Since the 17th century, Grasse has been known worldwide for its fragrant flowers. Situated just inland from the French Riviera, Grasse enjoys a microclimate that allows fields of may rose, tuberose, lavender and jasmine to blossom. Today, the region produces flowers for some of the world’s biggest luxury brands, including Dior and Chanel, who spend significant amounts on raw materials from the region – Grasse’s jasmine sells for a higher price than gold.
But climate change is threatening this tradition. Extreme weather patterns such as droughts, heatwaves, and excessive rainfall have made growing flowers increasingly difficult. Last summer, Grasse faced extreme droughts, resulting in some producers losing nearly half of their harvest. High temperatures affect the future quality of roses and prohibit some flowers, such as tuberose, from growing. Biancalana felt these impacts directly: this year, her tuberose harvest dropped by 40%.
“The elders here keep telling us there are no more seasons,” says Biancalana, noting that winters are now warmer, with unseasonal cold spells in the spring. She jokes: “We can’t count on the spirits anymore.”
Grasse is not alone. Around the world, primary materials for perfumes are threatened by increasingly extreme weather patterns. Vanilla, a key material for the industry, has taken a particular hit. Grown primarily on the African continent, vanilla crops have been struck by heatwaves in recent years. In 2017, a cyclone in Madagascar destroyed 30% of crops, pushing the price to more than $600 (£502) a kilo.