A mountain of roses

Room full of roses

The roses are spread out to air before processing.

We’re standing in a hot, white room, the concrete floor covered in pink roses. Men wearing overalls and t-shirts are spreading more blossoms on top from large burlap sacks. The air is thick with the smell of Rosa damascena, the aroma of which seems particularly honeyed and slightly damp here, as these petals have just been picked and it has been raining more than usual.

We’re near the mountain village of Senir, in Turkey, checking this year’s rose harvest. I’m traveling with Agnes, our essential oils buyer, Alina, our quality controller, Chris, who is shooting footage for Lush TV and other films, Bibi, a freelance journalist and Greg, her cameraman. Our hosts, Hassan and Özgür have just taken our group to the rose fields and we’ve walked around the rows of roses, had a go at picking them and took lots of pictures.

Rose pickers

Rose pickers hard at work.

As the petals open, it’s important to gather as many of the full blooms as early as possible so that the scent doesn’t evaporate. Rose pickers start their work early and if you turn up on the field at 10am you might miss your chance to see them in action (as we did on our first attempt!).

By the time we reached the second field, we found these local rose pickers hard at work.

Each bloom is nipped right at its base by hand and placed in a sack tied to the waist. I spent ten minutes picking and didn’t manage much but my hands were already scratched by thorns and my fingers were sticky and stained a dark pink colour. The hands of a seasoned rose picker look like they’ve been clawed by cats.

A bloom ready to be picked

A bloom ready to be picked.

The figures involved in rose growing and processing are mind-boggling. A very good picker can pick approximately fourty kilos a day. It takes four tonnes of roses to produce just one kilo of rose oil and one tonne to produce one kilo of rose absolute. Rose oil is produced by distillation and rose absolute is the final product of rose concrete manufacture. Sebat, our supplier in Turkey, is the world’s largest producer of rose concrete.

A local farmer bringing in roses

A local farmer brings in his roses at the factory.

Rose production is very important for this region. There are a few rose produce manufacturers in the area but Sebat is the most prominent. They also manufacture distillation equipment and other machinery and host eco tourism tours at the factory. Sebat is known by everyone and they buy roses from several local farmers. During our stay we saw roses being brought in by every means possible, from a small trailer to a full truckload.

Rose harvest festival in full swing

Rose harvest festival in full swing. Lots of singing, dancing and smoking!

During the 5-7 week rose harvest season, rose picking is a family business and everyone gets involved. At the end of it, Sebat hosts a festival to thank the villagers. We were invited to this year’s event and despite a freak hailstorm collapsing the stage and delaying proceedings by several hours, it was a fun night out listening to local performers. The best part was seeing how there didn’t seem to be a generation gap – all ages from toddler to teenager and dad to granddad were cheering and dancing to the same tunes. The audience filled a football field and it didn’t take long before the space in front of the stage was populated by revelers.

The school funded by Sebat and two of its largest clients

The school funded by Sebat and two of its largest clients, one of whom is Lush.

In the previous years, Lush, Sebat and another one of their larger clients have funded a local school and continue to improve its facilities to this day. Özgür explained that one of the students who was paid a bursary by Sebat has now returned back as a kindergarden teacher, bringing her higher education back to the village.

When at the factory, we were able to follow what happened to the roses from the moment they were brought in. First they are weighed and spread in a large room to air out. They have to be taken out of the sacks or they would ferment.

Rose oil still

Rose oil still.

They are processed quickly into either rose oil or rose concrete. The rose still is filled with petals and boiling water – but it takes two rounds of distillation to get enough of the essential oil out of the water. Rose oil is water soluble and even after the second distillation, the water is highly perfumed with its scent and bottled as rose water.

Rose concrete is manufactured using a complex process of washing and rinsing which demands several different types of specialist equipment. The majority of the factory floor was filled with these contraptions. On the plus side, this method is able to extract almost everything out of the rose and when you see the final oils the effect is obvious – rose oil is almost clear with a pale yellowish-green hue and rose absolute is dark pink and almost syrupy in texture.

Pia trying to memorise the scent

Pia trying to memorise the scent of the rose in the field.

Although the scent of the rose in bloom on the field isn’t the same as either of these products, I learned that rose absolute captures it best. There are over 300 chemicals in rose absolute, some of which are still unknown to science. Many of them may contribute to the complex aroma so although there are many good (and some pretty nasty!) synthetic rose blends on the market, none come close to the real thing. This trip has made me really fall in love with the rose and the materials produced from it. I’m hoping to get the opportunity to do something in the lab with them as soon as possible! Then again, Lush and Gorilla Perfume already use rose oil and absolute rather lavishly. For example, the rose-based perfume Simon Constantine created for his daughter Imogen Rose, captures the sweet, rich tones perfectly.

Özgür introduced us to pure, fresh rose water on our first night in Turkey as we were trying to adjust to the humid heat that hit us as soon as we stepped off the plane. The 3-hour coach trip from Antalya to our hotel in Isparta was punctuated by splashes of rose water on our faces and hands and a box of Lokum (Turkish delight) being passed around the passengers.

Rose jam.

Rose jam.

During our stay, we got to eat rose jam which is a beautiful local confection and goes well with strong Turkish çhai. As we were leaving the factory on our last day,  Özgür nipped around to the stills and drew us all a bottle of rose water each to take away. I’ve been using copious amounts of mine since then, on my face, neck and even my hair. As it’s unpreserved, it will eventually go off so I might as well be generous with it! This is not a bad thing, though I am now prematurely forlorn for the moment that it will run out and the smell of fresh roses on the Turkish field will fade to a distant memory. I suppose as a trainee perfumer, I ought to work hard not to let that happen and try to memorise the subtle nuances as much as possible.

This trip has really opened up my perspective of what that bottle in the lab with a label “Sebat” actually means; how it affects an entire community and how beautiful the material is. I guess the only downside is that now I want to visit other suppliers too! I met the guy who produces our Indian jasmine absolute on this trip and he invited me over… it would be rude to turn him down, now wouldn’t it?

Pia

If you want to see many more snapshots from this trip, head on over to the Gorilla Perfume Facebook page and check out the rose harvest photo album there.

Advertisements

Seoul Music

(Aka Pia’s Korean Travel Journal)

National stereotypes are generally quite cringe-inducing. Sometimes they can be convenient ways of describing a common feature present in a particular ethnic group or country. I’m a Finn, so, to explain to my new Korean friends why some Finnish men are crazy enough to risk dying in sauna competitions (which are basically an even more neanderthalesque-version of hot dog eating competitions), I’d say “Finnish men are very stubborn. They find it’s a badge of honour to be the last bloke in the sauna, even if it means you risk being cooked to death.” Clearly not all Finnish men are stubborn; at least not by Finnish standards. And clearly not all Finns treat sauna as a competitive sport. But it’s fair to say that the aforementioned behaviour doesn’t surprise me one bit.

Lush staff at the Lush Land and concert, Seoul

Lush staff at the Lush Land and concert, Seoul

So, with this in mind, I hope you will excuse me while I say that it seems that all Koreans love singing and dancing. The nation seems almost obsessed by music and though the majority of music I experienced on my trip to the Lush Land and concert, held in Seoul this April, was typical pop, there were some surprises in the mix. And I was completely blown away by the talent of ordinary retail staff members who, during the event, burst into song and dance (as you do) to the delight of the over 4000 visitors that came to Lush Land over the two days.

Getting ready for press

From left to right: Joy, Pia, Dragon (getting ready for TV and press interviews).

I was just about to take a much-needed two week holiday when our Press Office called to ask if I would like to attend the launch of Gorilla Perfume in Korea. It would have been nice to travel with Mark and Simon but both of them were away at the time. I may have even taken my holiday instead of going on a work trip. However, it was lovely to be asked to represent the perfumery team this way. It was also a new kind of challenge – this time I would be interviewed and grilled for more details by everyone, instead of being the invisible support person behind the scenes. I immediately bought a new dress.

The Korean team did send us a Power Point presentation of what they were intending to do but I don’t think any of us in UK fully appreciated the magnitude of the event from the slides – and actually – I don’t think even the Koreans really knew what they were getting themselves into until the project developed critical mass and rolled off like an unstoppable juggernaut. By the time I arrived in Seoul, there were two days to go and everyone looked a little gray and waxy; nevertheless in good spirits and very hard at work. I can’t imagine how many long shifts and cups of coffee went into putting together what was essentially a small festival, open to the general public.

Bubble demo at Lush Land

Bubble demo at Lush Land

The event was called Lush Land and designed to showcase the best bits of the company. It was staged at a popular concert hall, outside of which stalls were erected and all kinds of other activities also took place (from lively bubble bar demos with an actual bath tub to slightly creepy rock-paper-scissors-type game a man in a gorilla mask was encouraging visitors to participate in. They got free drinks as a reward so I suppose that went some way towards easing the trauma).

Mock Carnaby Street arch

Mock Carnaby Street arch

The exterior space was inspired by Carnaby Street. It sounds a bit corny but actually, in situ, the Carnaby-Street-style arch and clever printed backdrops gave the concrete courtyard a kind of kitsch charm, though I’m not sure how English it was exactly. Except on the second day when it poured down with rain and all the stalls had to be brought indoors. That’s when it felt English.

There were food and drink stalls, serving imported Wedgwood tea (of which I drank many cups, having been brainwashed during my 20 years in England to crave the stuff), beer, vegan food and fruit. The Lush pop-up stalls with Fresh Face Masks and other handmade cosmetics blended in effortlessly and at times I wondered whether any non-Lushies were there, trying to figure out which stall to queue for if they were feeling a bit peckish.

People queuing to get in to Lush Land

People queuing to get in to Lush Land

Both days started with a general market-feel with people milling around outside. There was a concert on both nights. On the first day, there were very long queues of people hoping to guarantee a good spot for the evening’s performance. I was told that this was because Big Bang, a Korean boy band, would be there and that they are insanely popular in Asia. So much so that there were people from neighbouring countries who’d flown over just to see them and camped outside the venue overnight.

Jungle in the Breath of God room

Jungle in the Breath of God room

The Gorilla Perfume gallery was set inside the concert hall and was open throughout the event. Hundreds of people were led through the maze of scented rooms. I’ve participated in all of the other gallery launches and was pleased to see how well the experience had been translated here. The local design team members recreated the gallery very well and Jungle*, the charismatic guy responsible for Korean training, spent the evening before the event with me and the gallery room staff, polishing up their performance. I can’t stress enough how important it has been to the whole gallery set-up to have excellent staff who make the whole thing just click in place. Although I don’t speak Korean (apart from the four or five words I learned from my iPhone app on the way there), I could tell how well the roles of each perfume were played by the curators chosen. The Breath of God room was a special Korean addition to the gallery; it turned out to be a good decision as the fragrance became one of the best-sellers at the pop-up shop. I did wonder how much the decision to include a Breath of God room might have been due to its Buddhist connotations and the fact that it

Lanterns at a Buddhist temple, Seoul

Lanterns at a Buddhist temple, Seoul

happened to be Buddha’s birthday month (widely celebrated with multicoloured lanterns and special Baby Buddha altars across Seoul).

The biggest surprise for me was probably the first few minutes of the opening night’s concert, when the curtain rose to… a full philharmonic orchestra! I was told that getting them to perform at a popular music venue rather than a concert hall had been a long (but clearly eventually fruitful), booze-fuelled task. By the second night, the drummer had got the hang of it and really went for a big drum solo, to the tune of hundreds of screaming and clapping visitors. I doubt he has people wolf-whistling and squealing at him very often.

The mix of music over the two nights could perhaps be best described as a kind of cross between Jools Holland’s Annual Hootenanny and X Factor. Korean music taste seems to lean towards the highly produced and glossy but there were a couple of performers that stood out. As an example of the glossy, none seemed more loved than Lee Sora, who the locals call Milky Skin. Her sentimental ballads sound lovely even when you don’t understand the lyrics, but apparently the lyrics are the main reason why her music is so well-liked.

My absolute favourite from the whole experience was a new Indie group called Jang-gi-ha and The Faces. Their performance was superb; starting with a quiet piece and building the audience to a hysteric froth over several songs until everyone was clapping and waving and jumping to the tune of the last song. Again, I wish I could understand the lyrics, but their music is very catchy and I really enjoyed it.

What's going on?

What's going on?

When the two-day event came to a close, there was a final treat in store for everyone: a mass Tuca Tuca dancemob in the lobby! I don’t know whether it was planned or whether the whole team just decided to jump in and do it (I suspect the former), but whichever the case, it felt spontaneous and emotional. As guests left the building, they stopped to look and take photos.

It’s always such a pleasure when a work-event feels like something you would have enjoyed even if you weren’t in any way affiliated and that’s exactly how I felt at Lush Land in Seoul. I also really fell in love with our team there and hope they do well and that I get to visit them again some day.

If you would like to see lots more photos of the whole trip, head over to our Facebook page to have a look!

*Lush Korea uses nicknames inspired by the names of Lush products in all internal communications. I actually have no idea what Jungle’s real name is. Not that it matters. Jungle suits him perfectly well. He’s exotic and colourful!

Smelly concert?

Concert invitation

Don't you just want to touch that CUTE nose?

Lush Korea are about to have an ambitious event – they will magic up a kind of fantasy Carnaby Street-cum-Lush festival in Seoul – with live music, stalls and the full Gorilla perfume gallery experience to boot. They’ve entitled the event a ‘Smelly Concert’ which, of course, will induce no end of titters in any native English speaker, but will probably exceed all of our expectations of a truly modern day out.

I’m going there as the guest from our perfume department and really can’t wait to see what it will be like! If you happen to be anywhere near Seoul on the 29th and 30th of April, join us!

Pia

Filling the World With Perfume: podcast

Pia LongJust as I would never expect to win the Lotto (though it’s nice to dream about it), I certainly didn’t expect to become so involved in the perfumery business. Of course I hoped that something like this would happen one day and worked hard to make it happen, but being part of the Lush family and so busy with the Gorilla Perfume project with Mark and Simon has been exactly like winning the Lotto for me. I still can’t quite believe it.

I am delighted when I can help someone find the right fragrance for them; get someone to really become conscious of their sense of smell; to awaken them to the somewhat unappreciated art-form of perfumery. Not to mention how wonderful it is to learn about the actual raw materials and the secret formulas behind it all!

Esther from our Lush Media department has been working on an intimate series of podcast interviews, looking at different aspects of our business and interviewing people who are normally considered support staff for our senior co-founders and product creators. Today we’ve published “Filling the World With Perfume” – when Esther and I sat down and talked about the topic of perfume for a while. Have a listen!

Pia

The Scented Salamander is going bananas

We’re working on revamping all of the existing Lush fragrances. They will be part of the Gorilla Perfume range. This project is quite tough on our designers because we’re launching a whole new website to go with the brand. Vanillary is a lushious, heady, sweet floral vanilla perfume that brings to mind a crazy fantasy jungle with gorillas running amok among sprawling vanilla orchids. When we decided to create new illustrations for all of our perfumes, I immediately wanted to paint a jungle scene for Vanillary. This was even before the brand name had morphed from the original ‘Guerrilla Perfume’ to ‘Gorilla Perfume’.

When I saw what The Scented Salamander said a couple of days ago, I did a double-take. Clearly I’m not the only one with Jungle Boogie going around in my head.

Pia