An American in Grasse: A Love Story

Grasse, France

Grasse: bucket list worthy!(Photo: Katherine Kirchner)

 

There is a place in the South of France where perfume was born. It is called Grasse. Join me in learning how this American girl experiences a historical town, in a bucket list setting all in the name of giving back. By the way, this can be you -- it’s easy to make it happen.

 

We begin our adventure on a train from Cannes to Grasse, a short train ride if you don’t miss your stop. It’s easy to mess it up as bottles of wine and cheese plates are always within reach aboard this romantic journey. 😃  I am visiting a friend and I am there because something told me to go. Go and give. Go and learn. The wanderlust bird whispered a gentle reminder in my ear: Good things always happen when you follow your instinct and bring along your dyes. In this case, I had a bag full of blank silk scarves and about a quarter pound of dried hibiscus flowers. That’s me. A Cali girl bringing west coast flowers to a flower town. It was like bringing sand to a beach…

Aviva smells lavender in Grasse

Stop and smell the lavender drying all over the tiny town of Grasse (Photo: Katherine Kirchner)


I arrived via train from Canne to a tiny town of cobblestone streets, air filled with the scent of flowers, rich with history in the art of making. It is a town where monks make wine, and the most renowned perfumaries keep offices. And then there was a school. A school for displaced children from North Africa. And the hero of our story is Ms. Nicole Derieux, who looks after the school.

 Nicole Derieux

The lovely Ms. Nicole Derieux (Photo: Katherine Kirchner)

She provides a safe haven, an environment of support and learning -- a place of hope. I was thrilled to be a visiting art teacher for the day and the beauty of this group of people, the children and their light, will stay with me always. The children have all had their own difficult journeys.  Each with their own not-so-beautiful story to tell. I walked into the school and at first was greeted with shy, stolen glances... I could see they were wondering what was going to happen. And I was wondering the same thing. What Ms. Nicole doesn’t know is that I had to collect myself before going in. I was tearful when I peeked in and saw those beautiful faces. My heart could not process without tears to think these beauties had suffered even a tiny bit. It was more difficult than any presentation or pitch, or critique I have ever experienced. To collect myself, and walk in as a “teacher” in that moment was hard. In that moment I was a mother, a sister, and a human being.

Angelgirl in my classroom

Angelgirl in my classroom. 😀 omg that smile! (Photo: Katherine Kirchner)


The thoughts running through my mind: “Ok, pull yourself together. This is your job and you came all this way. Pull your Brooklyn out of your pocket and let's show these kids a little something about making. Mind over matter, we can all do anything we set our minds to.” So that is exactly what we did.

 Workshop materials

Materials of the day: dried hibiscus flower “tea” soaked overnight. And the very everyday “tools” to help things along. (Photo: Katherine Kirchner)


We made textile designers out of everyone! Hooray! We soaked the hibiscus, and folded our silk scarves and then had a dye party. By the end everyone was smiley sparkle town and one of the girls who was so shy at first came over and asked me to tie her scarf into a big bow on her head for the pictures.



Art workshop

A magical experience (Photo: Katherine Kirchner)

 

We won! All of us. And it was beautiful and I want to go back and give more and more. I write this to share with all of you that if you are presented with an opportunity to give, take it and then give 10 times. I will never forget these beautiful, resilient spirits-- I hope they remember me when I go back and though they may not realize it, they taught me so much about the power of the human spirit and the power of love. Oh and the power of a pretty bow in your hair. :-)   

 Aviva and her design tribe

Ms. Nicole Derieux and my beautiful design tribe for the day - they will always be in my heart! I’ll be back soon! (Photo: Katherine Kirchner)

I was invited to visit the perfume mansion, Villa des Parfums

Villa des Parfums

The gorgeous Airbnb we were lucky enough to stay in... the photo does not do the gardens justice! (Photo: Katherine Kirchner)

It's neat because it’s an Airbnb that you can book in the heart of the village. (Mention “Aviva” in your booking and have fresh warm croissants delivered your first am! Trust me…sooooo nice!)

The grounds are filled with flowers and there were fresh, warm croissants delivered on our first morning. This is quite a non-traditional non-profit company. The owners, Nicole Derieux and husband Vincent, started the charity, Parfums de Vie (Fragrance of Life) whose goal is to improve the lives and opportunities available for underprivileged children and youth of Grasse, through a variety of educational programs and activities. Ms. Nicole took years to develop their two signature scents: Etoile Celeste and (Heavenly Star) and Toujours Espoir (Always Hope).

 

Ms. Nicole Derieux - a mother, a perfumer, a philanthropist and an Airbnb hostess.

Interview with Nicole Derieux of Villa des Parfums and Parfums de Vie

AS: Ms. Nicole, how do we know each other?
 

ND: We were connected by a mutual friend by email and then talked on the phone before you came to visit me. What I remember about our first meeting in Grasse is that you were late because you took the train in the wrong direction or got off at the wrong stop or something like that? Do you remember what happened?  Didn’t you end up in Nice instead of Grasse or something like that? I forget the details but I remember we were waiting for you and couldn’t understand where you’d gotten to! I didn’t know you yet! Then when we finally met we were straight away into work mode as you were coming to our kids club to do textile design with the kids. I was so amazed that you had brought hibiscus flowers, all the way from California, to come and do an art project with our kids in Grasse. It was amazing and moving.

 

So we got straight to work and I translated for you. Sometimes it’s awkward to work with people you don’t know and have never met, but it was seamless, easy and fun. Everyone had such a great time!

 

AS: What is your spirit animal?

 

ND: Definitely cat. I often find myself admiring our cat, Pistache, she is so completely embodied, completely free, I always think she seems to be doing exactly what she was made to do! I love that about her -- she's so adventurous, courageous and independent, yet she's sociable, loving and occasionally a bit needy, and she's classy too! And she's so good at just chillaxin on a chair in the sun like nothing could ever get her down!

 

AS: Do you believe in magic? if so, what does that look like to you?

 

ND: Absolutely. Magic for me is seeing how much a little bit of love and support really makes a massive difference in kids' lives. I'm a huge believer in love -- love in action, love with skin on, love that meets needs --  it's magic, it literally changes the world! When you were here Aviva you met a bunch of our kids...they keep me believing in magic, because despite the terrible hardships they face...they're actually learning to thrive! They inspire me to keep believing in the magical conspiracy of love!

 

AS: If you had three pieces of advice for another person on their journey what would it be?

 

ND: Be loving, that's what you are made for, that's your true nature! We are all made in the image of the Divine!

 

Be thankful, for everything, always! There is beauty, blessing and good -- even in the bad and crappy stuff -- if we can figure out how to be thankful for all things, it totally changes everything...

 

Be hopeful - everything is possible!  Believe. Ask. Imagine. Persevere. No matter what our current reality might feel like --  Love, Goodness and true Beauty always get the last word! The universe is good, the creator is good and people are capable of incredible good. We need to put our hope in the true nature of things!  

 

And if I can add a fourth it's to find good people who are living out the above to journey together with them...

 

AS: What are the three most beautiful things about Grasse that one must experience/ see?

ND: The spectacular view from Villa des Parfums, no matter the weather or the season, the light is always incredible. The smell of the Jasmine and the Rose Centifolia that grow in the flower fields here and an evening with the locals at our favorite winebar Au Comptoir-- it's a delight to the senses and food for the soul too!

 Grasse, France

Ahem! This was the view a few steps outside of our Airbnb! Whattttt?? (Photo credit: Katherine Kirchner)


ND: Our home is a beautiful and historic perfumer's mansion that was built in 1830. We became the owners in 2007 thanks to the generosity of our mutual friend, the entrepreneur Dan White (and owner of
Norwalk Furniture), who believed in our vision to impact the kids in our local community through our work with Parfums de Vie, the non-profit that my husband Vincent and I co-founded. We transformed half of our home into a luxurious airbnb and the revenue from this rental business helps to support our non-profit. Click here to see our Airbnb.


AS: How may people donate to the organization?
 

ND: Here's the link to donating to our organisation and also links to the perfumes. If you would like a sample sent to you without a charge, please click here.

 

If you would like to learn more about Nicole’s organization, visit her website, Facebook or Instagram page. You can also email info@villadesparfums.com. When booking the Airbnb please mention Aviva and you may get some special perks! (this part to be continued)

I was reminded that kindness, compassion, giving always opens doors and hearts. That to give to others is to give to your own spirit. And above all else true heroism comes from within.

Below you may find a description of their lovely perfumes. Their fragrances celebrate the flowers traditionally cultivated in the fields surrounding Grasse, where the jasmine and roses grown for perfumery are the best and most sought after in the world. Also, all the perfumery flowers in Grasse are organically farmed! Please email me for sales inquiries or samples of the scents. Proceeds assist in funding Ms. Nicole’s school. 😀 Smell gorgeous and use your power for good? Win-win!

 Ms. Nicole's perfumes

Ms. Nicole’s perfumes, sold to support her non profit: Toujours Espoir and Etoile Celeste (Photo: Katherine Kirchner)

 

Toujours Espoir (Always Hope)

Chypre Floral

A declaration of modern femininity audaciously revisiting the classic blend of jasmine and rose, two undisputed queens of perfumery traditionally cultivated in Grasse, the world’s perfume capital.  A sensual chypre fragrance embracing the skin in an irresistible veil of intriguing mystery. An original signature for the woman who believes anything is possible.


Etoile Celeste (Heavenly Star)

Floral Powdery

A tribute to timeless French elegance featuring jasmine, rose, violet and orange flower, four emblematic flowers harvested in Grasse, the world’s perfume capital.  A heavenly floral bouquet enveloping the skin with a captivating trail of magnetic femininity. An iconic creation to let your inner light shine.

 

Learn more about Ms. Nicole’s non-profit.

 

Xox Aviva


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