called Reggio di Calabria, which sits on the heel of Italy opposite Sicily, to investigate the place where around 90 per cent of the world’s bergamot is produced. The orchards here stretch across 15 hectares of land, strategically positioned where the warm breeze of the Ionian sea meets the land, yet where they are protected by the hills of Calabria. For a perfumer this is the perfect condition in which to grow bergamot.
The scent of the fruit became immediately apparent the moment we arrive at the factory where the Capua family produces bergamot oil. The zingy, citrusy aroma is overpowering, cutting through the air as we stride into the small factory surrounded by trees and trucks laden with the distinctive yellow fruit
The factory, which has been producing San Carlo Bergamot oil since 1880 through five generations, is a hive of activity. The staff here, using machines, wash, scrub, pummel, de-pip and – finally – squeeze 80 tonnes of bergamot that is delivered every day, between November and March, bergamot season. In a mere 15 minutes a 100 kilos of peel is crushed and transformed into 500 grams of essential oil. The oil is transported 20 minutes down the road to the plant where eight chemists remove unwanted chemicals and residues. The purified oil is then poured into large nitrogen drums and shipped out to the Dior factories in France to be used in their range of products.
Bergamot is a fundamental ingredient for the unisex Christian Dior Privée Collection, Miss Dior, J’adore and the classic men’s fragrance Eau Sauvage. This citrus fruit is also used to make soaps, candles, to flavour Earl Grey tea and even boiled up into marmalade – I tried it on toast and it was deliciously bittersweet.
With its strong, spicy and distinctive scent, I wondered why, if bergamot is used in so many fragrances, doesn’t it bully the other aromas. In short: why doesn’t everything smell of bergamot?
Francois Demachy, the expert nose behind Dior’s signature scents, explains, “Bergamot is the binder of all ingredients when mixed to make a fragrance. It’s not overpowering, it’s like the butter in a recipe when you cook, it works well in any blend and in many proportions.”
“The quality of the fragrance is entirely dependent on the quality of the ingredients used, citrus ingredients in particular,” says Demachy. And quality isn’t something that can be argued, as Demachy has developed a made-to-measure bergamot from the Calbarian groves that is the signature note for several Dior perfumes.
After my firsthand experience of bergamot essence being grown, extracted and turned into oil, I feel quite a connection with the somewhat spicy, yet mild note that is not as sweet as mandarin, nor as powdery as roses. A few days later I return to Dubai, laden with my own freshly picked bergamot fruit, pure bergamot essence and dried out peel to line my linen drawers. On my way to the office the next day I take a light spritz of Christian Dior Ambre Nuit, and it’s there the citrus, the soil, the grass, the coastal sea air; enough to whisk me to those sunny groves and for a moment I feel I’m still right there.
Top image: Styled by Jade Sprowson, photography by Farooq Salik.
From left to right: Miss Dior 100ml Dhs665, Cologne Royale 250ml Dhs1500, J’adore 100ml Dhs665